10 Classic Contenders for 2015
The Flat season in Britain and Ireland is now officially under way, and attention naturally starts turning towards the Classics.
With the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket at the start of May, there is not much time left for an unknown quantity to emerge from the shadows and challenge those horses which have spent the winter at the head of the betting. As you would expect, Aidan O’Brien dominates many of the lists, and you’re hard pressed to find a non-Ballydoyle inmate in the betfair market for the Epsom Derby.
O’Brien, therefore, features prominently in this list of 10 three-year-olds which will have leading Classic chances in the coming months.
Headline photo by Florian Christoph
Andrew Balding’s son of Phoenix Reach enjoyed an upward curve as a juvenile, impressing more with each run as his season culminated with victory in the Group One Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. Elm Park had started with a third place in a seven-furlong maiden at Sandown before getting off the mark over the same trip at Newbury. He then comfortably took the Listed Stonehenge Stakes over a mile at Salisbury before continuing on the upgrade when beating Nafaqa by a length in the Group Two Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket. That put Elm Park on target for the Racing Post Trophy and he was not hard pressed to see off the O’Brien-trained Aloft by two-and-three-quarters of a length. The performance at Doncaster stamped Elm Park as the leading British hope for the Derby at Epsom.
Balding expects improvement from the horse when he does step up in trip, especially as his sire was a Group One winner in Canada, Hong Kong and Dubai over a mile-and-a-half. However, Elm Park will firstly tackle the 2000 Guineas and it will be fascinating to see how he copes over a mile as a three-year-old. Balding’s father Ian trained the legendary Mill Reef to finish second in the Guineas before winning the Derby. Could Andrew do even better with Elm Park?
As a once-raced son of War Front, the John Gosden-trained Faydhan is one of the most intriguing contenders to be aimed at the 2000 Guineas. A more impressive debut last season was hard to find after Faydhan beat Dutch Connection by six lengths at Haydock over six furlongs in July. Dutch Connection went on to win the Group Three Acomb Stakes at York before placing third behind Gleneagles in the National Stakes at the Curragh.
A leg injury prevented Faydhan from running again as a juvenile, but he is being lined up for the European Free Handicap at Newmarket en route to his run in the Guineas. Gosden feels running over seven furlongs, rather than the mile of the Craven Stakes, would be a better preparation for Faydhan at this stage. Mystiko was the last horse to complete the Free Handicap-Guineas double back in 1991 and Gosden has yet to win the 2000 Guineas. On potential, Faydhan could end that hoodoo.
Like so many of the Classic contenders coming from the O’Brien stable, Found is beautifully bred. Her sire Galileo won the Epsom and Irish Derbies, while her dam Red Evie was a dual Group One winner over a mile. Found was the unfancied second string from the O’Brien yard on her debut, but she belied her odds of 14/1 to beat stablemate Together Forever by three-quarters of a length over a mile at the Curragh. She then dropped down to seven furlongs to be beaten under a length in third by Cursory Glance, who will miss the 1000 Guineas due to injury, in the Moyglare Stud Stakes. Ryan Moore was in the saddle for her third run and Found was most impressive in beating Ervedya by two-and-a-half lengths in the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp on Arc weekend.
The 1000 Guineas is her initial target and you would then expect her to head to Epsom for the Oaks. O’Brien reported that Found had a temperature recently, but that is unlikely to have held her back too much, and she is a live candidate to do the Guineas-Oaks double.
Another O’Brien horse to have been sired by the great Galileo, Gleneagles passed the post first in two Group Ones as a juvenile and is arguably the yard’s No.1 contender for the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Beaten on his debut at Leopardstown, Gleneagles won over seven furlongs at the Curragh on his second start before taking the Group Three Tyros Stakes over the same trip. Gleneagles showed the benefit of his first couple of runs by turning the tables on Convergence, who had beaten him on his debut. Gleneagles was too good for Vert De Grece in the Group Two Futurity Stakes at the Curragh and returned to the same track to account for Toscanini by a length-and-a-half, with Dutch Connection third, in the National Stakes. In the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp, Gleneagles finished in front only to be demoted to third behind Full Mast after edging across and causing interference. Gleneagles was still comfortably the best horse in that race and he was subsequently named the top two-year-old at the Cartier Horse of the Year awards. Quicker ground suits Gleneagles the best and Joseph O’Brien will be determined to shed the few pounds required to ensure he can take the ride in the 2000 Guineas.
by Paolo Camera
Carrying the Coolmore colours, but trained in America, Hootenanny is arguably the most fascinating potential runner in the 2000 Guineas. Wesley Ward is renowned for the speed and precocious nature of his juveniles, and Hootenanny proved he matched that type when blitzing the field in the Windsor Castle Stakes over five furlongs at Royal Ascot last summer. However, he has since gone on to prove he can last out a mile after a gallant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. In between, Hootenanny had been beaten half-a-length by The Wow Signal in the Prix Morny over six furlongs at Deauville when the very soft ground wouldn’t have suited. Immediately after his win in the Breeders’ Cup, Ward confirmed Hootenanny would be trained with a crack at the 2000 Guineas in mind. That race remains firmly under consideration, although his preparation has been held up a little by the cold winter in Kentucky.
