Turf Talk: Kingman and the fairy queen

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It sounds like the title of a fantasy novel, but I can assure you it’s not.

In fact it’s the beginning of a meaningful probe into one of the most talked about classics in years.

Finally on Saturday the talking will stop, the hype will become myth or reality and a new chapter in racing history will be written. Careers will be born and reputations will be built, or in some cases, battered.

There’ll be no hiding place on the Rowley Mile this weekend, hard talk has made sure of that. For so long all the talk was of only one horse, Aidan O’Brien’s Australia.

“We always thought he was the best horse we’ve ever had,” lauded the Baron of Ballydoyle. He was clear favourite for the 2000 Guineas and all seemed set for another O’Brien onslaught. Back then the opposition appeared not exactly thin on the ground but, let’s say, lacking in depth. Things have changed since then though, changed big time.

To mention the chances of Australia for the QIPCO 2000 Guineas is a little difficult to summarise without mentioning what’s already been said a million times before. Obviously it’s worth taking note when the O’Brien hype machine goes into overdrive in such a manner. Well, it would have more value at least if ‘the best horse’ quote hadn’t been said a million times before itself.

True his juvenile season did end impressively. He certainly holds an abundance of talent, potential and, probably more importantly to the bosses, appeal to breeders. The fact remains though that he’s bred to be a middle distance horse, a very good middle distance horse, but a middle distance horse all the same. Camelot had the toe to win a mediocre Guineas in his year, but in what looks a pretty stellar renewal against Kingman et al I just can’t see the same feat being accomplished here. Sorry cobber!

The best of the rest from Ballydoyle’s mob-handed approach is last year’s Coventry Stakes winner War Command. That runaway royal success elevated him to the top of the ante-post markets for this. The form couldn’t have worked out worse though in what was the worst renewal for some time. Winning his last two starts last year re-ignited some of the burnt out hopes once placed on his shoulders, although neither of those wins were achieved in the manner of a superstar. Fast ground is said to be the key to this horse, which on Saturday he should get, although I’m still sceptical about his chances.

Toormore finished last year as champion 2 year old and then won the Craven on his reappearance. He’s won all four of his starts and is the highest rated horse in the race. Reading those two sentences alone then you’ll find it quite remarkable that he’s 7/1 in some quarters, simply a massive price to me. Although not exactly breathtaking last time out he knuckled down and got the job done under a penalty. Had he won with more panache it’s clear he’d be half the price for this, although for me getting the job done in a Guineas trial is often enough to work with. Last year a certain Richard Hannon-trained Sky Lantern was second in the Nell Gwyn before she turned the tables in the fillies’ equivalent. Mr. Hannon would most definitely have been leaving something to work on with this colt and I’d be surprised if he finished out the places on Saturday.

There is a big reason why I believe place money is all Toormore may be playing for, and his name is Kingman. To watch the Greenham Stakes is like watching pure poetry in motion. It was the day the shackles came off and the urban legend that had followed this horse around turned into fact. That fact is that this is a really good horse and I expect him to prove it on Saturday.

Good old John Gosden, grounded as ever, has played him down so often and (wisely) rebuffed comparisons of the mighty Frankel. There are of course, as with every horse, slight questions to answer, like will he stay a mile? Will the ground be too quick for him? Both of these questions can be satisfactorily answered on Saturday for Kingman fans.

Firstly, all three of his races have been over a 7 furlongs and he’s not shown any signs of stopping at the end – far from it! The fact he debuted at Newmarket’s July Course with the stiff uphill finish goes some way to allay that fear for me. I’ve always considered the finish there is suited to a horse who’ll go a bit further than they’re racing over. His dam also won the French Guineas and raced over 10 furlongs, so the mile shouldn’t be an issue.

To combat the ground issues you only need to see that his second run, although the most workmanlike of his three outings, was run on good to firm. The fact he that he’s clearly such a prized asset to connections would also make you think that there’s no way they’d risk him if it ended up like the M8. It’s well documented that he had injury worries over the winter and John Gosden has said that he’d only run him if the ground was ‘safe’.

This one, although full of quality throughout the line-up, is all about one horse for me. The brilliant Kingman should win the 2000 Guineas on Saturday.

If the 2000 Guineas is all about Kingman then bookmakers would have you believe that the fillies’ Classic rests at the hooves of Rizeena. I’ll set my stall out right away and say that I disagree entirely.

Although undeniably an operator at a high level, I see nothing from Rizeena’s form that should set her so far apart from anything else in the race. She did win a weak Queen Mary and a messy Moyglare, although the form of the latter is not something I’m taking on board with too much confidence. She does have the physical scope to progress well from 2 to 3, aside from that I see nothing that makes her a 7/2 favourite. As heart-warming as it would be to see some geriatric shape-throwing from Clive Brittain, I’m sorry, I just don’t see it.

Tapestry and Bracelet form the Ballydoyle charge in this. The former, although beautifully bred and a potential improver down the line, comes here without a run. That’s a big black mark against any Aidan O’Brien trained filly for me. The latter looks the type that’ll improve for a trip. We may see more from both as the season progresses, although I’m not sure either will be making their mark on Sunday.

A horse that’s carried my ante-post money all winter long is the beautifully bred specimen that is My Titania. When I saw her break her maiden tag over in Ireland last year, the first thing that came into my mind was just how much she reminded me of her sire, ‘perfection in equine form’ himself Sea The Stars. When she followed up in a group 3, my opinion hardened.

She’s not flashy, that’s just not her way, as it wasn’t his. She progressed through the ranks last term just grinding it out, getting the job done. That irrepressible will to win looks like it’s ingrained itself in her from ‘daddy’ and, although this is a marked step up from anything she’s achieved so far, her profile reads of a filly that is built to do just that. I’m really excited for her three year old campaign and pleased for John Oxx that he appears to have another potential top notcher in his yard. I make her a big player for Sunday and one for all the top fillies’ races for the season ahead.

2000 GUINEAS SELECTION (Saturday – Newmarket)

Kingman

1000 GUINEAS SELECTION (Sunday – Newmarket)

My Titania