A race he has won six times in the last eight years - with Air Force Blue leading the Ballydoyle challenge on Timeform ratings.
Air Force Blue’s only defeat as a juvenile came when second to Buratino in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, and he was successful afterwards in the Phoenix Stakes and the National Stakes, both at the Curragh, before signing off with a win in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. However, Air Force Blue was disappointing when well beaten in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on his reappearance this season, labouring soon after halfway. The tongue-tie sported there is now dispensed with, and while his Curragh record is exemplary, he now has questions to answer.
One horse with very little to prove is Galileo Gold, winner of the aforementioned 2000 Guineas. Hugo Palmer’s colt won three times last term, including the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood, and he showed high-class form when fending off his rivals at Newmarket, responding well to pressure late on. This is an important race in the context of the horse’s season, after connections confirmed via DNA tests that a Derby challenge is a non-starter.
The most costly purchase in the line-up ($2,200,000 as a yearling) is Air Vice Marshal, who was fourth behind Galileo Gold at Newmarket despite looking green (unbalanced briefly in the Dip). He is a strapping colt and should go on improving.
Kevin Prendergast’s Awtaad defeated Michael O’Callaghan’s Blue de Vega by two lengths in the listed Tetrarch Stakes earlier in the month and the progressive pair should both provide some resistance to the form principals, especially the former who looks an exciting prospect.
Derrinstown Derby Trial runner-up Shogun, Dundalk maiden winner Bravery, and last season’s Tattersall Stakes winner Sanus per Aquam complete the line-up.
Saturday’s supporting card features two Group 2 races, the Greenlands Stakes and the Lanwades Stud Stakes, the latter dominated in recent years by Dermot Weld who has saddled three of the last five winners.
Like the male equivalent, the Irish 1000 Guineas has also been a happy hunting ground for O’Brien, though his six winners have been spread out over 18 years and all were sent off at 5/1 or longer. His last success came two years ago with Marvellous, and the County Tipperary handler has a chance of putting more silverware in the family’s cupboard with her full-sister Coolmore. The form of Coolmore’s Nell Gwyn fifth has been boosted by the winner Nathra, who has since been second in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, and the step back up to a mile will suit here.
However, the Timeform top-rated is O’Brien’s emphatic 1000 Guineas winner Minding, who has easily the best form on offer here. The current ante-post Oaks favourite improved with every start last term, a campaign which included wins in the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh and Fillies' Mile at Newmarket, and cemented her place at the top of the tree with her win at the same track earlier this month.
Michael O’Callaghan also has a strong contender for this race, in the form of Derrinstown Stud 1000 Guineas Trial winner Now Or Never. She won with plenty in hand and, open to further improvement, she's not one to underestimate. Similar comments apply to Jim Bolger’s Turret Rocks, winner of the May Hill Stakes at Doncaster last term and second to Ballydoyle in the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp on her final start. She should come on for her reappearance sixth in the 1000 Guineas.
Sunday also features the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup. Roger Charlton won the race in 2013 and 2015 with Al Kazeem and, following that horse’s retirement, will bid for a third win with Time Test. Time Test was one of the most exciting three-year-olds around last term, winning both the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Joel Stakes at Newmarket. He signed off with a below-par run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile but can be forgiven that effort (poorly-drawn and the rain-softened ground was also against him).
Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Found put a low-key reappearance behind her with an impressive Group 3 win last time and is the one to beat here. That said, Fascinating Rock beat Found in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last term and should get much closer to that rival than he did on his reappearance earlier this month. The Grey Gatsby wasn’t beaten far when fourth in this race last season and is a dual Group 1 winner, so this is far from a penalty kick for Aidan O’Brien’s charge.
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Listed - East Cape Guineas
G3 - Kings Cup
G2 - Resource Recycling Superstars Championship
G3 - Lamb & Hayward 4&5yo Trotting Championship
G2 - Storer Motors Nz Trotting Oaks