It means Hootenanny could head to Newmarket without a prep run as the Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland in early April had previously been mooted as an option. With Frankie Dettori in the saddle, Hootenanny will be one of the most popular runners at the Guineas meeting and it will be some achievement if he sees out the stiff, straight mile at Newmarket.
Another 2000 Guineas challenger who will need to fully prove his stamina, Ivawood represents last year’s winning trainer, Richard Hannon jnr. In his first season as trainer after taking over from his father, Hannon sent out Night Of Thunder to win in 2014 and Ivawood looks a much smarter prospect, certainly based on his juvenile form. After catching the eye with a winning debut over five furlongs at Sandown, Ivawood stepped up to six furlongs to beat Jungle Cat by two-and-three-quarter lengths in the July Stakes at Newmarket next time, with subsequent Dewhurst Stakes winner Belardo back in fourth. Ivawood then added another Group Two to his name by running away with the Richmond Stakes at the Glorious Goodwood meeting, when Jungle Cat was even further back in third.
Ivawood was agonisingly close to maintaining his unbeaten juvenile career when going down by a nose to Charming Thought in the Middle Park Stakes, again over six furlongs. As a son of Zebedee, who was a prolific winner over five furlongs as a juvenile, there are understandably doubts about whether Ivawood will stay a mile. However, Hannon feels Ivawood has every chance of staying the trip and his run in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury, over seven furlongs, will give a much clearer indication of his Guineas prospects.
JOHN F KENNEDY
An out-and-out Derby horse, John F Kennedy is impeccably bred, out of Galileo and Rumplestiltskin. His dam was twice a Group One winner as a juvenile, and Galileo’s Classic successes are there for all to see. John F Kennedy finished second on his debut to Hall Of Fame, who subsequently twice finished behind Gleneagles. John F Kennedy then easily won a maiden over a mile at the Curragh before handing out a three-and-a-quarter length beating to Tombelaine in the Group Three John Deere Juvenile Turf Stakes at Leopardstown. That was the same race which Australia won as a juvenile before going on to win last year’s Derby. John F Kennedy will follow the route of his sire to Epsom after being pencilled in for the Ballysax Stakes and the Derrinstown Derby Trial by O’Brien. The mile-and-a-half trip shouldn’t be an issue as John F Kennedy is a full brother to Tapestry, who won the Yorkshire Oaks over that distance last season after finishing runner-up in the Irish Oaks.
Jim Bolger knows what it takes to train a 1000 Guineas winner and, in Lucida, he feels he has a filly which is capable of doing the business at Newmarket. Bolger believes that Lucida has comparable qualities to Finsceal Beo, who he trained to win the 1000 Guineas and the Irish equivalent, either side of a second place in the French version, back in 2007. Lucida was certainly highly tried as a juvenile as, after making a winning debut over six furlongs at Naas, she was pitched in to Group Two company to be second behind Raydara in the Debutante Stakes at the Curragh over seven furlongs. It was Group One company next as Lucida was only beaten a neck when staying on behind Cursory Glance in the Moyglare.
Lucida then emulated Finsceal Beo by winning the Group Two Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket over seven furlongs, a performance which saw her sent off favourite for the Group One Fillies’ Mile back at HQ. The tactical nature of the race probably didn’t suit, and Bolger also blamed the soft ground, for her fifth place behind Together Forever. Bolger’s runners in the English Classics always merit respect and Lucida will be worth a look on decent ground.
OL’ MAN RIVER
Alongside John F Kennedy, Ol’ Man River is, at this stage, the leading Derby hope for O’Brien. His sire Montjeu won the French and Irish Derbies, along with the Arc and the King George. His dam was the dual Classic-winning filly Finsceal Beo. So winning a Classic runs in the family for Ol’ Man River. He had just two runs as a juvenile, winning over a mile at the Curragh on his debut when beating Aared by three-quarters of a length. Aared had previously been beaten 12 lengths on his debut by John F Kennedy. He stepped up on that effort to stylishly take the Group Two Beresford Stakes by nearly three lengths from Clonard Street. He had Tombelaine further back than the margin that horse was beaten by John F Kennedy in the Juvenile Turf at Leopardstown.
O’Brien is giving serious consideration to running Ol’ Man River in the Guineas first before going on to the Derby, but he may not have the speed of Gleneagles. O’Brien has previously expressed uncertainty about whether Ol’ Man River would truly stay a mile-and-a-half, but he looks the type who will get the trip and the sky’s the limit for him over middle distances this season.
Together Forever took time to find her feet as a juvenile before ending her two-year-old days with a Group One success to her name. Another O’Brien horse to be sired by Galileo, Together Forever has the 1000 Guineas as her immediate target and she has already proved herself over the course and distance. She started off with a fourth at Galway before being turned over by Found on her second start. Together Forever was then third in the Listed Flame Of Tara Stakes to Jack Naylor. That filly had already won a Group Three and finished the season with a third place behind Found in the Marcel Boussac. Together Forever got off the mark at the fourth attempt by winning a Gowran Park maiden by five lengths. She then won the Listed Staffordstown Stud Stakes over a mile at the Curragh before following up, five days later, by beating Agnes Stewart half-a-length in the Fillies’ Mile. It was perhaps not the most satisfactory of races, but Together Forever at least proved she can handle the undulations of Newmarket. However, on form, she will need to have improved a bit over the winter if she is to get the better of stablemate Found in the 1000 Guineas.
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