STAR PREVIEW Sat: 2000 Guineas / Kentucky Derby

The joy of racing is that there are so many different contests for fans to enjoy and there are few better examples than today. On the flat we have the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket (along with the Palace House and Jockey Club Stakes) whilst the final day of the Punchestown Festival brings two Grade 1’s and three incredibly high quality handicaps.

And if all that isn’t enough, we have the Kentucky Derby tonight – with the Run for the Roses coming after some top quality racing. Oh, and in France, last year’s winner of the QEII – The Revenant – is back in action in the 3.15 at Saint-Cloud today taking on Andre Fabre’s Victor Ludorum.

Racing from Newmarket (featuring 2,000 Guineas), Punchestown (featuring Four-Year-Old Champion Hurdle, and Mares Champion Hurdle) and Churchill Downs (147th Kentucky Derby)

Newmarket live on ITV 1HD from 1.25pm, Punchestown live on Racing TV from 2.30pm, and Kentucky Derby Coverage live on Sky Sports from 8.45pm

This preview can’t cover it all, but hopefully this will point you in the direction of some value and pinpoint the races not to be missed, starting with the first classic of the season.

This year’s 2,000 Guineas has an incredibly open feel to it – at the time of writing Star go 4/1 the field – and any one of seven or eight winners wouldn’t be a surprise. It’s hard to get away from the claims of Thunder Moon, who quickened up beautifully to take the National Stakes and then travelled best in the Dewhurst before tiring up late as Wembley passed him for second.

The Dewhurst (Wembley second, Thunder Moon third, Devilwala fourth, Chindit ninth, Poetic Flare tenth) looks to be a key formline with the National Stakes (Thunder Moon beat Wembley, Master Of the Seas fourth and Lucky Vega fifth) not far behind and perhaps Lucky Vega might be the value from those contenders.

It’s easy to forget that he was sent off a 2/1 favourite for that following his extremely impressive win in the Phoenix Stakes, and he was beginning to make his challenge when getting absolutely crushed between Thunder Moon and Mac Swiney. His race ended there but he was only beaten two and a half lengths there, and he was just outsped in the Middle Park Stakes in what looked to be a strong renewal at the time.

Stamina is perhaps an unknown with him, but there can be optimism with his pedigree (Lope De Vega won Poulains and Prix du Jockey Club over 1m/10f; dam unraced half-sister to German 1m1f Listed winner Important Time out of French 1m2f Group 1 winner) and if he does then he’s not a 12/1 shot on form, and that’s without what would hopefully be a clear run today.

Not much is likely to separate many of the leading contenders, and of them Wembley makes just about the most appeal.

In the Jockey Club Stakes (3.00) Pyledriver is the favoured long term prospect but he needed the reappearance run last year which removes his betting appeal. Watch out for any market confidence behind Thunderous, last year’s Dante winner who blew out at Sandown on his return, whilst Al Zaraqaan is an exciting prospect and Sir Ron Priestley ought to take some passing.

The Palace House Stakes (2.25) didn’t have an obvious angle in with Judicial best at the prices but not obviously so for me, and with that it’s over to Punchestown to fly through a brilliant card.

The Four-Year-Old Champion Hurdle (4.00) sees a fascinating rematch between Triumph 1-3-4 Quilixios, Haut En Coluleurs and Zanahiyr, with Haut En Colueurs already strongly fancied to improve past Quilixios. 13/8 about his chances doesn’t appeal from a betting point of view and the market may have them about right, with the Triumph contenders fancied to get the better of Jeff Kiddler and Saint Sam, who were 1-2 in the Boodles.

The Mares Champion Hurdle (3.20) is a really competitive renewal with Concertista setting the standard on her close second in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, although if Stormy Ireland is back to her best then she’ll take some passing. Burning Victory is an interesting contender on her fortunate Triumph win, although her jumping must improve, and Skyace was game when taking the Mares’ Novice Championship. All in all no winner would really surprise.

