Tony Calvin discusses the ante-post betting on Sunday's 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and backs a potential springer in the market against Aidan O'Brien's much-fancied favourite...
"Fev Rover and Star Of Emaraaty all have decent Group juvenile form to their name – and Lullaby Moon really progressed for deep ground at the back-end last season - but the three I landed on outside the favourite were Mother Earth, Seattle Rock and Thunder Beauty."
The market clearly believes the 1000 Guineas favourite Santa Barbara is the second coming, but she may only need to arrive in Newmarket in one piece to win what appears a very underwhelming Classic at this juncture.
The betting on this race is literally a classic punting dilemma between the rumour mill and those who like their near-2/1 Exchange chances in Group 1 contests - and Santa Barbara has been matched at a low of 2.6813/8, and has actually been relatively weak in recent days - to have more than a sole maiden run and success to their name.
O'Brien bullish about favourite's chances
Granted, this is not exactly third-hand gossip and what I will say is that I never heard such bullish talk come out of Aidan O'Brien's mouth.
Normally, O'Brien gets away with saying anything absolutely nothing newsworthy - pre and post-race - because he is such a lovely, well-mannered bloke and interviewers feel like they are kicking a kitten if they press him for anything beyond the straightforward, but some of his chat around Santa Barbara has been jaw-dropping.
I thought he was making a sales pitch when coming out with recent observations that she looks like a five-year-old colt, and nothing can get her off the bridle at home, and the like.
I was obviously being facetious there (though they have sold in the past), especially as the trainer's comments have been backed up by others at Ballydoyle who confirm that the filly doesn't have to get out of second gear to excel in her work.
Now, this is obviously very encouraging on one hand, but on the other it leaves the big question mark as how she will react if and when she has to get down and dirty.
The sport is littered with morning glories - when I think of that phrase my mind always wanders back to Henry Cecil's Killer Instinct in the late 90s, for some reason (though to be fair he was beaten by a future Group 1 winner in Compton Admiral when chinned at 4/9 on his debut, with a future Italian Derby/King Edward VII runner-up in third) - and maybe Santa Barbara is another of those.
One thing we can be pretty sure though is that she has been working all over good horses at home, and the form of her 1m Curragh maiden win hasn't worked out that badly, though the runner-up did take another four outings to break her duck and it was certainly not a strong race in terms of depth.
And of course she has the pedigree, being a half-sister to Iridessa and Order Of Australia.
What she doesn't have is any fast-ground form, or indeed much form at all in terms of Classic potential, but Iridessa's best efforts came on a quick surface and Order Of Australia won a Breeders' Cup Mile on firm ground last November.
By the way, I should mention the current going at Newmarket is good to firm (they were watering last week, and on Monday) and the weather pretty much looks set fair, with minimal rain forecast from Wednesday onwards.
That would go a fair way to appeasing any concerns if it is indeed rapid at Newmarket at the weekend and it could be that she really is the real deal for a stable well versed in winning this Classic in recent years (four out of the last five runnings in fact, and three of those were first time out).
None of those had Santa Barbara's sparse profile though. Very few Classic winners do, from any stable.
Can anything stop Santa Barbara?
Let's cut to the chase. A price of around 2/1? Every punting instinct has to say "no thanks" but, as mentioned in the intro, what is there ranged against her?
We are down to just 16 entries after Monday's five-day decs and the glaringly obvious alternative is Pretty Gorgeous - the betting is 10/1+ bar her - who we know has Group 1 class and the ability to handle the track having won the Fillies' Mile here last season.
That just about makes her the form pick - though not by much as it wasn't a vintage renewal - but the clear issue for those making her an each-way bet to nothing (and nothing is very often the return with these gilt-edged bets) is that her two defeats in five starts have all come on good ground, and her three victories have come with dig.
If it does turn out to remain quick on Sunday, then that has to be a major consideration.
There is a fair case for saying that the value in the race lies with the three other Aidan O'Brien fillies, given the trainer's record in the race, for all you have to assume the favourite has been kicking them out of the way with considerable ease on the Ballydoyle gallops.
Queen's Speech has a very similar profile to the favourite in that she comes here on the back of a Curragh maiden win, in her case on heavy ground.
She is an another unknown quantity, whereas Snowfall has not kicked on from her maiden success, but the obvious one of the so-called, or presumed, lesser lights is Mother Earth.
Although she has been beaten in seven of her eight starts, it is quite easy to warm to her profile in the context of this relatively shallow Classic.
Unlike the jolly, she has plenty of experience and comes here as a hardened Group 1 filly, having finished within 2 lengths of Pretty Gorgeous in the Fillies' Mile and then found only the unbeaten Aunt Pearl too good when taking in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies' Turf in Keeneland afterwards.
