Even rain-softened going at the Curragh couldn’t hamper odds-on favorite Churchill, who comfortably dispatched Thunder Snow to complete a classic double in Saturday’s Irish 2000 Guineas (G1).
A perfunctory winner of the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket in his May 6 reappearance, Churchill was arguably more authoritative in this second start of his campaign. The Galileo colt thereby joined past Aidan O’Brien luminaries Rock of Gibraltar (2002), Henrythenavigator (2008), and Gleneagles (2015) as dual Guineas winners.
As expected, stablemate Lancaster Bomber went forward to set the pace. Godolphin’s Thunder Snow, making his first start since his bucking bronco escapades at the Kentucky Derby (G1), felt more himself here and tracked the leader. Ryan Moore had Churchill reserved off the pace, in the slipstream of yet another O’Brien runner, the outside stalker Spirit of Valor.
Entering the Curragh straight, Christophe Soumillon had yet to move on Thunder Snow, while Moore was stoking Churchill up. But that was no foreshadowing of the result, for Churchill’s response was both instantaneous and emphatic. No sooner had Thunder Snow taken over from the weakening Lancaster Bomber than Churchill was already sweeping past him, drawing off by 2 1/2 lengths, and becoming O’Brien’s incredible 11th winner of this classic.
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) May 27, 2017
As convincing as it looked to observers, Moore later revealed that Churchill was uneasy on the yielding ground:
Ryan Moore gives insight into 2,000 Guineas winner Churchill. “I have always rated him right at the top”. pic.twitter.com/8hbsw6dVf0
— RTÉ Racing (@RTEracing) May 27, 2017
Thunder Snow was himself 4 1/2 lengths clear of Irishcorrespondent, underscoring his merit and perhaps suggesting he might have been good enough to win a typical renewal – i.e., one without a superstar like Churchill. He deserves extra credit considering he was cutting back in trip, after taking the UAE Derby (G2) and being prepared for the Kentucky Derby. This was a retrieval mission, not a long-planned target, and Thunder Snow put himself right back into the game.
“We were beaten by the best three-year-old in Europe,” Soumillon told The Guardian’s Chris Cook.
Few would dispute that assessment now. Churchill has now won seven in a row, the past four in Group 1s, including the Vincent O’Brien National (G1) and Dewhurst (G1) to cap his juvenile season.
Although given an early entry in next Saturday’s Derby (G1) at Epsom, the Coolmore brain trust prefers to keep Churchill at a mile for the time being. At one level, that’s disappointing, since a horse of his boundless class almost begs for a chance at the Blue Riband. But in another respect, it’s understandable considering the raw speed on his dam’s side. Churchill was produced by stakes-winning sprinter Meow, who missed by a neck in the 2010 Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot. Meow is herself a daughter of Storm Cat and the brilliant Airwave, England’s highweight juvenile filly who also ranked as the top three-year-old filly sprinter of 2003.
Of course, Coolmore also has a strong business interest in boosting another of their deep sophomore class in the Derby. Churchill will be all the rage whenever he enters stud; why not try to make two future stallions instead of one?
Still, I don’t think that the commercial factor is uppermost here. If Churchill had a profile more like Camelot – who won the 2000 Guineas and Derby, and nearly swept the English Triple Crown for the same connections in 2012 – they’d probably go for it. But Camelot was always on the Derby program as a son of stamina influence Montjeu; he just happened to take the Guineas on the way. Churchill, in contrast, has been on the miler trajectory all along.
O’Brien indicated that the June 20 St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot is likely next. That’s expected to serve up a rematch with the troubled runner-up from Newmarket, Godolphin’s Barney Roy. Somewhat surprisingly, Thunder Snow might be game to take Churchill on again, with trainer Saeed bin Suroor mentioning the St James’s Palace among his options.
Further down the line, however, Churchill is likely to step up to 1 1/4 miles. The Irish Champion S. (G1) looms as a possible spot on September 9
In the opening race on the Irish 2000 Guineas card, Churchill’s two-year-old full sister, Clemmie, just missed in a three-way photo in her unveiling. The O’Brien pupil gained momentum a fraction too late, going down by a pair of heads to Jim Bolger’s Gasta and Joseph O’Brien’s Now You’re Talking, and passing them just after the wire. It would be no surprise to see Clemmie turn up at Royal Ascot.
One juvenile surely Royal Ascot-bound is Brother Bear, who rolled to a three-length decision in the Marble Hill S. Now two-for-two, the Jessica Harrington trainee will presumable set his sights on the June 20 Coventry (G2).
The Group 2 events on the undercard also have Royal Ascot relevance, although the combination of scratches and the ground may call that into question this time.
Aidan O’Brien’s Acapulco was withdrawn from the six-furlong Greenlands (G2) due to a temperature. In her absence, the nine-year-old veteran Gordon Lord Byron snapped a losing skid dating back to last summer. Ignored at 20-1, with his best days appearing to be behind him, Tom Hogan’s accomplished globetrotter drove to a 1 1/2-length victory over the 14-1 Only Mine. Favored Suedois plugged on in third, and fellow fancy Blue de Vega was a subpar last of the six. Hopefully Acapulco, in foal to Galileo, will be in good order to close her career at Royal Ascot.
The Lanwades Stud (G2) for distaffers over a mile lost a key player in Somehow, who’s instead running in Sunday’s Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) for O’Brien. The Andrew Slattery-trained Creggs Pipes, third to Turret Rocks last out in the Blue Wind (G3), turned the tables in front-running fashion. Repelling Opal Tiara by 3 3/4 lengths, Creggs Pipes left Turret Rocks further back in third. Another running below her best, likely on account of the going, was the distant fourth Raymonda.