The formbook tells us Pinatubo is by far the most likely winner of the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday and with racing having the sporting stage to itself it would do our wonderful sport no harm if he cements his reputation as a champion in front of potential new fans tuning in to see what all the fuss is about.
Races are won on the wide expanses of racecourses rather than paper, though, and the unbeaten colt would be far from the first outstanding juvenile who, for whatever reason, failed to deliver the following campaign. Arazi, Xaar and Celtic Chief all disappointed to varying degrees after dazzling as youngsters, for example, and it was only four years ago that Air Force Blue, a triple Group One winner, beat one home on his return after going off at 4-5. At similar odds, I’m happy to take Pinatubo on.
My each-way alternatives are Juan Elcano, available at a whopping 80-1 with BetVictor and William Hill, and Al Suhail, chalked up at a general 22-1 by SkyBet and Bet Victor. Betfair and Paddy Power quote shorter odds - 50-1 and 14-1 - but they are offering four places and on this occasion that appeals.
Juan Elcano landed some good bets on his debut at Haydock before going close in both the Superlative Stakes, at Newmarket, and Champagne Stakes two months later at Doncaster.
Kevin Ryan's chestnut requires more than in those Group Two assignments to get involved but perhaps not as much as you might imagine as Pinatubo is the only runner in the line-up to have won at the highest level on turf, while there are only a couple of Group Two winners in Arizona and Royal Dornoch.
Juan Elcano had Royal Dornoch well adrift in the Champagne Stakes and appeals as the type to make a much better three-year-old. The son of Frankel should relish stepping up to a mile and it’s worth keeping in mind that King Of Change (66-1) and Tip Two Win (50-1) have been the runners-up in the past two renewals.
Al Suhail is a stablemate of Pinatubo and, by all accounts, is much flashier in his homework. The Dubawi colt showed loads of ability in four starts last year but was a little immature and did not look the most straightforward when it mattered most. As a consequence, he ended the campaign with only a minor win at Yarmouth to his name.
Some have probably already written off as one to avoid – he got beat after trading at 1.09, 1.8 and 1.33 in-running on Betfair – but I’m sure he has the raw ability to play a big part and fancy races run at an end-to-end gallop, as Saturday’s Classic promises to be with pace on all parts of the track, will bring all his powers into play.
Watch how Al Suhail went close in the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket in October
Appleby seems to view him more of a Derby horse but I’m not sure about that as he looks to have plenty of pace and can race quite exuberantly. I like the idea of Epsom being on his radar, though, as presumably the plan on Saturday will be to find some cover (slipstream Pinatubo perhaps, who is drawn nearby?) before letting him come home strong in the final couple of furlongs. He’s proven on the Rowley Mile and James Doyle is just the man to smuggle him to the front late on if Pinatubo fails to turn up with his A Game.
The other horse on my Guineas shortlist was Kameko because he progressed well last term and Andrew Balding’s enthusiasm for him in the build-up has been infectious. The trainer’s horses have come out of lockdown in fabulous form, too, but that seems factored into his price and you cannot back them all.
Balding’s Stone Of Destiny is likely to be popular in the Betfair-sponsored 5f handicap that opens the card because he’s slipped back down to the mark he won off at last year’s Shergar Cup meeting at Ascot but the one who leaps off the page at the 14-1 on offer is the Julie Camacho-trained Makanah.
He won first time up last year and thrived afterwards, finishing an excellent staying-on fourth in a hot sprint handicap at the Ebor meeting before not being beaten far in the Portland from an unfavourable draw. Makanah runs off the same mark in a less competitive race and is at home on fast ground.
Moss Gill looks the one to be with in the Betfair Backs Racing Welfare Palace House Stakes. The Group Three contests feature several familiar faces but James Bethell’s four-year-old still has some untapped potential and may have an edge in sharpness after scoring at Wolverhampton just before racing was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Similarly, Pinnata was busy through the winter/early spring and looks far too big, at the 20-1 on offer, to land the Best Odds On The Betfair Exchange Handicap over his optimum trip of a mile.
There’s little doubt that Stuart Williams’ charge is at his best on the all-weather but that is reflected by his mark on turf being 15lb lower. He won off a rating just 3lb lower at Leicester in late August before going close at Sandown off Saturday's mark, so it’s not as if he’s a one-trick pony.
My other fancy at Headquarters is Nate The Great in the finale, the Trade On The Betfair Exchange Handicap.
He was beaten by a neck in the Chesham the season before last and began last term by finishing third to Anthony Van Dyck, the subsequent Derby winner, at Lingfield.
Nate The Grate lost his way afterwards but has been gelded and switched to that man Balding since we last saw him in action. Dropped into handicap company for the first time with champion jockey Oisin Murphy on his back, he looks well worth risking at a double-figure price.
At Newcastle, I’ll be splitting my stakes on outsiders Alright Sunshine and Sir Chauvelin in the rescheduled Betway Sagaro Stakes.
The pair are up against it on bare ratings, but a few at the top of the betting have questions to answer. The strong-travelling Alright Sunshine, winner of seven of his 11 races, has earned a jump in class, while Sir Chauvelin enjoys the demands of the track and, habitually held up for a late run, is capable of picking some pockets late in the scene.
How To Bet £20 on QIPCO 2000 Guineas Day:
1.15 Newmarket: Makanah £2.50 win at 14-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power
1.50 Newmarket: Moss Gill £3 win at a general 11-2
2.40 Newcastle: Alright Sunshine £1.50 each-way at 20-1 with with Betfair and Paddy Power
2.40 Newcastle: Sir Chauvelin £1 each-way at 50-1 with with Betfair and Paddy Power
3.35 Newmarket: £1.50 each-way on Al Suhail at 14-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power (who offer four places). Other firms go 16-1 three places
3.35 Newmarket: Juan Elcano £1.50 each-way at 50-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power (who offer four places). Other firms go 66-1 three places
4.10 Newmarket: £1.50 win on Pinnata at 20-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power
5.55 Newmarket: Nate The Great £2 win at a general 10-1
64p Win Lucky 31 plus 38p each-way fivefold
1.15 Newmarket: Makanah
1.50 Newmarket: Moss Gill
2.40 Newcastle: Alright Sunshine
4.10 Newmarket: Pinnata
5.55 Newmarket: Nate The Great
Select any odd to add a bet