Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer, Kevin Blake breaks down last weekend's 2000 Guineas won by the Andrew Balding-trained Kameko.

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The 2000 Guineas took centre stage at Newmarket on Saturday. While it produced a result that somewhat turned the juvenile formbook on its head, that isn’t to say it wasn’t an above-average renewal of the race. The pace was strong and there were no hard luck stories, but there is still plenty to pick through in the aftermath of what was a fascinating contest.  

It was the Andrew Balding-trained Kameko that emerged on top in an exciting finish and plenty of credit must go to the ride he was given on the day by Oisín Murphy. Having started on reasonable terms, Murphy dropped Kameko into cover behind the pacesetters. This made plenty of sense, as Kameko had looked very well suited by getting more cover and a more patient ride when winning the Vertem Futurity at Newcastle last November. All went smoothly for the pair until a crucial decision had to be made just over two furlongs out.  

Oisín had ridden quietly to that point and would have undoubtedly been pleased to see his main rivals Pinatubo and Wichita getting sucked into the teeth of the race quite a long way out. However, the time for waiting was over and Oisín needed to find room for his mount.  

Immediately in front of him were the pace setters Persuasion (250/1) and Juan Elcano (66/1) who wouldn’t have appealed as being likely to tow him into the race for much longer and could potentially fall back into his lap at any moment. A couple of horse widths wider, the big guns Pinatubo and Wichita were making their challenge.  

Oisín’s likely first preference, a gap between Persuasion and Pinatubo, was closed before he had the chance to take it by Pinatubo edging left. That forced Oisín’s hand and he had to keep edging right to come around both Pinatubo and Wichita to find open air. This shouldn’t have necessitated an overly dramatic manoeuvre, but it was made much more difficult by Wichita edging back to his right, forcing Oisín to slingshot even further to his right which led to him causing slight interference to Starcat and Kinross.  

A brief anxious moment of being hemmed in behind Wichita with Military March on his outer proved to be mercifully brief as Kameko found open country with just over a furlong to run.  

While Oisín is likely to have had a couple of moments of worry during this sequence, the coolness of his riding up to that point meant that his horse wasn’t being asked to expend energy during what was the fastest section of the race. The following splits recorded by Kameko were produced by Simon Rowlands for Racing Debate on Sky Sports Racing yesterday and they very much help tell the story of his race.    

When one watches back the race in the contest of it being run at a strong overall pace and being at its hottest from four furlongs out to three furlongs out, the contrast between what the main protagonists were doing is stark.  

Kameko was having his energy conserved in cover behind the strong pace, whereas Wichita and Pinatubo were being asked to push forward. In terms of energy cost, making up ground during the fastest section of the race is as expensive as it gets and the savings that Oisín made in that section most likely proved crucial in his mount being able to find more than his main rivals in the final furlong.  

Once in the clear, Kameko showed the benefit of the cool ride he had been given in the hottest part of the race, as even with that more efficient run through the race, he only had a neck to spare over Wichita. The winning margin may have been slightly better had Kameko stayed straight in the final furlong, though it is worth noting that he has edged right to one extent or another in every single one of his starts to date.  

Indeed, for all the comparisons that have been drawn between Kameko and Roaring Lion given they share a sire in Kitten’s Joy and race in the same colours, perhaps the most interesting comparison is that they have both shown a notable tendency to come off a true line under pressure. Roaring Lion went both left and right during his career, whereas Kameko had tended to edge right.

It is a tendency that didn’t tend to hold back Roaring Lion and it is unlikely to hold back Kameko, but it is an interesting piece of common ground between the two.  

In terms of where Kameko goes next, by the sounds of it the Derby is being favoured. Given how well suited he seemed to a fast-run mile and considering both his pedigree and his stride frequency, his stamina for a mile-and-a-half will be far from guaranteed if he does line up at Epsom.  

The revised Group 1 programme in Britain will do its best to funnel Kameko into the Derby, as the most obvious alternative for him, the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on July 5th, is not open to three-year-olds this year. However, there is a fascinating alternative option for him in the shape of the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly on July 5th.  

