Churchill seals record eighth Guineas for Aidan O’Brien
Ryan Moore scores on 6/4 favourite in season’s opening classic at Newmarket
Churchill (R) scored for Aidan O’Brien in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty
Prospects of an outing in next month’s Investec Derby moved a step closer for Churchill after he lived up to his big reputation with victory in the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Twelve months after seeing odds-on favourite Air Force Blue flop in the first Classic of the season, Churchill gave trainer Aidan O’Brien a record eighth success in the Group One prize as he showed the same sort of determination for which his great namesake was revered.
As with all of the Ballydoyle handler’s previous seven winners, last year’s champion juvenile was making his seasonal debut in the mile event against nine rivals who all had at least one run under their belt.
Sharply away, the 6-4 favourite was soon in the slipstream of stablemate Lancaster Bomber who, alongside the James Tate-trained Law And Order, cut out much of the early running.
Fears Churchill might be short on race fitness were cast aside as he launched his challenge at the cut away, with Ryan Moore driving his mount out to take victory by a length from Barney Roy with Al Wukair third.
Churchill was left unchanged at 6-1 for the Derby with Paddy Power and as a son of Galileo, connections feel the June 3 event at Epsom is certainly an option.
O’Brien said: “It was brilliant and I’m delighted. We were a bit nervous coming here with him. He is a big horse and it was his first run and it was a very competitive race.
“Donnacha (O’Brien) does all the work with him. Everyone was very happy with him and that was what was giving us confidence at home. I think Ryan was very happy with him.
“He said going out if the pace was not quick, he was going to be handy and that if the pace was going to be fast, he was going to take his time.
“He is a big, imposing horse with an unbelievable mind. He is very relaxed and when we were tacking up, his demeanour was very good. He was very confident and in no way anxious about anything.
“If he got a mile well today, you would say he would get a mile and a quarter well. Obviously a mile and a half you are not sure, but I think he can go a lot of roads.”
As for part-owner Michael Tabor, he feels this colt ranks as well as any of the other 2000 Guineas winners he has been associated with.
He said: “It was some performance. We always thought he was a good horse and he has proved that today and hopefully he can go on to better things.
“He is not a flashy horse, but he does just enough which is a good thing. He is just a big, strong, well-bred horse. He has all the ingredients you look for.
“I would think he is every bit as good as the other 2000 Guineas winners we have had.
“That is the 64,000 dollar question — how far will he get?
“The St James’s Palace Stakes has always been my favourite race at Ascot, but I love the Derby. We want to enjoy today though.”
The Richard Hannon-trained Barney Roy, who had his chance compromised when stumbling in the dip, could now head to Royal Ascot in a bid to gain compensation.
John Ferguson, chief executive of owner Godolphin, said: “I am delighted with the way he has run. He is only having the third race of his life and he has performed exceptionally well and I can’t say more than that.
“Sheikh Mohammed’s first reaction was that he is probably a horse for the St James’s Palace Stakes.”
Al Wukair could also be in the Royal Ascot frame according to connections of the Andre Fabre-trained runner.
Harry Herbert, racing manager to owner Al Shaqab Racing, said: “It was a fantastic race and a great effort from Al Wukair. Andre and Gregory (Benoist, jockey) were just frustrated that the pace was so slow and we had to come out wide.
“We will talk to Andre, but I suspect (he could go to the St James’s Palace) but we will see. We will let the dust settle.”