The 2020 British Flat season finally got underway last week. It was – and is – fantastic to have top-class Flat action back, and racing fans were spoilt with the amount of quality races put on in what is now an alien-looking calendar.
The first two Classics of the season were run at their normal venue, Newmarket, and in Kameko (2000 Guineas) and Love (1000 Guineas) we saw two really likable horses triumph.
Below, I’ve gone into more detail on both races.
IMPROVED KAMEKO DERAILS POTENTIAL SUPERSTAR IN WAITING PINATUBO
Fast ground, a tailwind and a strong gallop helped Kameko in breaking the previous 2000 Guineas course record of 1994 winner Mister Baileys. Andrew Balding’s inmate got up late to deny the Aidan O’Brien-trained Wichita back in second by a neck, with last season’s superstar juvenile and well-backed 5/6 favourite Pinatubo a further length back in third. This trio were 2½ lengths clear of the fourth horse, Military March.
Kameko got a calm and canny ride from last season’s Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy, and it can be argued that the best ride won the race. Having jumped well, despite the Newmarket course clearly favouring prominent racers under the conditions, and Murphy knowing he was riding a horse who will likely stay further than a mile, the Irish native clearly fought what was likely a big urge to get involved in the early pace war and settled his mount just off horses who were tracking the leaders.
I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised with how well Kameko travelled through his race, especially considering the fast nature of this year’s 2000 Guineas. He is clearly an improved horse, something his trainer had been telling us for weeks in the run-up to the maiden Classic of the season. Still, pre-race, I was worried just how well the son of Kitten’s Joy would be able to cope on a super slick surface, but my concerns were unfounded.
As a backer of Wichita, approaching the furlong pole the one horse I didn’t want to see making headway was Kameko. With slight stamina reservations about my bet and absolutely none concerning the eventual winner, coupled with Kameko’s fantastic will to win, I knew I was in trouble.
Despite drifting right, into the middle of the track, Murphy galvanized his mount home. Ecstasy for those concerned with the winner. Heartbreak for those concerned with the runner-up, but positives to take from knowing Wichita has improved from two to three.
With Ryan Moore choosing to ride Arizona, Frankie Dettori picked up a spare aboard the gamble of the race, Wichita, who was backed from 14/1 into 15/2. With hindsight, it’s maybe a ride Dettori will want back; the Italian maybe started his run too early on the son of No Nay Never into what was already an unrelenting gallop. With a horse who had yet to prove he stayed a mile pre-race, the on-day pace scenario likely just found him out, despite the speed favouring conditions.
My worries about Wichita seeing out a mile have been somewhat curbed on the back of this run, but I think it’s crucial to note just how well speed was likely to carry on this particular track, on this given day. Seven furlongs could well prove his optimum going forward, but it will be interesting to see how well he stays on the stiffer round course at Ascot, should he tackle the St James’s Palace Stakes next. Of course, as always, pace is key, but I suspect he’ll need similarly quick going and a significantly slacker gallop to match this form over eight furlongs on more stamina-demanding tracks.
Last season’s Champion Juvenile and race-favourite, Pinatubo didn’t seem to have any excuses on the day, a view shared by his trainer Charlie Appleby and rider William Buick, which they should be applauded for.
Their horse jumped well and manged to get a useful position, although I suspect a draw closer to the rail would have suited better. While visually Pinatubo didn’t travel as strongly as we had seen him do last year, that was maybe down to the strong fractions. In every sense of the word, this Guineas renewal was a Championship Flat race, and sadly the son of Shamardal wasn’t up to it on the day.
I say sadly, because it looked like racing had another champion horse in the making. You can never have enough champions in this game; they are an invaluable commodity in bringing the sport to a wider audience and pulling in new fans, but sadly Pinatubo looked a shadow of the horse that won the National Stakes at the Curragh in 2019.
He still remains top-class however, and can win Group 1 races later in the season, but that air of invincibility he once had is now gone. I will say this, though, I think it important to remember how Covid-19 has affected the preparations of not just these Classic horses, but all horses, and I would be of the opinion of forgiving any perceived below par runs. It might well be the case that we get a more accurate look at where horses are on their next starts.
