With Ruby Walsh bringing down the curtain not only on his wonderful career but also the Jumps season at Punchestown, all eyes are focused now on the first major races of the new Flat campaign.
Newmarket hosts the Qipco Guineas Festival this weekend, and while a dreadful weather forecast promises to leave racegoers cold and wet on the Rowley Mile, the ground is quick and the stage is set to unveil the first stars of the summer game.
Wind the clock back six months, and we were licking our lips at the prospect of one of the best 2000 Guineas for many years. But since then, the likes of juvenile hotpots Too Darn Hot, Quorto, Persian King and Calyx, and trial winner Mohaather, have all defected.
The upshot is what most experts believe is a wide-open renewal, despite the presence of two leading candidates from the Aidan O’Brien yard, TEN SOVEREIGNS and MAGNA GRECIA.
In a big field, the race could be ripe for an upset, and two trainers hoping to spring a surprise and land the prize for the north are the Yorkshire-based duo Mark Johnston and Kevin Ryan, even though their charges are outsiders.
Johnston’s DARK VISION won the Qatar Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last year. The colt will be ridden by Joe Fanning, who is also based in Yorkshire and is looking for his first-ever win in the prestigious Classic.
Johnston, who last year became the winningmost Flat trainer in Great Britain with 4,194 wins after a record-breaking victory at York in August, previously enjoyed success in the Guineas back in 1994 with Mister Baileys. He was also victorious in the 1000 Guineas with Attraction ten years later in 2004.
Ahead of the race, Johnston said: “The Qipco 2000 Guineas is a race I’ve won before. It’s a British Classic and one of the most important races in the world. I am always striving to win it again.
“Dark Vision is considered an outsider, but he deserves to be there, especially on the form he showed to win the Qatar Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last year.”
Ryan saddles EMARAATY ANA for the big race, He’s a colt who was victorious in the Al Basti Equiworld Gimcrack Stakes at York last season.
The trainer said: “Emaraaty Ana is in good form. Winning the 2000 Guineas would mean the same for me as every other trainer. These races are the reason we get up and go to work every morning.”
The Qipco 2000 Guineas, which will be shown live on ITV at 3.35 pm tomorrow (Saturday) and is followed by the fillies’ equivalent, the 1000 Guineas on Sunday, marks the start of the 2019 Qipco British Champions Series, which showcases the finest Flat racing.
There is more than £20 million worth of prize money available throughout the 35 races of this year’s series. The Guineas is the first leg of the mile category of the series. For more information, visit www.britishchampionsseries.com