July 2, 2022

Thunder Snow returns to face Churchill in Irish 2000 Guineas

Thunder Snow in happier mood on a fast Churchill Downs track during Derby Week (Coady Photography)

Three weeks after becoming a social media sensation for his Kentucky Derby (G1) debacle, Thunder Snow hopes to make headlines for the right reasons in Saturday’s Irish 2000 Guineas (G1). But to do so, the Godolphin colt must find a way to topple Churchill, the prohibitive 1-3 favorite for the Curragh classic, from the rival Coolmore empire.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained Churchill extended his winning skein to six in the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, contested on the same day as the Kentucky Derby. The blueblood son of Galileo hasn’t lost since his closing third on debut a year ago, with his sequence including the Chesham at Royal Ascot, the Tyros (G3), Futurity (G2), National (G1), and Dewhurst (G1). In that juvenile finale, Churchill had Thunder Snow’s measure by two lengths, and

Thunder Snow fans can point out, however, that he’s improved since his fourth to Churchill in the Dewhurst. The Saeed bin Suroor pupil came right back to dominate the Criterium International (G1) at Saint-Cloud before his productive winter in Dubai. A resounding winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) in his first dirt attempt, Thunder Snow booked his ticket to Louisville with a last-gasp victory over Japan’s Epicharis in the UAE Derby (G2). The handsome bay reportedly looked good in his morning training at Churchill Downs, only to come unglued shortly after the gate opened. He bucked repeatedly in the slop and jockey Christophe Soumillon had no choice but to hang on and pull him up.

REILLY: So what happened with Thunder Snow?

Back on turf here, Thunder Snow figures to give a much more reasonable account of himself. While he remains engaged in the June 3 Derby (G1) at Epsom, Godolphin has a handful of others pointing to the Blue Riband. Bin Suroor alone has smashing debut winner Dubai Thunder, Benbatl, and Best Solution in the mix for Epsom, so there’s no pressure to wheel Thunder Snow back in a week for Epsom.

Churchill also had the Epsom option, until O’Brien all but ruled him out in favor of the Irish Guineas. Might that decision have played a role in the plans for stablemate Lancaster Bomber, who was flirting with the Preakness (G1) before ultimately staying home?

Lancaster Bomber has regularly been pressed into service as Churchill’s pacemaker, most notably when second in the Dewhurst and a close fourth in Newmarket’s Guineas in his latest. But the War Front colt is much better than a rabbit, as his commendable second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) attests.

Indeed, O’Brien was hoping to make the Kentucky Derby with him, employing the UAE Derby route. Unfortunately, Lancaster Bomber got off a beat slow at Meydan, and his sneakily-good fourth couldn’t furnish enough Derby points. So instead of taking his chance at Churchill, he was once more setting the table for the equine Churchill on May 6.

Drawn on the rail at the Curragh, Lancaster Bomber promises to show early speed. The third of the O’Brien trio, Spirit of Valor, may also be prominent from post 3. Thunder Snow is in between them in post 2, while Churchill ought to have clear sailing on the outside in post 6.

Although Thunder Snow is the other Group 1 winner in the field besides Churchill, he’s only joint third (or even fourth) choice in the market, trading at 10-1 or 14-1 depending on the bookmaker.

Bettors are backing class climber Irishcorrespondent as the second choice to Churchill. Trained by Michael Halford, the Ballygallon Stud homebred has won both of his starts – a Leopardstown maiden and a race over this course and distance – by a combined margin of eight lengths. The Teofilo colt, who also holds an early entry in the July 1 Irish Derby (G1), has earned his way into a higher grade.

Rounding out the short field is Glastonbury Song from the Ger Lyons yard. Two-for-two over Dundalk’s Polytrack, he was a distant fifth after a slow start in the Leopardstown 2000 Guineas Trial in his only turf try.

Saturday’s Curragh card has plenty of other action of interest. Acapulco is entered in the Greenlands (G2) on her way to Royal Ascot for O’Brien; the Lanwades Stud (G2) has attracted a strong field featuring Somehow, Turret Rocks, Diamond Fields, Raymonda, and Opal Tiara; and the Marble Hill is always worth watching for its clues to the juvenile scene.

First post, for a hot-looking two-year-old fillies’ maiden including Churchill’s full sister Clemmie, is 8:50 a.m. (EDT). The Irish Guineas is scheduled to go off at 11:10 a.m., and you can watch and wager on TwinSpires.com.