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Air Force Blue heads field of 13 for QIPCO 2000 Guineas

28 Apr 2016

Hot favourite for opening QIPCO British Champions Series contest will be joined in line-up by stablemate Air Vice Marshal

Air Force Blue romps to victory in the 2015 Dubai Dewhurst Stakes. Image courtesy of Racingfotos.com.

Aidan O’Brien will be double-handed in his attempt to make history in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday.

O’Brien is seeking a record-breaking eighth triumph in the the first Classic of the season, the eagerly awaited first race in this year’s QIPCO British Champion Series, and his principal challenger is short-priced favourite Air Force Blue, who will be equipped with a first-time tongue strap.

The outstanding champion two-year-old of last season features among a final field of 13 revealed this morning and will be joined by stablemate Air Force Marshal.

Air Force Blue has by far the strongest credentials of the two Ballydoyle runners and will be ridden by Ryan Moore, the three-time champion who enjoyed his first 2000 Guineas triumph last year when guiding the O’Brien-trained Gleneagles to success.

Gleneagles’s emphatic triumph provided O’Brien with his seventh 2000 Guineas win and drew him level with John Scott, who achieved the same number of victories in the mile showpiece between 1842 and 1862.

All of O’Brien’s previous winners – King Of Kings (1998), Rock Of Gibraltar (2002), Footsetpsinthesand (2005), George Washington (2006), Henrythenavigator (2008), Camelot (2012) and Gleneagles – had been making their seasonal reappearances.

Air Force Blue will also be having his first run of the campaign and, having won three Group One races (the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes, Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes and Dubai Dewhurst Stakes), is perhaps better qualified than any of O’Brien’s previous heroes.

None of the other septet had won more than twice at the highest level before lining up at Headquarters.

The master of Ballydoyle insists Air Force Blue is the best two-year-old he has trained and says he has not stood still in the interim.

“He loves his work, wants to work, wants to please all the time,” O’Brien said. “He’s a very easy horse to train, [our job] is not to overtrain him; keep him safe physically and relaxed mentally.

“He was a slick two-year-old and everything went well with him through the winter. He’s a big, rangy, scopey horse.

“It will be his first run over a mile and it’s Newmarket, you can never be sure [about staying], but he goes through the early part of his work very easily and we are hoping that will help.”

The War Front colt has been trading at cramped odds since his Dewhurst thrashing of Massaat, who will reoppose, but O’Brien’s rivals should not despair because he has also had his share of disappointments over the years – saddling seven beaten favourites, including exalted names such as Hawk Wing, Giant’s Causeway, St Nicholas Abbey and Australia.

The only Group One winner among the opposition is Marcel, 33-1 winner of the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October. He will be bidding to turn the clock back for Peter Chapple-Hyam, successful in the 1992 running with the Lester Piggott-ridden Rodrigo De Triano.

Makfi (33-1 in 2010) and Night Of Thunder (40-1 in 2014) have sprung surprises in the past six years and Clive Cox is hoping Zonderland can follow suit.

The Cheveley Park-owned colt was an impressive five-length winner of a 7f maiden at Kempton on his debut in early September before finishing a close fourth in two Group 3 races on softish ground.

“I think he’s a bright prospect and and he would not be going there unless we thought he could run a big race,” Cox said. “He’s shown us he’s a better horse on a drier surface and that’s why we’ve not targeted any of the trials. He’s a horse full of promise and hopefully he will get his ground.”

Cox’s only previous runner in the 2,000 Guineas was Xtension, who was fourth in the 2010. “They are different characters,” he said. “Zonderland is very strong and always been the part physically, but he’s improved mentally from two to three.”

The 2000 Guineas was named after its original prize fund (a guinea amounted to £1.05). This year’s renewal is worth a record £500,000 and the winner will be a ready-made stallion.

That will not have escaped the attention of Ed Walker who, having held a licence for six years, will have his first Classic runner in the shape of impressive Craven winner Stormy Antarctic.

That traditional trial is run over the same course and distance as the Guineas and between 1985 and 1990 five winners of it – Shadeed, Dancing Brave, Don’t Forget Me, Doyoun and Tirol – went on to complete the double. However, the last to do so was Haafhd in 2004.

A decade earlier Mark Johnston struck with his first runner in the race, Mister Baileys, but his six subsequent challengers have all been beaten.

He tries again with Buratino, who beat Air Force Blue in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot but could not confirm his superiority when they met again in the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh a couple of months later.

Frankie Dettori, victorious aboard Mark Of Esteem (1996) and Island Sands (1999), believes more rain will enhance the prospects of Galileo Gold, whose exploits as a two-year-old included beating Ibn Malik, the subsequent Free Handicap winner, on good to soft ground in the Qatar Vintage Stakes at Goodwood in July.

The Italian could get his wish because the forecast for the next 48 hours remains unsettled. The ground is currently described as good.

THE FINAL FIELD

The 13 acceptors for the Group 1 QIPCO 2000 Guineas run over a mile at Newmarket’s Rowley Mile Racecourse on Saturday, 30th April, are as follows: Air Force Blue (USA), Air Vice Marshal (USA), Buratino (IRE), First Selection (SPA), Galileo Gold (GB), Herald The Dawn (IRE), Kentuckyconnection (USA), Marcel (IRE), Massaat (IRE), Ribchester (IRE), Stormy Antarctic (GB), Zhui Feng (IRE), Zonderland (GB).