AS KINgman attempts to live up to his name in today’s Qipco 2000 Guineas, the first Classic of the 2014 Flat season, top trainer John Gosden was trying to keep a lid on expectations.
He’s worried that fast ground, and an unsatisfactory draw on the inner, will not play to the strengths of the three-year-old colt who came to prominence with a Frankel-like burst of speed in Newbury’s Greenham Stakes.
The comparison is one that Gosden cannot avoid; his horse carries the same pink, white and colours of Prince Khalid Abdullah’s equine superstar who turned the 2011 Guineas into a procession.
Today’s contest is also the biggest race in the burgeoning career of Prince Khalid’s retained rider James Doyle who acknowledged the quality of the opposition which includes Aidan O’Brien’s highly-rated Australia, Richard Hannon’s Toormore and Ertijaal who is an intriguing player for Skipton-born trainer William Haggas. Hambleton’s Kevin Ryan is represented by The Grey Gatsby.
But Gosden is unperturbed as he seeks a first victory in the 2000 Guineas, one of the few major races to still elude the 2012 champion trainer.
“If you like a horse going into any race there’s a weight of expectation. You mostly try to keep it to yourself for fear of disappointment,” he said with characteristic eloquence as he spoke about Kingman’s foot injury which required surgery last autumn.
“We have been very up front about his injury – you have to be. When you start making horses favourite for the Guineas after a maiden win, you have no choice but to be open.
“He’s done nothing wrong, from his maiden win at Newmarket; he wasn’t overly impressive in the Solario Stakes, when he was inclined to look around, and he did well the other day at Newbury. He’s been in good form since the Greenham. I have been pleased with him between his races.
“He’s a very genuine, honest horse who gives you everything he’s got. So there should be some improvement. He just wants good ground.”
Kingman will be tackling a mile for the first time today, but Gosden is confident the trip will not be an issue.
He said: “You cannot realistically stage a strongly-run Guineas at home so we will only find out when he races. But he gives us every indication that he will stay.
“His draw in stall one is not a help. I would have preferred to be drawn in the middle or higher. Raven’s Pass, who finished fourth in 2008, was also badly drawn and never got cover so we will just have to see how it pans out. As long as we get reasonable ground, we will be perfectly happy.”
Talking about his record in the race, with Anshan’s third-place finish in 1990 the best he has managed, Gosden said: “It’s an important race but you have to have the right type of horse, which I haven’t in the past.”
When jockey Doyle was appointed as the new retained rider for Prince Khalid last summer, his first task was to guide Kingman to victory in the Solario at Sandown.
Now, preparing for the biggest ride of his life aboard the same horse, Doyle could hardly be in better form after riding 12 winners in the past week.
“I have no concerns about the trip at all,” said Doyle. “He was just starting to get going when he hit the line in the Greenham and it took me all the way round to the mile-and-a-half start until I had him back to a steady canter.
“He settled great, he’d matured mentally and physically from two to three, he relaxes so well in his races that the trip shouldn’t pose a problem.
“He’s a short-priced favourite and on what he has done so far he justifies that. It’s not a one-horse race. There’s some good horses like Toormore, who won his trial and there’s Australia who is going straight there. It’s certainly not a one-horse race.”
Meanwhile, tomorrow’s 1000 Guineas for fillies sees Frankie Dettori’s mount Sandiva holding definite each-way claims as she bids to win a first Classic for Malton trainer Richard Fahey.
Sandiva was certainly impressive when winning her seasonal reappearance last month as she attempts to become the first Yorkshire-trained winner of an English Classic since Mark Johnston’s Attraction won the corresponding contest 10 years ago.
Yet this race revolves around Rizeena, who will be bidding to provide her redoubtable 79-year-old trainer Clive Brittain with a third 1000 Guineas win after Pebbles in 1984 and Sayyedati nine years later.
This is a horse who prevailed at Royal Ascot last year, and then in the Group One Moyglare Stud Stakes at The Curragh, under the aforementioned Doyle, who will be riding Joyeuse for Prince Khalid and Lady Cecil.
However, champion jockey Richard Hughes is not a bad substitute and Brittain’s enthusiasm is still infectious despite his advancing years – and the fact that he’s normally up at 4am to supervise his horses on the Newmarket gallops.
“Everything’s fine,” he said. “The draw’s (seven) not too worrying and the ground will be perfect as far as I’m concerned.
“With Richard riding I’ve no lack of confidence in the jockey. He hasn’t sat on her, but he sat behind her last year and beat her once on Chriselliam, so he knows enough about her.”
George Margarson’s Lucky Kristale, who defeated Rizeena in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes on Newmarket’s July course, takes her chance.
The once-beaten filly is reported to be “spot on” for her date with destiny as she bids to add a Classic to her CV after landing York’s Lowther Stakes following that Newmarket success.
“Like everyone else, we could have done with another three weeks I suppose, but she’s where I want her. She’s spot on,” said Margarson.
Jezki confirmed his Cheltenham superiority over Hurricane Fly with an all-the-way win in the three-runner Racing Post Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Jessica Harrington’s stable star was a surprise winner of the Champion Hurdle in March, a race marred by Our Conor’s fatal fall, but there were no excuses for the 19-time Grade One scorer Hurricane Fly on this occasion.
Tony McCoy quickened the pace from half a mile out, but Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly could never draw level. Jezki’s win was Harrington’s sixth success in the last two days at the Punchestown Festival.