An outstanding and if not emotional jumps season finally came to a tearful conclusion on Saturday at Sandown.
The retirement of the greatest jockey to walk the planet, AP McCoy finally came to fruition as he signed off with two third places and a well-deserved outcry of affection from not only his adoring public but also his admiring colleagues, the likes of which has never been seen before and probably will never be seen again.
Onwards and upwards, as this weekend signals the official start of the revamped flat season calendar and the first two classics of the year in the shape of the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas at flat racing headquarters, Newmarket.
After such a quiet and lean spell through the winter months for our local trainers where they simply lacked the firepower to compete with the powerful southern National Hunt stables, they finally get the chance to compete at the top table again as Dave O’Meara, John Quinn and Karl Burke all have entries in Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas.
North Yorkshire handler John Quinn saddles the impressive Coventry Stakes and Prix Morny winner The Wow Signal who has become somewhat of a forgotten horse after his below-par run on his final start when he was last of nine at Longchamp when something was clearly amiss.
Prior to that race The Wow Signal had carried all before him and looked a star of the future, however the slight worry might be that he needs to have cut in the ground to show his best form.
After a recent racecourse gallop at Pontefract his regular pilot Frankie Dettori described him as ‘a little bit rusty and still a bit stuffy’, and it may be seen as a negative that the Italian has deserted him in favour of the Richard Hannontrained Moheet, who is also in the colours of his retainer Al Shaqab Racing.
Frenchman Gregory Benoist will now get the leg up and he is sure to get a great spin if Quinn can get The Wow Signal to return to the same form as before his Longchamp flop.
Dave O’Meara’s outstanding start to the season could reach new heights if he were to capture his first classic winner with the live outsider, Hail The Hero.
After another group race victory on Friday for the ever-willing and determined Custom Cut, O’Meara could not have his string in much better form but the Nawton-based handler will have to find major improvement in Hail the Hero if he is to figure among the principals at Newmarket.
A respectable sixth-placed finish last time out in the Craven Stakes is decent form but it is not what is required to win the 2000 Guineas but if the master trainer can weave his magic once more then he could outrun his fanciful odds.
Middleham trainer Karl Burke is hoping his entry Glenalmond can improve on his fourth place in the Free handicap last time out when trying to give 5lb to the eventual winner Home Of The Brave who re-opposes here on level terms.
On figures, Glenalmond came out best in that race and it was a very satisfactory seasonal debut but Burke will have to find significant improvement from his charge if he is to be competitive here.
Of course it is Aidan O’Brien who dominates the market with his apparent proverbial pigeon catcher, Gleneagles, who is the current 2/1 jolly having won five races in a row last season although he was disqualified on his final run in France.
The Ballydoyle handler doesn’t always have his horses primed for the Guineas and with so many of his top horses yet to fire this season Gleneagles and his other likely runner Ol’ Man River can be overlooked.
Two horses that are certainly expected to run well are the Roger Varian-trained Intilaaq and Andre Fabre-trained Territories, who have both been supplemented for the race at the cost of £30,000 by their respective owners.
Intilaaq was a very impressive winner of a Newbury maiden last time out and his trainer Varian seems very bullish about his chance.
He said: “Intilaaq won at Newbury like a very good horse and he has trained beautifully since.
“He has natural speed to be comfortable at a mile but also has the stamina to stay further, which should stand him in good stead in a 2000 Guineas.
“He is a colt we have always held in high regard and we feel he deserves to take his chance in an open-looking race.”
My selection for the race however is a somewhat outsider in the shape of 33/1 chance Moheet.
The Richard Hannon trained colt was a fast finishing third last time out in the Craven Stakes in a race that wasn’t run to suit and he is said to of come on a lot for that run.
Moheet was a very impressive winner of a Salisbury maiden at the back end of last year and I find it very intriguing that the in-form Frankie Dettori has chosen to ride him over a horse like The Wow Signal who has already got the form in the book.
This colt has always been held in the highest regard and I think he could be good value to give Hannon back-to-back winners in a very competitive 2000 Gunieas.
Moheet 33/1 2000 Gunieas, Newmarket, Saturday
Tiggy Wiggy 20/1 (already advised) 1000 Guineas, Newmarket, Sunday.