Newmarket hosts the first classics of the season this weekend and our Irish racing expert Tony Keenan has found a filly at a big price for Sunday's feature...
"It is the improvement that is yet to come that makes Liquid Amber most appealing; that run came a matter of days after her first start and there should be more to come after a winter off."
Looking at the forecasts, typical fast Guineas ground seems unlikely this weekend; the going is currently good, good-to-soft in places, but there is between six and ten millimetres of rain forecast Wednesday so firm probably won't be in the official description come the weekend. Some cut won't be a problem for either of the Ballydoyle-trained favourites Gustav Klimt and Happily, both of whom have won on heavy and that pair trade at broadly similar prices on the Exchange just now. Is either a bet though?
2,000 Guineas: Klimt a solid if unexciting favourite
Having been made favourite for the first classic after his win the Superlative Stakes - a performance that lived up to the name of the race visually if not on the clock - Gustav Klimt seemed to drift from the consciousness of the betting public after missing the National Stakes with what his trainer called 'a slight muscle issue.' His return at Leopardstown however produced a decent time-figure that puts him within hailing distance of the top clocker in the race U S Navy Flag (who may not be able to run to that level now).
There were other aspects of that Leopardstown run to like too; he won with a bit in hand against a race-fit rival over a trip short of his best and had no real confidence behind him in the betting. That looks the best trial form and more than typical improvement for a first run back can be expected as he hadn't run since June. The issue is one of price as he has shortened markedly since and that might be more a by-product of what others like Expert Eye and Roaring Lion have failed to do.
Masar has also done it on the track in 2018 though his Craven win is better on sectional than overall times; both are relevant but give me the horse with the overall time-figure most of the time. Elarqam has all the upside in the world but the form of his two wins doesn't seem to amount to much and it could be that his breeding and sales background means he is a shorter price than he should be, by Frankel out of Attraction and costing 1.6 million guineas.
The biggest danger to Gustav Klimt might be in his own stable in the shape of Saxon Warrior but while he was good in the Racing Post Trophy neither Roaring Lion nor The Pentagon have done much for the form early this season. Also, some comments from Aidan O'Brien - 'he's coming, he has a good bit to do still, but he's coming' - seem to suggest that Epsom more than this Saturday might be the aim.
If there is a darker one at a bigger price it could be Without Parole who produced a striking time-figure last time at Yarmouth; Timeform rate that their fifth-best second-time-up time-figure since 2010 with the ones ahead of him being Lady Aurelia, Barney Roy, Hot Snap and Acapulco. That alone makes him interesting and he could offer some value as he's yet to even run in a listed race but he probably wouldn't want any more rain.
As it stands, this isn't really a betting race for me though Gustav Klimt would become interesting if drifting and Without Parole if the ground dries out.
1,000 Guineas: Liquid Amber an outsider to note
The 1,000 Guineas is in danger of becoming a race more about those that aren't there than those that are, given the absences of Clemmie and September; it could be that Happily is a default favourite more than anything. Her form does seem about the best on offer - both Olmedo and Masar have shown the Lagardere win in a good light this season - but she may have been her yard's third string for this earlier in the spring and looks like one that could be better over further.
Soliloquy has been supplemented for the race following an easy win in the Nell Gwyn but the time was ordinary enough and she looks on the short side. That's a comment that applies to I Can Fly too who had no real excuses at Leopardstown last time when racing close to a tepid gallop; she seems priced on Winter having a similar profile coming into the race last year but that filly was having her first start for Aidan O'Brien in the Leopardstown trial race where this one has been with him from the start.
Laurens and Wild Illusion bring the Group 1 form to the table and are respected though the former should have been beaten by September in the Fillies' Mile and may have been favoured by the rail. Of the other trial winners, I would prefer Anna Nerium to Dan's Dream; she seemed to have improved plenty over the winter to beat the colts in the Free Handicap, not getting a clear run but winning easily nonetheless.
The one that looks most overpriced however is Liquid Amber. There has been barely a whisper about her participation here throughout the spring but Willie McCreery's decision to leave her in at the five-day stage suggests she is likely to go and prices of [27.0] are big. Perhaps the trainer has been swayed by her stablemate Mary Tudor winning the Salsabil Stakes easily at Navan last month and it would be a surprise if Liquid Amber is not rated ahead of that one.
Liquid Amber came a long way in a short space of time - eight days in fact - last season when winning a listed at the Curragh after maiden second at the same track. The time there was good, as good as any of those who are yet to race in a Group One, and she easily dismissed some reasonable sorts like Ballet Shoes and Sometimesadiamond. But it is the improvement that is yet to come that makes her most appealing; that run came a matter of days after her first start and there should be more to come after a winter off. In an open year, the connections' willingness to pitch up here could be rewarded.
Back Liquid Amber @ [27.0] to win and @ [7.2] to place in the 1,000 Guineas