2,000 Guineas hopefuls: Champion trainer Aiden O’Brien is seeking a ninth success in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday, having won it for a record-breaking eighth time 12 months ago with Churchill.
The mile showpiece heralds the start of the QIPCO British Champions Series, and Aidan O’Brien says he is delighted to have got a run into Gustav Klimt ahead of the ante-post favourite lining up in the race.
All his previous winners of the £500,000 contest have been making their seasonal reappearances but he says that should not be regarded as a negative for Gustav Klimt, who made a successful return to action in the Ballylinch Stud 2,000 Guineas Trial Stakes over seven furlongs at Leopardstown last month.
“We would have liked to [have given previous winners a prep run] but until this year we never had a race in Ireland that was suitable,” O’Brien said. “This is the first time we had the [option of] seven furlongs at Leopardstown. “For us, the Craven is too close and maybe the race in Newbury [Greenham] is a little bit close as well. And then we had a Guineas trial at Leopardstown over a mile, which is too far, and the Gladness is against older horses and too tough.
“So up until now we’ve never had a prep. I suppose [our previous winners] were good two-year-olds and they had done plenty and learnt plenty.”
Gustav Klimt showed great acceleration to master three rivals on his return, having not run since landing the Group 2 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last summer. A minor setback meant he missed intended engagements in the autumn.
“We were anxious to get a run into him as he had not run since Newmarket in the middle of the summer,” O’Brien said. “We would have liked to have run him in the Dewhurst to find out a little bit more about him, so were a little bit in the dark.
“It was soft ground, very heavy really, and probably not ideal but we felt we needed to run him. We always thought he would prefer better ground and he did well to quicken in the ground. “Ryan [Moore] rode him in the July meeting [at Newmarket] last year and was very, very full of him. You are never sure, but we were delighted with his run in Leopardstown. We think and hope he’s in good form.”
The unbeaten Saxon Warrior was ante-post favourite over the winter, having signed off his two-year-old career with victory in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October. He has not run this year and been usurped at the head of the market by his stablemate. O’Brien says racegoers will see a different specimen.
“We’ve probably never had a horse to change so much over winter as he has – he’s turned into a monster of a horse – big, powerful and strong,” O’Brien said. “He’s going to run a long way off his two-year-old weight but his work is very nice and we are very happy with him. We think he will get further than a mile. It will be a nice place to start him and we look forward to him for the rest of the year. He looks a very unusual horse at the moment [in] how much he has changed from two to three, but we have to start somewhere.”
Saxon Warrior’s Group 1 success at Town Moor provided O’Brien with his world record 26th triumph at the highest level last year. He eventually ended the year with 28 to his name.
“He jumped a little bit more forward than Ryan thought he would and raced to the front earlier than he might have really liked,” O’Brien recalled. “But he got him organised when they went by and him and he came back strong at the line.”
Moore is committed to ride Mendelssohn in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday and riding arrangements for Headquarters have yet to be fully confirmed. O’Brien said: “At the moment it looks like Seamus [Heffernan] might ride Gustav, and that Donnacha [O’Brien, his son] will ride Saxon Warrior. That’s what we are thinking at the moment but all those things can change.”
U S Navy Flag and Murillo remain in the mix with the former having won the Middle Park Stakes and Dewhurst last season. “U S Navy Flag is a very solid horse and improved with racing,” O’Brien said. “He’d love really nice ground, fast ground and he could be an exciting horse this year.
“The ground wasn’t ideal [for his reappearance at Leopardstown] but we felt we needed to run him because the more we ran him last year the better he got. If it’s going to get too slow he might not run, we might wait.”
Of the opposition, he said: “We don’t take any horse for granted no matter where they are from or trained. They are always to fear and we don’t take any of them lightly.”
GLENEAGLES AND CHURCHILL THE BEST OF MY QIPCO 2000 GUINEAS WINNERS, SAYS O’BRIEN
AIDAN O’BRIEN’S RECORD IN THE QIPCO 2000 GUINEAS WHEN HAVING MULTIPLE RUNNERS
- 2002: O’Brien ran a quartet, with the Johnny Murtagh-ridden Rock Of Gibraltar (9–1) holding off the late thrust of stablemate Hawk Wing (6–4 fav) to win by a neck. Both were making their season reappearances. Sholokhov (100–1) was in the race as a pacemaker for Hawk Wing and trailed home 18th, though did better than Tendulkar (16–1) who beat only two home in the 22-runner renewal.
- 2006: George Washington (6–4 favourite) won with ease under Kieren Fallon, with Horatio Nelson (6–1) and Frost Giant (50–1) eighth and thirteenth. 2007: Another three-pronged attack but this time Duke Of Marmalade (fourth at 14–1); Eagle Mountain (fifth at 14–1) and Yellowstone (eleventh at 50–1) failed to figure behind Cockney Rebel.
- 2010: St Nicholas Abbey, unbeaten in three starts as a two-year-old and winner of the Racing Post Trophy, was sent off Evens favourite but could only finish sixth. Fencing Master (14–1) was half a length behind him in seventh and Viscount Nelson (40–1) was eleventh.
- 2013: Cristoforo Colombo (10–1) finished fifth under Joseph O’Brien, with Mars (9–1) sixth and George Vancouver (20–1) tenth. Nothing in the race got close to Dawn Approach.
- 2017: Churchill (6–4 fav) justified favouritism under Ryan Moore, with Lancaster Bomber (14–1) a close fourth and Spirit Of Valour (33–1) fading to be eighth.