The flat season truly kicks off this weekend with a veritable classic and Triple Crown bonanza. It’s Guineas and Kentucky Derby weekend, and here are the best bets.
Saturday 1st May 2021
2.05 Goodwood (Conqueror Fillies’ Stakes – Listed Race) – MAAMORA
Lilac Road may well be favourite here, but she’s only a three-year-old and an all-weather winner who could be vulnerable. Maamora, off the track for a while, can still improve and goes well fresh so appears a better option than the Haggas horse and Agincourt.
2.25 Newmarket (Palace House Stakes – Group 3) – LAZULI
Sometimes these sprinters are a work in progress, so while at 4 and 5 respectively they’ve always shown serious talent, it may have taken until this season for us all to see what Lazuli and Garrus are truly about.
The former is backed this time to give away 3lbs to his older rival who himself will win his share of big price money this year.
3.40 Newmarket (2000 Guineas – Group 1) – MUTASAABEQ
Richard Hannon’s Greenham winner Chindit can improve plenty, but may want a different track, Naval Crown can be dragged along by good horses so can improve again at a big price while Van Gogh is classy but needs a real test and is a shorter price for the Derby than this for a good reason.
The key piece of form is last season’s National Stakes. There, Master Of The Seas was too free, pulled badly for his head and then raced wide with no cover. Although finishing fourth, he was only swamped very late on by Thunder Moon and Wembley who have been vying for favouritism here.
It’s felt that in these conditions Master Of The Seas can beat his old rivals now. He showed some fine pace to win the Superlative, did well in the circumstances in Ireland, then after a pipe-opener in Dubai did even better to win the Craven last time.
Despite being blocked on numerous occasions, he got himself out of trouble to win that prep in nice style over the course and distance, William Buick in the end choosing him over previous favourite One Ruler.
One Ruler has gone a tried and tested route having run well to be runner-up in the Group 1 Vertem Futurity on unsuitable soft ground, while before than he won the Autumn Stakes. He has the form in the bag, but it may well be prevalent that Buick has gone for the other horse as he rarely gets it wrong.
Thunder Moon won the National Stakes and was not suited by the ground in the Dewhurst. He is the winner of the race with the key form, but given how that race shaped up it would be no surprise to see both Master Of The Seas and Wembley turn that form around.
Wembley is the choice of Ryan Moore from the Coolmore team and he’s very classy indeed. His form puts him in the mix, but one win from 6 doesn’t scream “Guineas winner”. He was beaten by Mac Swiney last season who has close form with One Ruler, and in turn with Master Of The Seas which is yet another example of how close and muddled the form lines are.
We could be left looking for something else, and the new kid on the block Mutasaabeq looks to be the one. Charlie Hills’ Shadwell colt made a great debut last year despite the bad ground, then made all against three rivals in a conditions race at the Craven meeting to win in very fine style.
He didn’t beat much and had the rail, but he was forced to dictate, ran a faster seven furlongs than anything else at the meeting despite carrying more weight and put up easily the best speed figures of any horse at the meeting.
What many may have missed is that after he passed the line, he saw things out right up the hill so that – and his being out of 1000 Guineas winner Ghanaati – tells us plenty about the likelihood of him seeing out the mile.
4.50 Newmarket (Newmarket Stakes – Listed Race) – MOHAAFETH
This four-runner Listed race may yet prove to be a valid Derby trial. One horse who is engaged at Epsom is Mohaafeth, a course and distance handicap winner at the Craven meeting who is a big improver and looks well capable now of getting to, and surpassing, the level of Godolphin’s likely favourite Secret Protector.
11.57 Churchill Downs (Kentucky Derby – Grade 1) – ESSENTIAL QUALITY
On the face of it, there’s not as much depth to this Kentucky Derby as there has been in recent times. We should know about it too, as so often we know where each horse stands by now on the basis that they’ve had to put up strong performances, often in Grade 1 races, to qualify for the event.
With that in mind, our old pal Essential Quality looks to be comfortably ahead of this field. A Grade 1 winner at Keeneland last autumn, he returned to the track and trip for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November where he beat Hot Rod Charlie and become the 2020 champion two-year-old.
Winning his Grade 3 and Grade 2 prep races this term, the Godolphin grey remains unbeaten and, unlike many Derby candidates, hasn’t been asked for his very best effort yet so his peak has not been reached.
He was workmanlike last time in the Blue Grass, but much like in the Juvenile he got better the further they went which is no surprise for a son of Tapit.
Over this mile-and-a-quarter at Churchill Downs, in Grade 1 company off an obvious fast pace and from gate 14 (which is actually ideal), he can raise his game to more than the required level for Brad Cox under Luis Saez and become the latest Run for the Roses champion.
Rock Your World, Known Agenda, Highly Motivated and Hot Rod Charlie may well prove to be best of the rest in Louisville.
Sunday 2nd May 2021
1.15 Newmarket (Handicap) – WESTERN SYMPHONY
Charlie Appleby’s Western Symphony, a thrice-raced son of Shamardal, has plenty of talent but has been a bit wayward so far. He’s straightening up gradually, has now been gelded, is getting better all the time and can now prove to be very well handicapped.
2.25 Newmarket (Pretty Polly Stakes – Listed Race) – A’SHAARI
It’s noteworthy that A’Shaari was available at bigger prices this week and has shortened plenty, and it’s certainly no surprise. In unsuitable conditions (seven furlongs, soft) she ran a terrific debut last year, but now over this mile-and-a-quarter on faster ground she can move into contention for the Oaks.
3.40 Newmarket (1000 Guineas – Group 1) – SACRED
There’s been much talk of how open the 2000 Guineas is this year, but despite there being a general 5/4 favourite one could argue the fillies’ race is even more competitive.
Difficult to split were Thunder Beauty, Fev Rover, Statement, Saffron Beach, Alcohol Free who looks more of a sprinter, the favourite Santa Barbara and her stablemate Mother Earth.
That favourite, trained by Aidan O’Brien, may well prove to be a world-beater. She may monster this field, but backing her at such short odds having only won a maiden that hasn’t even worked out very well is not the work of a pro.
So, with Santa Barbara taken on, the value in the race is with the Nell Gwyn winner Sacred. William Haggas and Tom Marquand are in great form and both think the stamina doubts surrounding this daughter of Exceed And Excel will be dispelled.
Sacred is a strong traveller and should have plenty in reserve at the end of this race, and can get the job done in an open year.