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The Curragh report

It rained on the plains of The Curragh yesterday.  The punters got wetter as the afternoon progressed, the racecourse’s temporary facilities were put under pressure and the ground got softer, but none of it bothered Churchill, who put up another scintillating performance to land the first Irish Classic of 2017, the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas.

It was an anniversary of sorts: a year to the day – the vagaries of the racing calendar notwithstanding – since Churchill made his racecourse debut.  He was beaten too on that racecourse debut. He hasn’t been beaten since.

There was another anniversary: 20 years since Churchill’s trainer Aidan O’Brien landed his first Classic. The trainer marked that anniversary in style.

The softening ground was not ideal for Churchill. He is such a good-moving horse, goes the theory, he has such pace, that anything that might blunt that pace had to be considered as a potential negative. The market was concerned too, insofar as a move from morning prices of 1/3 to a starting price of 4/9 reflects concern. The market’s mild concern was ultimately unfounded.

“He handles that ground because he has so much class,” said winning rider Ryan Moore. “He wasn’t really enjoying it. He’s a better horse on better ground.”

Settled towards the rear of the six-runner field through the early stages of the race by Moore, Churchill angled towards the outside as the Godolphin horse Thunder Snow joined fellow Ballydoyle colt Lancaster Bomber in front. It took Churchill a couple of strides to pick up, as Moore gave him a squeeze and Christophe Soumillon set sail for home on Thunder Snow but, once he did pick up, it never looked likely that he wouldn’t win. Churchill hit the front on the run to the furlong pole, and he powered clear, putting two and a half lengths between himself and runner-up Thunder Snow by the time he reached the winning line.

“We’re delighted,” said Aidan O’Brien. “We were a little worried about the ground, but the lads were confident that he would handle it okay. He’s such an unusual horse. He relaxes in his races. He cruises. He’s just so chilled, even after the race. And to be able to quicken like that in that ground. He’s a very unusual horse.”

“He continues to improve,” said Moore. “And you’d expect him to carry on improving. He’s a great athlete, he’s a great mover, he’s everything a jockey wants. He has been a pleasure to deal with from day one. He has a great constitution. He was busy last year, he had plenty of racing, but he thrives on it. He’s a very talented horse. He ticks all the boxes.”

Next up for the Galileo colt will probably be the St James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, a race for which he is already odds-on. It is the logical next step for the three-year-old colt before a step up in trip or a race against his elders is considered.

You could never have imagined on this weekend 20 years ago, as Classic Park won the Irish 1000 Guineas for Aidan O’Brien and Desert King won the Irish 2000 Guineas, the degree to which the new master of Ballydoyle would stretch boundaries and re-write records. When he picked up the trophy for yesterday’s Irish 2000 Guineas, for example, it was the 11th time that he had done so.  No other trainer is even close to that tally.

This season, he has won the 1000 Guineas and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, and now the Irish 2000 Guineas. And it is odds-on that he will land the Irish 1000 Guineas back at The Curragh this afternoon. The boundaries continue to be stretched.


© Sunday Times, 28th May 2017