A field of fourteen fillies are set to line up in Sunday’s first fillies Classic of the year, the Qipco 1,000 Guineas.
A relatively mild early spring appears to have brought forward several big stables, that in past springs had seen fillies needing a first outing.
That factor perhaps makes this year’s Guineas even more imponderable, as we look to establish the relative merits of last season’s leading juveniles.
Certainly John Gosden has enjoyed a terrific spring with his three year old fillies, with Daban and Dabyah winning the main traditional trials, the Nell Gwyn Stakes and Fred Darling Stakes.
The Newmarket trainer relies on the former, an unbeaten daughter of Acclamation, who finished with some aplomb on the seemingly favoured stands side to win the Nell Gwyn.
There was a suggestion that the stands side might have enjoyed an advantage at the Craven meeting with Unforgetable Filly, the second placed in that race, also coming from the same side of the track.
There looked no discernable reason why Unforgetable Filly should overturn form with a less experienced, once-raced filly, but the runner-up’s form last term was some way short of Group 1 level, leaving question marks about the overall strength of this trial, with the two Aidan O’Brien fillies with proven form, failing to figure and neither returning for the Guineas.
The third placed horse Poet’s Vanity had won the Group 3 Oh So Sharp Stakes by a length from Glitter Girl last season. In the Nell Gwyn, she raced up with the pace, before tiring in the final furlong, eventually coming home two lengths third to Daban. She raced further across the track on that occasion and with race fitness now and a different track position it would be no surprise to see her reverse form.
However, the balance of last year’s juvenile form appeared to lie very firmly with Irish-trained fillies, with Rhododendron proving top of the pile in 2016.
Her Group 1 class was emphatically proven as she routed her rivals in the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile over this course and distance last October, beating Hydrangea by 2 ¼ lengths.
That run gave her a two-one lead over her stable mate, with the margin having been much smaller (a head) at the Curragh in August. Between those runs Hydrangea had finished ahead of Rhododendron when a close second to Intricately in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh in September.
With Hydrangea having shown her form and demonstrated her fitness with victory at Leopardstown in April, there should not be much between these two O’Brien fillies if they give their best runs and it would be no surprise if Hydrangea did manage to gain her revenge on her as yet unraced in 2017 contemporary.
The joker in the pack is perhaps Intricately, who trumped both O’Brien fillies when landing the Moyglare and whilst she was disappointing at the Breeders’ Cup, this daughter of Fastnet Rock shaped with promise when 1 ¾ lengths fourth to Hydrangea at Leopardstown.
Intricately is a first Classic runner for trainer Joseph O’Brien and will not lack for race fitness.
Winter is the third runner from the Aidan O’Brien team and like Hydrangea, should come on for the run after running a big race to finish a head second to that filly in the Guineas trial at Leopardstown in early April.
This represented a huge step up in form – and arguably enormous improvement on her deeds at two, when the daughter of Galileo won at the third time of asking in a maiden, when trained by David Wachman.
She fully justified her place in the Classic trial at Leopardstown, suggesting she had shown plenty of early spring promise at Ballydoyle, but this is a step up again.
It does appear significant that Dabyah sidesteps this contest for a crack at the French Guineas at Deauville, suggesting perhaps that the Fred Darling was not the strongest renewal.
Certainly the winner dominated that race, and it is to the 1000 Guineas’ detriment that her Chantilly conqueror Wuheida is injured and misses the race.
Urban Fox ran on very nicely to take second place in the Fred Darling, beaten 1 ¼ lengths. It was an eye-catching performance from this likeable filly who had solid form last term, albeit a little below the highest class.
She was well ahead of Queen Kindly and there are big question marks now as to whether the Frankel filly, winner of last season’s Lowther Stakes, truly sees out seven furlongs, let alone a mile with a rising finish.
Perhaps English credentials are best represented by another filly yet to see the track this year, Fair Eva. This flashy Roger Charlton trained daughter of Frankel made huge headlines when impressing on her first two starts, notably when landing the Group 3 Princess Margaret Juddmonte Stakes at Ascot last July, slamming Kilmah by four lengths.
Charlton intimated that Fair Eva perhaps needed a longer trip when she was only 1 ½ lengths third to Queen Kindly in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes at York last August.
She certainly shaped as though a likely winner on her subsequent start in the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket in September, only to be caught late on by the surge of Spain Burg. Connections’ of Fair Eva were naturally a little downcast in the immediate aftermath, but in hindsight, Fair Eva showed that she handled the Newmarket undulations and had the rest of her field beaten at the distance. She does not meet Spain Burg here and by all accounts has enjoyed a good preparation for the Guineas, over a trip that should suit.
The unknown quantity of this 1000 Guineas is Talaayeb, who created a very favourable impression when landing a maiden over this track last autumn.
The Owen Burrows trained daughter of Dansili bids to follow Ghanaati as a once-raced maiden winner, who landed the Guineas on her first start of the year.
Burrows has been content to miss the trials, opting for a Newmarket gallop at the Craven meeting, a path trodden successfully last year by Massaat, who finished second to Galileo Gold in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas.
It is hard to quantify exactly how good Talaayeb is and we will only find out on the day.
Kilmah proved herself a tough and consistent pattern race filly last year, but her overall form suggests that she ought to come up a little short in this company.
Ce La Vie was a Catterick maiden winner last autumn but was well held when taking on older fillies and mares in a Naas Group 3 in March. She looks to be out of her depth, as does the once-raced maiden Dream Start, who was tailed off in a maiden at Newmarket last month.
In summary, the form book suggests Rhododendron is the best filly in the line-up, but her lack of a run could be seen as a disadvantage. She proved fallible last year and two of the fillies to have beaten her do come here race-fit from Ireland, where the strongest juvenile form lay in 2016.
Of the British-trained runners, Daban’s trial performance was the standout, but question marks remain against the strength of that form in Group 1 context. There is an argument to suggest that the British trials for this race were not the strongest pointers which would bring Fair Eva’s proven ability and prospects of improvement over the longer trip, into the equation.