Kevin Blake is back to provide you with his top tipping this weekend, where he fancies a mud lover at Haydock, as well as an Aiden O'Brien horse in the 2000 Guineas...
"Whether one is the type to pay any attention to it or not is another matter, but when interviewing Ryan Moore for Betfair a few weeks ago I felt that he was particularly sweet on Van Gogh."
This weekend it is the turn of the Curragh to play host to the latest Classics in the European Pattern calendar with the Irish 2,000 Guineas taking centre stage on Saturday. There is also plenty of very competitive action in Great Britain, so between all of it I will hopefully be able to pull a winner or two out of my hat.
Haydock's conditions play key role in bet
Our first port of call will be Haydock and the conditions there look set to be very testing. There is an awful lot of rain due to arrive before racing and heavy ground looks likely. I have long felt that heavy ground at Haydock is a niche surface, even amongst established mud lovers. Thus, I usually find myself looking for those that are proven on such ground at Haydock when trying to solve any puzzles run there in such conditions.
With that in mind, the one I like in the Download The Casumo App Today Handicap (14:25) is the Charlie Hills-trained Vindolanda. This extended two miles trip is going to be an absolute slog in these conditions and she appeals as being well equipped for it.
While she has yet to win over two miles, she has looked a strong stayer at one-and-three-quarter miles in the past. Crucially her last three wins have come on the only three occasions in her career that she has raced on ground that Timeform called heavy. Two of those three victories on heavy ground came at Haydock.
It is clear that she loves the mud at Haydock and with her having shaped as if in need of the run on her return to action at Wolverhampton last month, it wouldn't at all surprise to see her bounce back to her best and win this off just a 1lb higher mark than she gained her latest victory off back in October.
Van Gogh can deliver the goods
The main event on Saturday is the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas (15:20) at the Curragh and just like at Haydock, conditions are going to be testing. The form of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket is going to be considered a significant guide for this, but the ground couldn't be any more different than it was there and it wouldn't surprise to see that form turned on its head.
What I set out to find for this race was one that will not only relish the testing ground, but will also stay further than a mile. When one hammers it down on that basis, the remaining shortlist isn't that long and the one I've sided with is the Aidan O'Brien-trained Van Gogh.
Like many of the juvenile colts trained in Ballydoyle last season, the son of American Pharoah was a slow burner, steadily progressing through the season. He suggested he could be a Group 1 contender when finishing a better-than-the-result second to One Ruler in the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket, not getting the clearest run and being obliged to challenge on an unfavoured part of the track. He delivered on that promise when relishing the testing ground to win the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud by four lengths.
Widely expected to be a better three-year-old than juvenile as well as being likely to be suited by middle distances, Van Gogh started off his 2021 campaign in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Sent off at 20/1, he ran well for a long way until fading inside the final furlong. O'Brien opined afterwards that the firm ground wasn't to his liking and that the race may have come a few weeks too soon for him. With that run under his belt and returning to his favoured testing ground, significant improvement could well be forthcoming from Van Gogh at the Curragh.
Whether one is the type to pay any attention to it or not is another matter, but when interviewing Ryan Moore for Betfair a few weeks ago I felt that he was particularly sweet on Van Gogh.
Ryan didn't ride him at Newmarket and he won't ride him at the Curragh, but it wouldn't at all surprise to see him go some way to justifying Moore's opinion of him on Saturday.
It would be far from unprecedented for an Aidan O'Brien horse to leave a moderate run in the 2000 Guineas behind them in the Irish equivalent. Roderic O'Connor is one that springs to mind, with him being beaten 38 lengths behind Frankel at Newmarket prior to winning at the Curragh three weeks later.
Hopefully Van Gogh can show a similar level of bouncebackability and run a big race in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.