World Class: Air Force Blue can make history for O’Brien

Air Force Blue

Air Force Blue has 7lb in hand on RPRs for the 2,000 Guineas

  PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos  

THERE are huge expectations on Air Force Blue in the 2000 Guineas on Saturday. The bookies think he’s halfway down the track already – and not without reason.

He earned an RPR of 125 in the Dewhurst on his final start, which ranks him above the ten-year average for 2,000 Guineas winners (124.9).

That 125 figure also gives him at least 7lb (roughly three lengths) over all his rivals on RPRs, which is the biggest advantage held by any Guineas runner this side of the millennium.

It also makes him one of the best juveniles ever to race out of Ballydoyle and puts him above all seven of O’Brien’s previous Guineas winners at the same stage in their careers.

The bookies are obviously quite right to have him as a clear odds-on favourite – particularly after the ante-post second favourite Emotionless was pulled from the race last week.

The level of pressure and expectation that will face Air Force Blue might put the wind up another trainer, but O’Brien has been there and done it many times before.

O’Brien on fire

The current form of the O’Brien yard is also a huge positive.

Last month the trainer bagged his first Cheltenham Festival winner for 16 years and this month he has racked up double his typical tally of wins for April with a week to spare.

This aggressive start to the year is a clear departure from the slow and steady approach O’Brien tends to adopt in the early season, which admittedly has not stopped him becoming the most successful Classic trainer in Europe.

But the fact the yard was raring to go and firing in the winners a few weeks earlier than normal can only help as far as this weekend’s Guineas contenders are concerned.

Two years ago O’Brien became the first trainer ever to land three consecutive Derbies and if Air Force Blue wins on Saturday, the Irish handler will become the first to saddle eight winners of the 2,000 Guineas.

French value

O’Brien will also bid to maintain his early momentum in the 1,000 Guineas on Sunday, when he saddles 6-4 favourite Minding and 6-1 chance Ballydoyle.

The fillies’ race is not quite so one-sided as the 2,000 Guineas from a ratings point of view, although Minding’s RPR of 119 still gives her a healthy 5lb advantage, which is the biggest since Finsceal Beo confirmed her 9lb superiority with success in 2007.

The ten-year average RPR for winners of the 1,000 Guineas stands at 114.7, so Minding has already shown more than enough ability to win a typical running of the race.

The fact Group 1-winner Ballydoyle is set to join Minding in the 1,000 Guineas suggests O’Brien is fired up to make a big impact this weekend and he is as short as 20-1 to land all five British classics this season.

The value selection against the O’Brien team is French filly Midweek, who posted an RPR of 110 on her return to action in the Prix Imprudence over an inadequate 7f.

Her trainer Criquette Head-Maarek actually has a better record in the 1,000 Guineas than O’Brien, with a total of four winners since 1983.

Midweek can build on her latest effort over the more suitable 1m and that should put her in the frame at a tasty each-way price of 40-1.

Market wrong

The big showdown between the leading sprinters of Hong Kong and Australia takes place in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize at Sha Tin on Sunday.

The odds available in Europe at present are just plain wrong, as they favour Aussie raider Chautauqua over the world’s leading sprinter Aerovelocity.

At their best they both have RPRs of 125, but Chatauqua hasn’t hit that level this season and Sunday’s race will be his first overseas adventure at a track which will not favour his tardy starting style.

Aerovelocity, on the other hand, arrives on the back of a world-leading, career-best effort in the Centenary Sprint Cup over track and trip and he holds home advantage.

Japan’s Horse of the Year Maurice (120) is another big name in action at Sha Tin on Sunday. He will go off favourite for the Champions Mile, where he should be too good for leading locals like Giant Treasure, Sun Jewellery and Contentment.

World-class Werther

Sha Tin was also the venue for the best performance in the world last week, when Werther ran out an impressive winner against his elders in the QEII Cup, posting a career best RPR of 124.

This win represented a huge improvement from his Hong Kong Derby success a month earlier, when he scored by just a head with an RPR of 115.

This time round he beat a field full of international talent and top-ranking locals by barn-storming four-and-a-half lengths.

The internationals didn’t run to form, the better locals like Military Attack and Blazing Speed are not as fast as they once were and the rain-softened ground may have turned against some runners, but however you cut it this was a top notch performance from the winner.

TOP OF THE CLASS: Werther 124 John Moore (HK) (QEII Cup, Sha Tin, 1m2f, 24 April)

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