Don’t miss the last cross-country chase (2.10), or a brilliant trio of handicap races at 2.50, 4.30 and 5.05, and it’s the 5.50 that takes our view.

With Cape Gentleman, The Shunter, Gabynako, Lady Breffini, and Tronador all in attendance it’s arguably the hottest handicap hurdle run in Ireland this season and Cape Gentleman and Gabynako are taken against the field. Cape Gentleman showed a smart turn of foot to win the Dovecote over 2m at Kempton and is a course and distance winner, whilst Gabynako’s novice form shows up really well here.

If all that wasn’t enough, then please settle in for our Kentucky Derby form guide, written for us very kindly by Kaitlin Free (@kaitlinfree). Good luck today!

Kentucky Derby (11.56pm)

Two Triple Crowns are set to kick off this weekend with both the English and American versions. Run every year on the 1st Saturday in May aside from the anomaly of 2021, the Kentucky Derby is the pinnacle of racing in the United States. 19 three-year-olds will head to post for the Run for the Roses. 20 were originally entered but it was announced Friday afternoon that King Fury was a scratch due to spiking a fever by trainer Kenny McPeek. The Kentucky Derby is run at 1 1⁄4 miles and a fast track is expected with perfect weather for the day.

This year’s Kentucky Derby will be run without a heavy favourite, with a horse the calibre of American Pharoah or Justify nowhere in sight. This year is reminiscent of the 2016 running won by 2YO Champion Nyquist. 2020 2YO Champion Essential Quality comes in with a perfect record and deserving favouritism. He is a slight favourite over fellow contenders Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie, and Known Agenda. There are quite a few horses in this year’s running that you could “toss” but in a huge field and the mad dash of the Kentucky Derby crazy things often happen.

Starting with the favourite Essential Quality, this horse has several paths to victory due to his versatile running style. He is an experienced horse and can sit nearly anywhere in the field and can come up with a tactical run every time. Look for him to be decently close but not setting or right up on the pace, will be in a close stalking position most likely. Could have a similar trip to win he won the Blue Grass Stakes in April at Keeneland defeating Highly Motivated who he let set the pace all to himself. Popular American handicapping tool THT Patterns of Motion Analysis written by experts Kerry Thomas and Pete Denk have these horses ranked 1 and 2 when it comes to herd dynamics and patterns of motion. Highly Motivated is a very talented colt and a potential superstar but Essential Quality gets him experience wise. Highly Motivated is also worrisome in a big field such as this with a strong, late kick necessary to win this race. The horse is very reluctant to switch leads in the stretch and that is a must in order to compete in the final furlong of this race.

Other top contenders include Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie, Known Agenda, and Medina Spirit. Rock Your World is a very recent emergent on the Triple Crown scene with a huge win in the Santa Anita Derby last out. The colt was previously running on the turf and switch surfaces for a shot at the big time. He set the pace and had everything his way and poured it on in his dirt debut. This horse is certainly talented enough to win the Derby but lack of experience and the so called “Apollo’s Curse” are the hurdles. Apollo’s Curse, broken by Justify, is the curse of horses unraced at 2 not having enough experience to tackle a race with many moving parts like the Kentucky Derby. It is a toss-up for Rock Your World, he is either a one paced, decent horse or he could be a Barbaro/Big Brown type. He looks to be one of the pace setters or very close to it. He defeated Bob Baffert trainee Medina Spirit in that Santa Anita Derby pretty handily. The way Santa Anita plays and with California’s new whip rules, it is very hard for a horse to pass a lone speed type unless they are absolutely glued to their flank. That comes very much into play with Medina Spirit’s last prep and could be easily overlooked. This horse hasn’t been worse than 3rd in all of his races and is as honest and gritty as they come. Certainly not one of Baffert’s best horses he has ever brought to Churchill Downs, but it’s Bob Baffert and you know he always brings a horse ready to run. Medina Spirit figures to be involved with Rock Your World in
the pace or sitting just off of it. These two could hang around late or fade off in the stretch. Arguably the two biggest wild cards in the field.