He holds an entry in the race, the timings would be ideal and the extended mile-and-a-quarter trip would represent an appealing middle ground in terms of gradually testing his stamina for middle distances. The race hasn’t been mentioned as an option by his connections yet, but it will surely have to be strongly considered if the French racing restrictions allow international runners to compete there by then.  

Back in second, Wichita ran a fine race in defeat. He had been no match for Pinatubo in the Dewhurst last October, but the rangy son of No Nay Never clearly did well over the winter months and had no issue with this longer trip of a mile. Having sat handy with no cover from the outset, Dettori asked him to improve into the race in what was the hottest part of the contest approaching the three-furlong pole.  

Considering this, he stuck on admirably well and would most likely have gone even closer under a slightly less aggressive ride. With no doubts about a mile for him, the St James’s Palace Stakes would look an obvious next target for him and he will go there with a leading chance.  

Inevitably, much of the post-race analysis focused in on the hot favourite Pinatubo. Being the highest-rated juvenile in 25 years brings a different level of expectations and while he ran well to finish a close third, it was seen as a disappointment in the context of his brilliant campaign as a two-year-old. So, what went wrong?  

Having been a shade slow to find his stride, Buick never looked happy with his position on Pinatubo. It seemed as though he may have been anxious not to get pocketed, as he was persistently asking Pinatubo forward from the very first furlong. From well before halfway, Pinatubo was needing to be squeezed along to hold his position in tight quarters.  

With just over three furlongs to run, open space appeared in front of Pinatubo. Perhaps with the danger of getting boxed in at the forefront of his mind, Buick strongly asked Pinatubo to go forward into that space. As had been the case on a number of occasions in the second half of last season, Pinatubo went from being slightly behind the bridle to coming alive for stronger encouragement entering the final third of the race, but in this case it came earlier than Buick was likely to have envisaged.  

The result was that in a matter of strides Pinatubo had powered up to within a length of the lead with fully two-and-a-half furlongs to run. As the above split times show, that this headway was made in what was the fastest section of the race means that making up ground at that point was more expensive in energy terms than at any other point of the race.  

Having briefly dropped the revs on Pinatubo, perhaps realising that there was still an awful lot of running left to do, Buick soon returned to a full drive. From there Pinatubo got upsides Wichita, but he could only offer the one pace in the final furlong.  

As is often the case with high-profile reversals, it was a performance that produced a wide range of opinions. Some opined that he didn’t stay the mile, others that he needed further. My inclination is that the trip wasn’t an issue and that a mile is probably going to prove to be his best trip. If William Buick could ride the race again, I suspect he would ride a cooler race, but I don’t think it was the difference between winning and losing on the day.  

The most likely reality of Pinatubo is that the others have simply caught up to him physically. The possibility of this happening was well flagged throughout Pinatubo’s career, with his very forward physique being seen as a major asset against less mature types last season. While he consistently and spectacularly defied those that expected him to be overtaken by his rivals by the backend of his juvenile season, it seems as though it has belatedly come to fruition in the near eight months between the Dewhurst and the 2000 Guineas.  

None of this is to say that Pinatubo hasn’t trained on. He clearly has. It just seems that the remarkable precocity that allowed him to surge so far clear of his rivals last season has been clawed back in quite dramatic fashion in the intervening period.  

An appropriate comparison to make would be to Too Darn Hot. He was an exceptional two-year-old that was also noted for his unusually precocious body and mind for one with a middle-distance pedigree. While he was still capable of producing top-class form as a three-year-old, the rivals that he had dominated as a two-year-old had closed the gap on him to an extent where he was just a very good rather than an exceptional three-year-old.  

In terms of where Pinatubo goes next, the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot appeals as being the right call. While some are likely to shudder at the suggestion, the way Pinatubo shapes in the middle sections of his races suggests to me that cheek-pieces could have a beneficial effect on him.  

Many trainers and owners have an irrational aversion to putting headgear on high-profile horses and take any such suggestions as an insult, but headgear can be a powerful tool in the right circumstances. The signs may only have been subtle, but Pinatubo has given the impression both at the backend of last year and in the 2000 Guineas that his mid-race concentration levels could do with some sharpening.  

His well-established laid-back demeanour only serves to make him an even more appealing candidate for headgear.

Kevin Blake
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