Interesting question – was Saturday’s 2000 Guineas day at Newmarket Charlie Appleby’s day with a remarkable 4 timer (all four of the non group races), or was it still Aidan O’Brien’s day with Saxon Warrior winning the 2000 Guineas itself.
It was a lovely day at Newmarket. The hot weather, the cloudless blue skies and great racing brought out the crowds. To be fair to Newmarket I thought they handled a big turnout very well, you could still move around, get a drink and find a good vantage point to see the racing – what racing you can ever see at HQ.
The classic first. I was a Gustav Klimt fan. I’d backed him at 18-1 last year so given he was favourite 24 hours before the race I was on good terms with myself. When I woke up on Saturday to find he had been deposed as favourite, not just by his stablemate Saxon Warrior but also by Masar I could see the writing on the wall. Gustav ran fine but just wasn’t good enough.
I had a text on the Saturday morning telling me it was going to be Charlie Appleby’s day. And as mentioned above, to a large extent it was. I was particular impressed with Key Victory who I thought showed an impressive turn of foot to win the Newmarket Stakes.
Yet for Appleby, and Godolphin, while it is fine to mop up the shoulder races, what Sheikh Mohammed must be all about is the big ones – the classics and the Group Ones. Given their resources it’s been well documented how poorly Godolphin have done against not only Coolmore, but probably also Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte operation and maybe also Al Shakab in recent times. Remarkably they haven’t had a winner of the 2000 Guineas since Island Sands in 1999, when racing took place down the road on the July course (not counting Dawn Approach who they bought into but was trained by Jim Bolger).
So many factors can explain their relatively poor performance but more recently I’d suggest there are signs that current strategies are taking things in the right direction for Godolphin (I’m sure John Gosden’s influence is a major factor there). With Appleby churning out the winners, was this to be their year? Masar was an impressive nine length winner of the Craven Stakes after all and went off clear favourite for the big race.
Masar ran well enough but never looked like winning and it was last year’s champion 2 year old Saxon Warrior who was clearly the best, providing O’Brien with his ninth Guineas win in the just 20 years. I was there when King of Kings was the first, just a year before Island Sands.
Although Happily was only third in the 1000 Guineas on the Sunday, Ballydoyle still have most of the fancied horses in both Epsom classics. As Wings of Eagles showed last year it doesn’t have to be the first or second string that wins for the O’Brien behemoth.
I think it is a big year for Appleby, for Saeed bin Suroor and for the boys in blue. Will this be the year they reemerge at the top table of British racing to challenge the dominant Irish or will normal service be resumed?