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Churchill threatened by some classy new pretenders in the 2000 Guineas


Churchill towered above the British and Irish two-year-old scene last year in both physique and performance and there is hope and expectation that Ryan Moore's mount will transfer his excellence into 2017 by winning Saturday's 2000 Guineas over Newmarket's famous Rowley Mile.

If he does land this famous G1 he will move right into racing's celebrity zone whilst giving his trainer Aidan O'Brien a record eighth race victory, some achievement considering that the 2000 Guineas - the first of five British Classics  - has a remarkable history of more than 200 years. 

But despite O'Brien's Guineas wizardry there have been some expensive Guineas flops from the same stable, the most conspicuous being Air Force Blue last year. And whilst Churchill has remained absent so far this year - standard stable practice when the goal is the Guineas - some new kids with a winning mentality having been shouting loudly from the block in the last month or so.

Let's begin with Al Wukair who is trained by 27-times French champion Andre Fabre, a titan in the racing arena. Even by his standards the stable has been in devastating form lately including Al Wukair's sensational last-to-first surge in April's Prix Djebel at Maisons-Laffitte - a G3 over 1400m in which the past three French-trained 2000 Guineas' winners prepped.

"I gave Al Wukair a light two-year-old campaign as some of our horses had a virus. But what he did in the Djebel told me he is ready for this and I'm quite confident he will finish in the first three with my only concern being his lack of experience. They are young horses and this is new opposition," Fabre says.

Importantly the master trainer also insists: "Al Wukair is well-balanced so the course is not a major concern." He refers to the fact that the Rowley's Mile penultimate 200m is downhill with the last 200m being uphill, an almost unique racecourse feature that has destroyed the chances of many good horses.

Churchill's victory in the prestigious G1 Dewhurst Stakes (1400m) last October had comprehensively proved Newmarket's gradients were no worry to him but so did
it reveal that Eminent was Newmarket-savvy after his stylish and very quick Craven Stakes (G3, 1600m) victory last month.

Eminent is an unbeaten son of Frankel whose offspring's fantastic performances are resulting in what has been described as 'Frankel fever.' And, despite the fact that the Craven Stakes has not recently been a good Guineas guide, there is increasing belief that Eminent could give the famous sire a first Classic win. Martyn Meade, a successful businessman as well as Eminent's trainer, struggles to hide both his enthusiasm and realism.

"Eminent is a very different looking horse now than he was last year which is just what I wanted. He'll also be a better horse going into the Guineas than he was going into the Craven.  I really think he can win, although whether he can beat Churchill I don't know."

The other significant Guineas trial was Newbury's Greenham Stakes (G3, 1400m) when Dream Castle's apparently unassailable lead disintegrated as Barney Roy surged past in the last 100m.

Both colts run in the Godolphin silks with in-form Silvestre de Sousa taking over and trying for a better outcome on Dream Castle whilst James Doyle is again aboard Barney Roy whose trainer Richard Hannon says: "The Guineas is a very different race to the Greenham but our horse will know a lot more and will be a little fitter. He is a very exciting colt."

Other intriguing races on the six-race simulcast programme include the G2 Jockey Club Stakes over 2400m in which a major contender is expected to be One Foot In Heaven who finished third in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) last December. 

He's a smart French-trained five-year-old though four-year-olds - including likely favourite Seventh Heaven - have won eight of the last ten runnings.

Some pundits will also be looking in different directions to the favourites in the opening Spring Lodge Stakes over 1800m after some long odds winners in recent years.

A sample of Europe's fastest sprinters will be on view in the G3 Palace House Stakes over 1000m and Goldream - who won in 2015 - and last year's winner Profitable are both expected to try for repeat glory.


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