Adam Houghton previews Saturday's QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and has picked out an each-way bet.
"An impressive winner of a Leicester maiden on his penultimate start, he showed his well-being with a smooth racecourse gallop during the Craven meeting..."
The QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket has been won by the likes of Sea The Stars, Frankel and Dawn Approach since the turn of the century, but one thing that trio don't have in common with many winners in that period is the name of the trainer that mastered their Classic preparation.
Aidan O'Brien has won six of the last 15 runnings of the 2000 Guineas and, allied with King of Kings victory in the 1998 renewal, the trainer sits on the verge of a record-breaking eighth win in the opening Classic of the season.
And, in the shape of Air Force Blue, O'Brien has a horse with better credentials in his record attempt than any of the Ballydoyle heroes he will attempt to emulate. The Timeform Rating of 128p he achieved when scooting to victory in last year's Dewhurst is better than anything Rock of Gibraltar (118), George Washington (121p) and Camelot (117p) - arguably O'Brien's three most accomplished winners of the 2000 Guineas - managed in their first season on the track. A Group 1 winner on his two previous starts, that Dewhurst success led to him inevitably being named Timeform's champion two-year-old for 2015 and, at this very early stage of the season, Air Force Blue remains a standout candidate as he bids to carry all before him over a mile, with Guineas glory the first objective.
Given the speed he showed on his five starts as a juvenile, O'Brien has recently expressed doubts about his charge's stamina for Saturday's test, with the possibility of soft ground also a concern for the strong travelling son of War Front. Nevertheless, he certainly didn't appear to be stopping over seven furlongs in the Dewhurst and, while showers forecast for this week may offer a glimmer of hope for his rivals, it should be pointed out that he ran to a Timeform rating of 119 when winning the National Stakes with a bit of ease underfoot, a better performance on the figures than anything his rivals on Saturday have previously been able to muster.
Indeed, Air Force Blue looks a worthy favourite whichever way you look at it, but he makes little appeal at cramped odds and his presence in the race means there is at least some each-way value to be found elsewhere.
Stormy Antarctic is the current second favourite after an impressive return to action in the Craven earlier this month. He showed that day that he is unlikely to be inconvenienced should conditions deteriorate in the next couple of days, handling the heavy ground at Newmarket and pulling some three and a half lengths clear of the smart Foundation. He may have been slightly flattered by the bare form of that contest, but that effort still represented a slight improvement on what he achieved when second in a Group 1 as a two-year-old. A general 12/1 for the 2000 Guineas after his Craven romp, Stormy Antarctic is now no bigger than 6/1 and, while soft ground would seemingly aid his cause this weekend, others make more appeal at the current odds.
Massaat was beaten just over three lengths behind Air Force Blue in the Dewhurst, but he was having just the third outing of his career when giving the more-experienced winner most to do that day and looked the type to improve with another winter under his belt. An impressive winner of a Leicester maiden on his penultimate start, he showed his well-being with a smooth racecourse gallop during the Craven meeting and his previous experience of the Rowley Mile has to be considered a positive with this weekend's assignment in mind. He looks sure to win good races for rookie trainer Owen Burrows this year and, while difficult to envisage him reversing the form with Air Force Blue, it remains conceivable that Massaat could reduce the deficit on Saturday.
Buratino holds the notable distinction of being the only horse to have beaten Air Force Blue and, although Air Force Blue was able to reverse that Coventry form when the pair met again later in the year, Buratino proved himself to be a remarkably durable performer when posting a career-best on Timeform ratings (118) to chase Shalaa home in the Middle Park, which was remarkably his eighth start of the season. However, the speed he showed as a two-year-old raises severe doubts over his stamina for a mile and, while he has shaped as if he'll stay further, soft ground could make this a real test at the trip.
One of only two previous Group 1 winners in this race, Marcel perhaps hasn't received the credit he deserves for a decisive victory in the Racing Post Trophy, a performance which puts him second behind only Air Force Blue on Timeform ratings (119) here. Foundation was deemed an unlucky loser having been boxed in on the rail that day, but that shouldn't detract from the winner's effort in pulling one and a half lengths clear of a subsequent Group 1 winner in Johannes Vermeer (Stormy Antarctic in second). His proven stamina should prove a valuable asset here and, with seemingly very little to separate him and Stormy Antarctic on form, Marcel certainly rates the better value of that pair and he should be competitive for the yard that won this with Rodrigo de Triano in 1992.
Last year's Vintage Stakes winner Galileo Gold heads the remainder and wouldn't be without a chance should conditions take a turn for the worse in the next couple of days, but the likes of Herald The Dawn, Ribchester and Air Vice Marshal appear to be a bit below the required standard, for all they represent powerful connections.
Indeed, four of the last five winners of the 2000 Guineas had already tasted success at Group 1 level in their two-year-old campaign and form at the top level has to be given the utmost consideration when trying to solve the opening Classic of the season. Air Force Blue is an unoriginal choice for win purposes, but there could be some mileage in a small each-way bet on Massaat at the current prices. He showed smart form to chase the favourite home in last year's Dewhurst and has the potential to close the gap over this longer trip. He remains open to more improvement than the remainder and he can edge Marcel in the battle for second.
Back Massaat each-way in the Qipco 2000 Guineas
You can read Timeform's 2000 Guineas Runners Guide behind the link.