Tony Calvin: I'm all ears about O'Brien's Van Gogh in 2000 Guineas

Horse racing trainer Aidan O'Brien
Listen out for Aidan O'Brien's plans for this weekend

Tony Calvin offers an in-depth assessment of the field and prices for Saturday's 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and, with plenty of quality set to line-up, there's lots to discuss...

"You have to wait until we get an update from O'Brien on Wednesday as to his intended running plans before backing any Ballydoyle horses now, but Van Gogh is a tempting enough proposition at 18.017/1 on the Exchange."

If the 1000 Guineas has an obvious starting and betting focal point in Santa Barbara, then attempting to analyse the opening colts' classic is akin to approaching Spaghetti Junction.

Probably a comparison for the oldies that, so the young guns can google it. Suffice to say that you can approach Saturday's big race at Newmarket from any number of avenues, and quickly find yourself tied up in knots.

This is hammered home when you look at the Betfair Sportsbook's book on the 2000 Guineas, with no less than eight horses sandwiched between 9/2 and 8/1 when I sat down to write this piece at 6am on Tuesday morning.

Given doubts about running plans, you can understand the general market defensiveness.

O'Brien's Wembley attracts early support

Interestingly, their 9/2 favourite was Wembley, a horse that was available at 6s elsewhere at that early hour (the 6/1 in the marketplace went at 9:15am, having been shorter on the exchange for over an hour), and their odds-compilers had obviously been hearing the same chat as I have in the past week or so.

The word has been that Aidan O'Brien is especially keen on the colt, and that confidence has filtered into the market in recent days. And again on Tuesday morning.

This all comes with a note of caution - and not least because the trainer still has five of the 18 entries in the race and I imagine a lot will revolve around his morning work on Wednesday - but you can fully see why Wembley is grabbing people's attention.

Firstly, he is the only Galileo colt in the field, and being by that super-sire gives any horse a head-start in life, and this colt looks rock-solid, perhaps with the expected fast ground the only box he has yet to tick.

And, of course, he does have a little to find with Thunder Moon and stablemate St Mark's Basilica.

But if you go back and look at his second placings behind the former in the National Stakes and the latter in the Dewhurst, you can easily be forgiven for concluding that he was the best horse on each occasion.

He was last travelling well, behind a wall of horses, approaching the final furlong at the Curragh and came home every bit as well as the winner to take second on the line.

And he had Thunder Moon one-and-three-quarter lengths away in third when second in the Dewhurst when he was considerably disadvantaged by racing widest all the way.

St Mark's Basilica and Wembley.jpg

I appreciate St Mark's Basilica was very strong at the line there but I'd be inclined to rate Wembley as at least his equal given that wide passage, and his pedigree would give you every confidence he will handle quick ground (there is some rain forecast from midweek onwards but not a lot, hence they are set to water again on Wednesday).

And of course, the step up to 1m for the first time is another plus for a horse whose siblings have won over staying trips, with his full brother Johannes Vermeer finishing second in a Melbourne Cup.

But does he deserve to be as short as he is - he has hit 5.49/2 on the Exchange at the time of publishing - as he hardly stands out from his stablemates, let alone the wider crowd?

Mind you, if the aforementioned gossip is right.

Van Gogh stands out from major players in the market

The Dewhurst winner St Mark's Basilica is clearly a major player, as is the Vintage Stakes scorer Battleground (the market is suggesting he won't run), while most trainers would love to get their hands on the supposed fifth string Military Style (by War Front out of a Fillies' Mile winner).

However, the one I am keen to see O'Brien give a chance to after that Wednesday work morning is Van Gogh.

I rarely back horses for the Epsom classic ante-post, and even less so eight months in advance, but I had a few quid (and it was just a few quid) on him at 50s for 40s for the Derby after his Autumn Stakes second to One Ruler (more about him in a minute) last October, and he was very impressive when winning the end-of-season Group 1 at Saint-Cloud.

Now, he isn't sure to stay 1m4f, being by American Pharoah, though his dam won the Oaks, but I am inclined to believe he could be a real top-notcher and if Aidan thinks he has the speed to cut it over 1m on fast ground first time up then I'm all ears.

I think you have to wait until we get an update from O'Brien on Wednesday as to his intended running plans before backing any Ballydoyle horses now, but Van Gogh is a tempting enough proposition at 18.017/1 on the Exchange.

He got a rough run through when second to the Newmarket buzz horse this spring, One Ruler, and I wouldn't have the winner at a third of Van Gogh's price whatsoever.

Oh, and don't be deterred by the fact, that none of O'Brien's have had a prep. He has won this race four times in the last six years and all were making their seasonal debuts (as were the other two in that period, Galileo Gold and Kameko, in fact).

One Ruler has clearly been working very well to hold his position in the market, but I think William Buick has made the right choice in picking the Craven winner Master Of The Seas over him and Free Handicap runner-up Naval Crown.

I made the case that Wembley could have been the best horse in the National Stakes last season - and while I am at it, I am a touch surprised to see the strong-traveller Thunder Moon vie for favouritism on the Exchange at sub-5/1 - but plenty of in-running punters thought it was Master Of the Seas.

He traded at 2s-on in the run when sauntering into the lead, only to get run down in the closing stages. The hood had the desired effect in the Craven, when he won from an unpromising position, and I can see the case for him at 10/1+ on the exchange.

Newmarket field in profile.jpg

The other horse trading at less than 7/1 on the Exchange is Mutasaabeq, who was supplemented on Monday on the back of an impressive win at Newmarket on his return.

Sure, it was only a four-runner conditions race and he had his own way out in front but, boy, was it a taking performance, not only visually but on the clock, too.

So let's trot out the cliché, and mention that he really could be anything, and his pedigree - by Invincible Spirit out of Charlie's old man's 1000 Guineas winner Ghanaati - wouldn't put you off either.

His price of around 13/2 does cool my enthusiasm, though.

Good horses at big prices

You can see why the layers are keen to take on the underwhelming Greenham winner Chindit at 16.015/1 - he is a top price at 10s in the fixed-odds world - and outside of him it is 25/1 and bigger on the Exchange.

That brings in the Group 1 winner Lucky Vega (also fifth in the National Stakes after meeting plenty of trouble, and runner-up in the Middle Park) and Leopardstown Trial winner Poetic Flare.

I can see the value case for Lucky Vega, but will he get a strongly-run mile? Doubtful perhaps.

Jim Bolger, trainer of Poetic Flare, could be two-handed in the race as he also has Mac Swiney, who downed One Ruler on heavy ground in the Vertem Futurity. But he has to prove he can do it away from deep ground, let alone on a quick surface.

There is a fair bit of depth to this race as there are some big prices knocking around for some good horses.

For example, Dewhurst and Craven fourth Devilwala is a 170.00169/1 chance on the Exchange - I know we have a laugh and a joke about the outspoken Ralph Beckett on the Weighed In podcast, but he is a seriously good and in-form trainer, one of the best in the country perhaps - and the likes of Newcastle runner-up Legion Of Honour is not a total no-hoper, either.

The last two to mention, Mystery Smiles and Albadri, probably are, but, again, the former was a good third in the Craven and is no mug.

You have probably guessed what I am going to conclude by now.

Wembley would be my idea of the most likely winner, but the ship sailed with his price on Tuesday morning - cheers, Hugh - and in any event I was leaning towards no bet at this stage anyway, given the prices on offer and the importance of the draw on this straight mile.

So no bet for now, and let's hope for no Golden Highway this weekend.

I'll be back on Friday, and maybe even Thursday late afternoon with the Saturday assessment.

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