John Gosden admits he has taken an “unconventional approach” with Too Darn Hot as he prepares to clash with Magna Grecia in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh.
Last year’s champion juvenile met with a setback early in the spring that ruled him out of his intended prep race in the Greenham Stakes and forced him to miss the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
He then stepped up in distance for the Dante Stakes at York and was narrowly beaten by Telecaster, but drops back to a mile on Saturday for his last chance to win a Classic – and a mouth-watering showdown with Aidan O’Brien’s Newmarket winner Magna Grecia.
“I’m fully aware it’s an unconventional approach,” said Gosden.
“Obviously his programme was turned upside down in the spring. He never made the Greenham; he never made the Guineas and he spent quite a long time walking.
“As I told everyone when he went to the Dante, he was 85 per cent and he ran a good race. The distance was a little too far, but he probably laid back a bit far off our pacemaker. I thought the winner won well.
“It was not my intention to go to Ireland, but I thought he came out of the race in great order. He was eating well and was full of himself.
“It looks a really smart race. It is a proper track, so let’s hope it is a clean race and that the best horse wins. We are surrounded in all directions, so it will be a very exciting race.
“I wouldn’t for one minute under-estimate Skardu, who I thought ran a superb race from an unfortunate draw in the Guineas, and he can put it up to all of us. It looks a very smart Irish 2,000 Guineas, but we are looking forward to running in it.
“I would have preferred a much more straightforward preparation than this one, but he is a lovely horse and he needs to race.
“I suppose that is probably part of it, too – that it is the last chance to get a Classic, because through no fault of his own he couldn’t run in the English one, so we will have a go at this one.
“Let’s hope I’m not asking him too difficult a question.”
Magna Grecia is aiming to complete a double last achieved by the O’Brien-trained Churchill two years ago.
O’Brien, who always had the Curragh in mind for his Invincible Spirit colt after Newmarket, said: “He seems to be in good form since Newmarket. He handles the ground – it was fast in Newmarket.
“It’s a good, competitive race.”
Skardu won the Craven for William Haggas before finishing third in the Guineas.
“It is a rematch, and a lot has been made of the Guineas at Newmarket, but I still think that the best horse won on the day there,” said Haggas.
“I do believe that Magna Grecia was in an advantageous part of the track, but I do think he would have won wherever he’d have been that day.
“Skardu is in very good form, and now I just hope he takes the journey well and the ground stays dry. We had good days at the Curragh last year, and it would be nice to continue this season.”
Charlie Hills has faced a small delay to Phoenix Of Spain’s campaign, but he was not far behind Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster last season.
“We feel that the Curragh is going to suit him very much, and the trip will suit him. I think he has got a very good each-way chance in the race,” said Hills.
“His form looks rock solid, and that is always encouraging to see.”
Dermot Weld has enjoyed a fine start to the season and the master of Roswell House is relying solely on Shelir, who has won both his starts this season.
“I’m delighted with Shelir,” Weld said.
“He is a straightforward colt; he is a good-actioned horse. He has had no hold-ups, so we are all set and looking forward to running him in the Guineas at the weekend.”
Another Curragh-trained contender is the Michael O’Callaghan-trained I Am Superman – already a two-time winner this season.
Also featuring in the first Irish Classic of the season is the Paddy Twomey-trained Decrypt, who booked his place in the race with a facile win at Cork last month and bids to give the in-form trainer the biggest success of his short career to date.
Twomey said: “Decrypt beat some smart winners at Cork last month. He travelled through the race well and quickened away and did it within himself. It was a nice comeback for him, and the logical next step for him is up in class.
“He’s rated 105 after three starts and he’s in very good form. He’s on target for Saturday – he’s well in himself and he’s ready.”
Kevin Ryan reports Emaraaty Ana, winner of last year’s Gimcrack and runner-up in the Middle Park Stakes, to be in fine shape as he bids to improve on his run in the 2000 Guineas – when he finished towards the rear.
“It’s a tough race, but he’s in good form going into it,” said the North Yorkshire trainer.