Pinatubo’s next run is likely to come in the St James’s Palace Stakes, too, but having had not too many concerns about the trip pre-race for the Godolphin-owned colt, he now falls into the Wichita camp for me with regards trip. Again though, all these horses are entitled to strip fitter, not just physically, but mentally.
These words would particularly apply to the likes of Arizona, Mums Tipple and Al Suhail, the three main disappointments in the Guineas. All these horses ran poorly; we know they are much better than they showed. Arizona appeared friendless in the betting, but was that because other horses were better backed, or because someone knew he wasn’t quite right?
Mums Tipple’s poor run could be put down to the trip and poor draw, although I didn’t think he shaped particularly well, even with those factors considered. Al Suhail I remain convinced is a better horse, but is maybe the type to down tools when the going gets tough, and to be fair, this was a Guineas that tested not only class and speed, but a will to win.
In this regard, the right horse won, Kameko giving his owners Qatar Racing Limited, trainer Andrew Balding and jockey Oisin Murphy a first 2000 Guineas.
What next for the winner? Pre-Guineas, I always had him down as a 10f horse, but with the Eclipse not open to three-year-olds this season, it looks like the Derby at Epsom will be next.
LOVE HEARTLESS IN FINAL FURLONG DEMOLITION
With the ground likely to have been slightly softer, less of a wind pushing them home and the gallop not as strong, there was no course record for 1000 Guineas winner Love, who, visually, dismantled Cloak Of Spirits and race-favourite Quadrilateral in a 4¼ lengths victory for Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore.
This daughter of Galileo showed herself to be a hugely likable juvenile last season with the most wonderful attitude. As the 2019 campaign went on, Love continued to get better, more professional and even faster, to my eye; the Ballydoyle inmate appeared to thrive off a good pace on fast ground. Her only disappointing run came at the Curragh in the Group 2 Debutante Stakes, where we finally learned the real key to this Coolmore-owned filly was quick going.
Despite numerous showers at Newmarket on the lead-up to 1000 Guineas day, the ground remained quick enough for Love to put her best foot forward. Having jumped well and got a squeeze to get a good early position, Ryan Moore always looked happy thereafter. In a race run at an even-looking pace, Moore appeared set on going for home sooner than ideal, just to bring his filly’s proven stamina into play; in what was a race where many of the market leaders had distance concerns.
This was the case of 4/1 shot Millisle, 9/2 play Raffle Prize and fifth-placed horse in the betting and eventual runner-up, Cloak Of Spirits (12/1), who all had potential non-stayer looks about them pre-race. With the former pair not troubling the judge, with hindsight, and race-favourite Quadrilateral looking vulnerable under conditions over a trip likely short of her best, my pre-race concerns with regards trips seemingly played out. Such a pity I went for a value play in Boomer, who was just a 1½ lengths behind Love in the Fillies’ Mile last year!
While visually stunning, I do have question marks about Love being as good as she appeared. While Invincible Spirit daughter Clock Of Spirits ran a lovely race to be second, she did have the run of the race to the farside rail on what was still a speed-favouring track. Despite all that, I don’t think she got home well and shaped like a touch of a non-stayer.
Quadrilateral was ridden more forward than normal and although those tactics made perfect sense for a filly who promises to stay 10f, a lack of cover and having her first start of the campaign saw her over-race.
The 98-rated Final Song was back in fourth, beaten 5½ lengths by the winner, which all leads me to believe this form is not as strong as it looks. With many of the market leaders disappointing, this also casts shade on what Love truly achieved.
While the case, “she can only beat what is in front of her”, and to be fair to Love, she did so in some style. The winner is not a filly I want to be too negative on, because I have a real soft spot for her, and her willing attitude. If she were to win the Oaks I might well fall for her proper, but while her pedigree suggests she will have no problem over the 12f trip, at this stage, at the prices, I want to take her on. I’m just not sure what with at the moment.
The rhythm of mile races looks to suit her well, and I’m just not sure that will be the case over 12f. Her attitude and class will take her a long way however, but at this current time, at 6/4, she remains a truly awful bet, especially if she hangs as far right up the Epsom camber as she did at Newmarket.