2,000 Guineas: Elarqam could give Mark Johnston another Classic success
|Qipco Guineas Festival|
|Venue: Newmarket Times: 2,000 Guineas - Saturday, 5 May, 15:35 BST; 1,000 Guineas - Sunday, 6 May, 15:35|
|Coverage: Commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live|
There could hardly be a more significant - or a neater - result to the 2,000 Guineas than success for the Mark Johnston-trained Elarqam.
The colt, owned by Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum of Dubai, comes to Flat racing's first Classic of the season off the back of winning both of his two starts as a two-year-old in 2017, but even if he is short on racing experience, he can certainly be said to have been born for the task ahead.
Elarqam is a son of Frankel, the racehorse rated Flat's greatest star, who signalled his arrival in the big time with a runaway victory in the 2011 2,000 Guineas. Mum, meanwhile, is Attraction, all-the-way winner of Newmarket's fillies-only 1,000 Guineas in 2004.
Although enjoying a prolific start to his stud career, Frankel, expected by some to take over from his own sire Galileo as the thoroughbred breeding world's 'super-stallion', is yet to father a Classic winner in Europe - though he has done so in Japan.
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Johnston, who also trained Attraction, told BBC Sport: "That is like a pedigree amongst pedigrees - they simply don't come better; I've never had a horse bred like this or that cost this sort of money [1.6m guineas, £2.48m]. What a stallion he would be if he was to win something like the Guineas.
"I do keep stressing it's the first race of the season and, win or lose, there will be a lot more races to come for him hopefully, but my instinct is that he's the perfect horse for the race. I worry about the lack of experience, that's all.
"But he's really changed in attitude. Last year he was just so lazy and laid-back, and there were a number of horses that went better than him on the gallops; this year he's been able to play with them on the gallops, which is what you need for a Guineas winner."
The 2016 champion jockey Jim Crowley, the Sheikh's principal jockey, takes the ride.
It was the historic 2,000 Guineas - first staged in 1809 - that first put Johnston on the map when Mister Baileys beat Grand Lodge by a whisker in 1994, eight seasons into his training career.
From there, the Scotland-born former vet, initially based in stables on the edge of an RAF bombing range in Lincolnshire before moving to his current location in the Middleham racing centre in North Yorkshire, has never looked back.
Though a string of other stellar race wins followed - with big names like Double Trigger, Bijou D'Inde, Fruits Of Love, Shamardal and The Last Lion, as well as Attraction - Johnston is perhaps best known for the prolific nature of his vast string, many owned by members of the Maktoum family.
If he continues in the same kind of form in 2018, Johnston, who's had 200-plus winners in seven of the past nine seasons, and who passed the 4,000 winner-mark last year, will become the most successful trainer in British racing history.
That record is narrowly held by Richard Hannon senior who saddled 4,193 winners, at home and overseas, 10 more than Martin Pipe; both have now retired.
Victory in the Guineas would be a fitting manner in which to start a likely history-making year.
"The biggest races, like the Classics, are absolutely the sort of races that drive you on," said Johnston.
"You can have 220 winners in a season, and nobody notices if you haven't got a star horse; equally you can be going through a bad patch, but have one notable horse and everyone thinks you're having a great time.
"Last year was a great year [219 races won], but without a Group One winner, and that takes the edge off it for me.
"Hopefully we can have both this time."
Guineas weekend ones to watch
- While the Coolmore-owned pair Gustav Klimt and Saxon Warrior head the challenge as Aidan O'Brien looks to land the 2,000 Guineas for a ninth time, 4,000 miles away from Newmarket the record-breaking trainer will be looking for an historic first. O'Brien, who won a world record 28 Group One races in 2017, sends recent Dubai winner Mendelssohn, with number one jockey Ryan Moore riding, to line up in the first leg of US racing's Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs - a race never won by a European challenger. The O'Brien-trained fillies Happily and I Can Fly head the field for Sunday's 1,000 Guineas.
- Masar, runaway winner of Newmarket's Craven Stakes in April for the Godolphin operation, and the one-two from Newbury's Greenham Stakes - James Garfield and Expert Eye - bring form from the traditional early-season Classic trial races to the Guineas table. On board James Garfield, trained by George Scott, Frankie Dettori looks for a fourth 2,000 Guineas success.
- Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin stables, tipped to enjoy a lucrative season in 2018, and already off to a flying start, will be throwing down the gauntlet to arch-rivals Coolmore in both Guineas. As well as Masar, Soliloquy has been added as a late entry for the 1,000 Guineas after a striking success in the Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket in April, and she'll face amongst others her stablemate Wild Illusion; all three are trained by Charlie Appleby.
- Mark Johnston isn't the only Middleham trainer looking for Guineas success. Karl Burke is due to saddle Laurens, narrow winner of the Fillies Mile at Newmarket in October, in the 1,000 Guineas, with jockey PJ McDonald in the saddle. The well-backed filly is owned by businessman John Dance who has taken to celebrating success with a special - he says "badly executed" - 'Robot' dance in the winners' enclosure.