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The Roar: Eyes on England for the 2000 Guineas, America for the Kentucky Derby

May 4, 2013

http://www.theroar.com.au/2013/05/04/a-weekend-feast-englands-2000-guineas-and-americas-kentucky-derby/

Saturday sees a big day of racing in Australia, with the Group 1 South Australian Derby (2500m) at Morphettville the feature.

However, my attention is focused elsewhere, with sensational racing all over the world this weekend.

The two biggest races in the world this weekend are both three year old classics – the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in England and the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in the United States.

The Group 1 2000 Guineas (1m – a1600m) is being run for the 205th time this weekend. Run down the straight at Newmarket, the “home of horse racing”, its honour roll consists of the best milers to have graced England’s tracks.

The last few years are testament to this, with two of the last four runnings won by champions.

Four years ago, Sea The Stars showed his true ability for the first time.

He had been a good juvenile without starring. At his last appearance as a two year old, he won a Group 2 over a mile at The Curragh in Ireland, defeating last weekend’s Sydney Cup winner Mourayan.

But as a three year old he was a different horse, his one and a half length win signalling the start of a season which would reap victories in the Epsom Derby, Eclipse Stakes, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

We could hardly expect to see a better horse win the 2000 Guineas within a generation.

Instead, racing fans were spoilt just two years later.

In 2011, Frankel produced in all likelihood the most impressive win in the 2000 Guineas ever. Racing keenly, he led by a remarkable 15 lengths at the halfway mark before being eased to win by a cool eight lengths.

Now, his powerful Queen Anne Stakes success at Royal Ascot last year is seen as his crowning moment. For sheer brilliance, though, his win in this race is hard to top.

Last year, Aidan O’Brien’s Camelot came with a burst from last to defeat French Fifteen by a neck. He went on to win the Epsom Derby in devastating fashion, before finishing second to Encke in the English St Leger.

This year looks to feature a number of nice colts, although it is too early to judge how good they may be.

Star juvenile Dawn Approach is the favourite at his seasonal reappearance for powerhouse stable godolphin, who will be looking for a tonic after a horrific start to the season.

Last week, trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni was suspended for eight years for administering anabolic steroids to horses in breach of British racing rules.

Dawn Approach was unbeaten as a two year old, winning two Group 1s over seven furlongs on both sides of the Irish Sea. A son of Epsom Derby winner and boom sire New Approach, he should appreciate further in time but he looks the class runner.

In a typical tussle between godolphin and Coolmore, Aidan O’Brien saddles up a strong hand in his attempt to win his seventh 2000 Guineas.

The market considers Cristoforo Colombo, by Henrythenavigator, his best chance after O’Brien’s son and stable jockey Joseph chose to ride him.

He only finished a length behind Dawn Approach at Royal Ascot last year, but a combination of bad luck and poor form saw him disappoint for the rest of the season.

Mars, by the all-conquering Galileo, was a favourite for this year’s Epsom Derby before he’d even made his debut. He’s only had one start for an easy win at Dundalk, but he should be hitting the line nicely as he looks to the longer classics.

The outsider of O’Brien’s trio is George Vancouver, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last year after finishing well behind Dawn Approach in the Phoenix Stakes.

The horse considered the main threat to the big stables is Toronado, owned by Qatar’s Sheikh Joaan (a half brother to Melbourne Cup-winning owner Sheikh Fahad al Thani).

Toronado is also unbeaten and has the benefit of fitness on his side, having won the Craven Stakes over this course and distance two weeks ago.

He has been well supported this week and seems to be the fancy of many keen judges.

The 2000 Guineas will be run Saturday night at 12:50am AEST.

Across the Atlantic, the Grade I Kentucky Derby (1 1/4m – a2000m) is set to create headlines for the 139th time.

Known as much for mint juleps and stirring crowd renditions of “My Old Kentucky Home” as it is for the race itself, it captures attention from many parts of the world.

Promoters still call it the “Greatest Two Minutes In Sport” – while I’m not sure that’s the case, there’s no doubt it is exciting to watch.

It is perhaps the world’s most famous horse race, known by many who wouldn’t have the slightest interest in racing.

Indeed, the Kentucky Derby has even had a profound and lasting effect on Australian culture, well beyond the realms of the racing industry.

Don’t believe me?

A member of one of Australia’s most renowned families, the Arnott’s of biscuit fame, was in attendance at the 1958 Kentucky Derby.

He was captivated by the name of the winner and declared it would be the perfect name for a biscuit.

Six years later, biscuits carrying the name of the 1958 Kentucky Derby winner,

Tim Tam, were first introduced in New South Wales. Need I say more?

These days, it is perhaps the only horse race which captivates the American public, with racing becoming more and more marginalised in the United States.

It is the first leg of the Triple Crown, undoubtedly the world’s premier race series. The Kentucky Derby is followed by the Grade I Preakness Stakes (1 3/16m – a1900m) at Pimlico in Maryland before the final and most gruelling leg, the Grade I Belmont Stakes (1 1/2m – a2400m) at Belmont Park in New York.

There have been 11 Triple Crown winners – Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978).

But the last 35 years have been barren. Since 1979, eleven horses have lined up in the Belmont Stakes having won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. All have failed to complete American racing’s holy grail.

Some have been despairingly close – for example, Real Quiet booted five lengths in front at the top of the Belmont Park stretch in 1998, only to be caught by Victory Gallop in the final stride.

Last year, I’ll Have Another looked poised to break the hoodoo before an untimely injury the day before the race resulted in his premature retirement to stud in Japan.

At the moment, though, the Triple Crown dream is still alive. A Triple Crown winner would do wonders for an American racing industry struggling to gain attention.

This year, there is no standout among the 20 runners and many could potentially become the next Triple Crown contender.

Shrewd judges at Churchill Downs this week suggest Florida Derby winner Orb is likely to start favourite ahead of the undefeated Verrazano.

Verrazano has impressed with his workman-like attitude to victory. He doesn’t win by a big margin, but he always manages to get the job done.

Orb, however, tends to have a touch of class. At most of his runs to date, he’s been caught wide but he has managed to outclass his rivals. It looked that way in the Florida Derby, where he proved strong for another fancy in Itsmyluckyday.

Others likely to be in favour include Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents and Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary.

Aidan O’Brien is not one for rest, as is shown by the fact he sends out Lines of Battle mere hours after he saddles up three in the 2000 Guineas. Lines of Battle produced a dour performance to win the UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup night and doesn’t look to have the class for this race.

It is well worth setting the alarm on Sunday morning to watch this great race, to be shown on Sky Racing at 8:24am AEST.

2000 Guineas

1. Dawn Approach
2. Mars
3. Toronado

Kentucky Derby

1. Orb
2. Itsmyluckyday
3. Java’s War

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