Aidan O’Brien is hoping one of his four-strong team can rise to the challenge of what he views as the “ultimate test of a miler” in Saturday’s Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
The Ballydoyle trainer – who has won four of the last five renewals – fields Arizona, Wichita, Royal Dornoch and New World Tapestry in the first Classic of the season.
Arizona and Wichita were second and third respectively behind red-hot favourite Pinatubo in the Dewhurst last year, with Arizona subsequently stepping up to a mile to finish a narrow fifth at the Breeders’ Cup meeting.
Ryan Moore will be aboard Arizona, who struck Group Two gold last term in the Coventry Stakes and was closer to Pinatubo in the Dewhurst than he was in the National Stakes at the Curragh.
O’Brien said: “I suppose Arizona has been the horse on everyone’s mind all along and Wichita won his Group race at Newmarket and then ran very well in the Dewhurst, so I suppose you’d be well happy with both of those. They haven’t worked together.
“He’s a Coventry winner and seemed to get home well there, obviously he is by No Nay Never so he would be an influence for speed, but we always thought a mile would be well within his grasp.
“I suppose sometimes you would run a horse over that trip kind of looking at it with one eye open thinking it wasn’t going to happen (get trip), but we always thought this horse would get the trip.
“We were delighted with his run in the Breeders’ Cup. He ran in the Dehwurst and went there and he was finishing well. He didn’t have a good draw and was a little slow away, but we were very happy after that that a mile would be within his range.
“He travelled plenty last year, he got plenty of experience. I suppose we were travelling him plenty with a view to this year, that he would know what he had to do when he turned up on those days.”
Frankie Dettori will be on Wichita, while Tom Marquand teams up with Royal Lodge Stakes winner Royal Dornoch and Adam Kirby takes the ride on outsider New World Tapestry.
O’Brien added: “New World Tapestry ran a nice race in the Vertem Futurity and Royal Dornoch won the race in Newmarket and he’s a very legitimate horse.”
The Guineas is being run a month later than originally scheduled, but O’Brien believes it is crucial the event is contested.
He said: “The Guineas is a very important race, horses have to stay and handle the contours of Newmarket. The Classics are so important for the thoroughbred breed going forward and that is what everything is geared to really.
“To win a Guineas you kind of have to be a sprinter that is going to stay, it’s a very tough test very early in the season, but that’s the way it should be, because nowadays horses mature early.
“They have to run at two and have to be very competitive all the way. People don’t want to be waiting on horses maturing at four of five. It is the ultimate test of a miler and that’s the way we have always viewed it. It’s a seriously important race.”
With the delayed start to the campaign, there have been no Classic trials, but Andrew Balding is not concerned about pitching Kameko into the main event without a warm-up run.
The Kitten’s Joy colt won the Group One Vertem Futurity Trophy on his final start of the year and has had a racecourse gallop in recent weeks.
Balding said: “I think in the circumstances, going there first time up is to our advantage (having had four runs as a two-year-old). He is a horse I’d expect to improve as he gets more racing, but I think the racecourse gallop we had really helped.
“Only the race will tell us the answers, but I think the preparation is as good as we could have had it.”
Kameko will have to turn around Royal Lodge form with Royal Dornoch after being beaten a neck in that Group Two heat.
Balding added: “If we had our time again I would have been a bit tougher on him leading into that race and I think probably Oisin (Murphy, jockey) would have sat on him a little bit longer.
“It was just a combination of circumstances that didn’t suit the horse. Personally I don’t think it was the track and that doesn’t worry me.
“Newcastle certainly wasn’t to his disadvantage, but he ran a good race in the Solario at Sandown on turf, he probably should have the won Royal Lodge and he’s a high-class horse either surface in my opinion.”
While Balding knows Kameko stays a mile having already won at that distance, he is not so sure he would see out 12 furlongs in the Derby – although a solid run this weekend might see him head to Epsom on July 4.
The trainer said: “If you look at the pedigree, it’s quite interesting as there is a horse called Alderbrook in about the third or fourth dam, he’s somewhere hidden in the pedigree, but that’s about it and I must admit it would be a slight leap of faith to expect him to stay a mile and a half.
“But at the same time if he ran a nice Derby trial at Newmarket it would be very difficult not to be tempted.”
Champion jockey Murphy will be in the plate again at Newmarket as he seeks the first Classic win of his career on a colt owned by Sheikh Fahad al Thani, who is a director of Qipco.
He said: “It would be massive, obviously Qipco sponsor the race and for Andrew and Sheikh Fahad it would be huge. But I’ve had these dreams before and have been disappointed, so we won’t get too excited just yet.”
While Pinatubo is the favourite for Godolphin, Saeed bin Suroor also fields a serious contender in the royal blue in the shape of Military March, who was unbeaten in two outings last year and is prominent in the ante-post market on the Derby.
Bin Suroor told www.godolphin.com: “Military March did very well as a two-year-old, winning both his starts including a Group Three race. We gave him a break over the winter and have been very pleased with him since he came back in.
“I was very happy with his final piece of work earlier this week and he looks ready to go.
“It looks as though he is a horse who will need further, but he shows plenty of speed and this is a nice starting point for his season. He looks much stronger compared to last year and I’m hoping for a big run.”