Another horse looking to be involved early and sitting close up is Hot Rod Charlie. This is another horse that almost always runs his race and can put on a good performance at almost any race track at any distance. His win last out in the Louisiana Derby was gusty and he led every step of the way. He will be in the first fray with both Medina Spirit and Rock Your World. Louisiana Derby 2nd place Midnight Bourbon is also a forward type and should also be involved in that first flight. Hot Rod Charlie certainly has the experience to win this race and his connections have done it before. Trained by Doug O’Neill, he has saddled winners Nyquist and I’ll Have Another in recent years. One big blow to Hot Rod Charlie’s resume is the prep. The Louisiana Derby rarely produces a path to win the Kentucky Derby, the last ones to do it were Funny Cide and Grindstone in the early 2000’s and late 1990’s but even they had a prep between the two races. A huge gap between the Louisiana and Kentucky Derbies has proven to be an Achilles Heel.

We round off the top contenders with Florida Derby winner Known Agenda. A strong, attractive chestnut colt he has a lot to like about him. He won the Florida Derby impressively and seems to be progressing on well as a 3YO.

The Florida Derby is a very important prep for the Kentucky Derby and is a great source for winners. Two major problems with Known Agenda arise though. With a big win within the month and a decent amount of travel, this horse is a prime bounce candidate. He has history in his form of prior bounces and numbers indicate he could be in for another this weekend. Another obvious flaw in Known Agenda’s profile is the fact that he drew the dreaded rail. The rail is less of a problem with the new 20 stall starting gate and shouldn’t hinder Known Agenda’s running style too much, but it is often times too big of a risk for handicappers. The rail has yet to produce a Kentucky Derby winner since Ferdinand won the race in 1986.

A few other horses at longer odds to add into your exotics include Mandaloun, Bourbonic, and even O Besos. These horses are more of the closer types and could get a hot pace to close in for a piece. Mandaloun and O Besos have been training great in the mornings and have been the “buzz” horses for the week and will take their fair share of the money wagered. Bourbonic is a stone closer that will be flying late and drew perfectly for his style in post 20. The pace looks to be dictated and pressed closely by Rock Your World, Medina Spirit, Hot Rod Charlie, Midnight Bourbon, and the cheeky named Soup and Sandwich. With lots of paced signed on, this race sets up for absolutely anyone.

Final Thoughts:

Take on the Champ at your own risk. Many horses in this race only have one or two paths to the winners circle but Essential Quality has proven to have many gears. Of all the contenders he has the most complete body of work and is the least you can poke holes in. Sometimes, it is easier to just roll with the favourite that makes the most sense than try to beat them. Other horses to consider or use underneath would be Rock Your World, Medina Spirit, Hot Rod Charlie, Mandaloun, and Bourbonic. All of these horses should get the 1 1⁄4 mile distance and still be in the picture or emerging late. Remember, with the scratch of #16 King Fury, posts 17-20 will slide in a gate with 19 horses set to run in the 147th edition of the Kentucky Derby.

RECOMMENDED BETS (1-100 points)
BACK Lucky Vega 1 pt each/way in 2,000 Guineas (3.40 Newmarket) at 12/1 with
BACK Gabynako 1 pt win in 5.05 Punchestown at 11/2 with
BACK Cape Gentleman 1 pt win in 5.05 Punchestown at 6/1 with
BACK Essential Quality 2 pts win in 147th Kentucky Derby (11.57pm Churchill Downs) at 5/2 with
BACK Hot Rod Charlie 1 pt win in 147th Kentucky Derby (11.57pm Churchill Downs) at 9/1 with
BACK Medina Spirit 1 pt win in 147th Kentucky Derby (11.57pm Churchill Downs) at 10/1 with

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