The smallest field in 22 years contests this Guineas and last year’s top ranked two year old Churchill heads the market.
He was beaten on debut last May but in five runs since he’s come out on top. The win sequence began in the Chesham Stakes (L) at Royal Ascot in June and continued through the summer with wins in the Tyros Stakes (G3) and the Futurity Stakes (G2). In the autumn he added the National Stakes (G1) and Dewhurst Stakes (G1), the top two-year old races in Ireland and Britain.
In command, kept on well, going away, comfortably and stayed on strongly are the descriptions of those runs. What it means is that he was a top class two-year old who improved throughout his juvenile career. As a three-year old will that progression be maintained?
This time last year Air Force Blue held similar credentials. In fact he was rated higher on 124 lbs going into the Guineas, 2 lbs above Churchill’s current mark of 122 lbs, and he started an odds on favourite for this race. He turned out to be bitterly disappointing only beating one home in this last year and his further three runs were no better. It’s unlikely Churchill fate will be similar more likely he’ll continue to progress. Air Force Blue is a War Front whereas Churchill is by Galileo.
Aidan O’Brien also sends Lancaster Bomber and Spirit Of Valour. The latter is the likely pacesetter. In the Dewhurst last year the betting suggested that Lancaster Bomber sent off at 66/1 was there to make the pace for Churchill but he stayed on strongly, as he did when he won his maiden, and filled the runners-up spot. He did it again in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). He was given a spin on dirt in the UAE Derby (G3) in March this year where he ran on well and connections have decided he’s better placed here than in Kentucky. If the pace collapses he will take it on and again he may prove difficult to overhaul.
Eminent trained by Martin Meade comes here on the back of a smart Craven win where he beat Rivet the Racing Post (G1) winner of last year. Prior to his win at Doncaster Rivet had run in the Dewhurst where he was beaten 3 1/2L by Churchill. It’s worth noting that we have not seen the Craven/Guineas double done since Haafhd in 2004.
Godolphin have a brace of entries headed by Barney Roy trained by Richard Hannon who also sends Larchmount Lad into the fray.
Richard is no stranger to winning this as in his first season in charge in 2014, after taking over from his father, he sent Night of Thunder out to overturn Kingman at odds of 40/1. That was a reversal of the result of that year’s Greenham. Barney Roy has travelled the same path and was an impressive winner of the Newbury trial where he beat the other Godolphin runner Saeed Bin Suroor’s Dream Castle by a cosy 2Ls.
Andre Fabre has made a flying start to the season already having won nine Pattern Races at home in France. He sends Al Wukair whom he hopes will follow in the footsteps of Zafonic and Pennekamp who both won the Guineas in the nineties. He has been bullish about his chances saying he expects a place at worst for the son of Dream Ahead. A winner of a maiden and at listed level as a juvenile he won his trial the Prix Djebel comfortably beating the previous G1 winner National Defence who had won France’s premier two-year old race for colts the Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1).
This Guineas field might be a small in number but it’s deep in quality.
There will be plenty of pattern race winners coming out of this and it’s conceivable six could go on to score at G1 level as the season progresses. The question is which will lift this prize. Barney Roy bursts with potential as does Al Wukair and both have already won over a mile. Eminent, Dream Castle and Lancaster Bomber are all promising colts but Churchill is rock solid.
Rarely does a colt who has achieved so much already break from the gate in a Guineas. There’s a slight question mark on the distance as he’s never raced beyond 7f but his pedigree suggests he’ll stay and his win in the Tyros suggests he’ll love the this good to firm ground. He also has the experience of winning over the course. Whilst the others are capable of achieving success at the highest level none of them have done it so far.
This will be a battle. You would imagine the Ballydoyle strategy will be to set a high cruising speed through Spirit Of Valour with Lancaster Bomber tracking him. If Seamie Heffernan’s mount falls away then Lancaster Bomber will be asked to pick it up.
Coming out of the dip Barney Roy will be produced with Al Wukair and Eminent in hot pursuit. Churchill is a very relaxed and laid back sort and Ryan will be able to leave it late to make his challenge. When he’s asked to quicken he won’t be flashy but he’ll get the job done probably by the minimum margin but also with the minimum of fuss.
He might be a short price but he’s the most likely winner of this.
Churchill 11/8 win.
Churchill and Barney Roy (forecast)
Churchill, Barney Roy and Lancaster Bomber (tricast)