Not quite the experience of the 9-length 2012 winner Homecoming Queen, who raced 11 times at two and twice at three, before recording that 25/1 runaway success, but I do like the fact she has done it on the big stage and she is a very fair price at 16/1+ on the exchange.
So can anything come out of the recognized home trials?
The Nell Gwyn 1-2 of Sacred and Saffron Beach obviously have their place chances but it is difficult to drum up much enthusiasm for them winning this. Betfair Ambassador Ryan Moore's instinct after getting off the winner at Newmarket was that she is a 7f horse, and maybe the runner-up looks a stronger stayer at this mile trip.
I'd be pretty surprised if either of that pair was good enough - in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the seventh home, the talented but quirky Seattle Rock, came out best here, so more on her in a bit - but that isn't saying anything the market isn't already telling you.
It also says a lot about the lack of credible challengers in here that Alcohol Free is the 6/1 third favourite on the fixed-odds front - though she is nearly double that on the Exchange - after scrambling home by a short head from Statement, with Vadream in third, in the Fred Darling on her return.
Sure, she is only one of two Group 1 winners in here, having taken the Cheveley Park last season, and she wasn't ideally positioned on the far side at Newbury (a race in which she was hanging and also looking pretty awkward) but she didn't exactly seem to be screaming out for another furlong on her return, and her pedigree doesn't have her down as a copper-bottomed miler either.
Logic suggests the third there, Vadream, was possibly the one to take out of that race, having won just a Newcastle maiden at two previously, but her pedigree is more speed than a mile and just how strong was that race, anyway?
Not for me.
So where does that leave us?
Thunder Beauty the pick of my trio
Fev Rover and Star Of Emaraaty all have decent Group juvenile form to their name - and Lullaby Moon really progressed for deep ground at the back-end last season - but the three I landed on outside the favourite were Mother Earth, Seattle Rock and Thunder Beauty.
I know Seattle Rock is a 93-rated maiden who was beaten over five lengths by Sacred and co on her return, but I like the way she shaped from off the pace there and she is a guaranteed improver stepping up to 1m.
She will obviously need to progress a stone and more to even be getting competitive here but she is a huge price at three figures on the Exchange, and she makes considerably more appeal than fellow rank outsider Baby Alya, that is for sure.
The latter of the above trio is trained by Ken Condon, (who took out his 1/2-length Cheveley Park runner-up Miss Amulet out of the race on Monday, presumably to send her to France), and I suppose the first thing you have to mention is that the yard hasn't had a winner since November, and they had a beaten favourite at Naas on Monday.
Sure, he hasn't had many runners in that period and he has had a couple run well enough of late, but you would like to have seen more from them.
However, I reckon Thunder Beauty remains very interesting at 25/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, nonetheless.
An impressive winner on her debut (though the form was up to that much), she shaped far better than her beaten distances would have you believe when stepped up to Group 1 company on her following two starts, that in itself a measure of the regard in which she is held.
I am sure Colin Keane would have liked the ride again after steering her to a three-and-a-half-length fifth to Shale and Pretty Gorgeous in the Moyglare, having come from last place, and then she went to the Boussac, a race in which she was sent off at 6/1, and travelled really well on the outside and looked like playing a leading role entering the straight.
And then the wheels came right off.
She began to hang (signs of which she showed at the Curragh previously, to be fair), looking virtually unrideable for a while, and then got broadsided, all when Billy Lee was trying to make his challenge.
If Condon has straightened out her immaturity/waywardness, then I reckon there is a Group 1 filly in there. And the 1m really ought to really suit her, being by Night Of Thunder out of a mare who stayed middle distances.
The big concern is if Condon hasn't ironed out the kinks, then Newmarket is not the place to come with a horse that gets unbalanced - and quick ground may not help her on that score - and it could all go Pete Tong in an instant, as it did in Paris.
And I do worry about that stable form, though I am told that Condon is traditionally slow to get going (and he moved yards last season too, apparently) and that shouldn't deter me.
Of course, there are doubts but if there is to be a springer in the market, and indeed a big improver, then I think it is Thunder Beauty.
I was going to recommend you back her each way at 25/1 with the Sportsbook, as I wanted the places on my side given the Santa Barbara chat, but the price was cut to 20s just as I was about to file, which was frustrating.
So she is a win-only bet at 26.025/1 or bigger on the Exchange for now.
I did some asking around on Monday afternoon and I am told she is going well (as you'd expect) and an intended runner (I was told definite but nothing is ever definite in racing, as we know).
I think I mentioned all 16 entries there, so I am off for a lie down.