By Simon Jackson.
Air Force Blue heads a field of 13 runners for the first Classic race of the season, the Group 1 QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket’s Rowley Mile Racecourse on Saturday.
The Aidan O’Brien-trained colt is best priced at 4-6 (Paddy Power and Coral) to land the £500,000 contest that is televised live on Channel 4 at 3.45pm.
The son of War Front bids to make a winning debut as a three-year-old following an impressive campaign last season that returned four wins and a second from five starts.
His sole defeat was when second to another Guineas entry, Buratino (14-1), in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot. Air Force Blue’s campaign culminated with a victory in the Group 1 Dubai Dewhurst Stakes where he finished three and a quarter lengths ahead of runner-up Massaat (10-1) who also reopposes on Saturday.
Massaat bids to give rookie handler Owen Burrows a dream start as a trainer after taking over the licence from Barry Hills to train at Kingwood House Stables in Lambourn.
“It’s extremely exciting to be contesting a Classic with only my 10th runner – I have to pinch myself to check that it’s true,” Burrows said.
“I have been very pleased with how Massaat has developed physically over the winter and, although we contemplated running him in a trial, once we looked at the timing of things we realised that it would be beneficial to go straight for the QIPCO 2000 Guineas.”
“He did a racecourse gallop at Newmarket at the Craven Meeting and then did a very nice piece of work last Friday, so I am confident that he is in good shape.”
“Air Force Blue beat him by three and a quarter lengths in the Dewhurst but the winner was match-hardened then, having already won a Group 1 and been to Royal Ascot, while Massaat was big and raw and was coming straight from a maiden race. I would like to think that we will at least be able to narrow the gap on Saturday.”
“It is hard to say what Massaat’s ideal trip will be at this stage, as he has such a good temperament and relaxes in his races, so I’m sure that he will get ten furlongs if we need him to. Paul [Hanagan, his jockey] is adamant that he has the speed needed to be competitive over a mile.”
“Good ground would be perfect for him but he won his maiden on good to soft so if it was good to soft again on Saturday I wouldn’t be too worried.”
Read ‘Horse Talk with Simon Jackson’ at London24 for the latest horse racing news.