British Classic season starts: What did we learn - and what next?

By Elizabeth HudsonBBC Sport
Kameko's trainer Andrew Balding and jockey Oisin Murphy
Kameko's trainer Andrew Balding and jockey Oisin Murphy pose after their victory

They may have been held five weeks later than planned, but the opening two races of the British Classic season at Newmarket still provided plenty of excitement.

It came at the end of a week when horse racing returned to Britain after the coronavirus shutdown with jockeys wearing face masks, reduced fields, empty stands and social distancing in place.

The 2,000 Guineas win for Kameko and Love's 1,000 Guineas success may have been behind closed doors, but it showed that racing is adapting well to the new world it finds itself in.

What else can the sport look forward to with Royal Ascot, the Oaks and the Derby fast approaching?

Chasing the Classic double

Following their impressive victories, Kameko and Love moved to the top of the betting markets for the Derby and the Oaks, which will both be held on 4 July at Epsom.

Kameko gave jockey Oisin Murphy and trainer Andrew Balding a first 2,000 Guineas win on Saturday, holding off a host of challengers, including the previously unbeaten Pinatubo.

Kameko is now around a 3-1 favourite for the Derby, which is run over an extra half-mile than the one-mile Guineas and will be a test of the three-year-old's stamina.

Twenty-four hours later, it was business as usual as Irish training supremo Aidan O'Brien won his fourth 1,000 Guineas in the past five years when Love, ridden by Ryan Moore, took the honours in the fillies' mile.

O'Brien had only one runner in Sunday's race and the four-and-a-quarter-length success leaves Love as the 6-4 favourite for the Oaks - a race he has won seven times.

What about the other challengers?

Away from Newmarket, English King put himself into Derby contention with victory in Friday's Lingfield trial.

The race has a good record for Epsom winners, with nine horses, including Anthony Van Dyck last year, going on to claim the double.

"The Derby is one of those races that gets me going, so it is very exciting to have a live contender," said English King's trainer Ed Walker.

Despite finishing third in the 1,000 Guineas, Quadrilateral - from the Roger Charlton yard - seems to have more and the daughter of Frankel could take on Love again at Epsom.

Joy for Murphy

Oisin Murphy lifted his first champion jockey title last year after a season during which he received a caution for failing a racecourse breathalyser.

But a British Classic success had eluded him until Saturday and the joyous reaction from the 24-year-old Irishman was clear to see.

Murphy is steeped in racing tradition - his uncle is Jim Culloty, who won three Cheltenham Gold Cups on Best Mate, and he grew up in Ireland with ambitions to be a showjumper.

"It was massive and a day I won't forget," he said. "When I look back at this in a few years' time I won't remember there was no crowd - it will just be Kameko winning the 2,000 Guineas for Qatar Racing and Andrew Balding.

"It is the biggest winner of my career and for all the right reasons."

Have we seen the best of Pinatubo?

The main talking point after the 2,000 Guineas was the performance of odds-on favourite Pinatubo, who finished third.

Charlie Appleby's horse went into the race after an unbeaten season as a two-year-old which saw him earn the highest rating at that stage for 25 years, surpassing even the legendary Frankel.

But it seemed some of Pinatubo's rivals may have closed the gap on the Godolphin-owned colt in 2020.

Appleby said he was disappointed by the defeat but that Pinatubo will go for the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot on 20 June, and possibly skip the Derby.

William Buick on Pinatubo
Pinatubo will have a chance for redemption as the season goes on

What happens now?

Racing continues in England this week while Flat racing in Ireland resumes at Naas on Monday, with the opening Irish Classics on Friday and Saturday at the Curragh.

Meetings at Chepstow (15 June) and Ayr (22 June) herald the return to action in Wales and Scotland, while England is set to stage its first jumps card on 1 July.

Betting shops are due to reopen in England on 15 June - the day before Royal Ascot starts - but it is still unclear when spectators will be able to attend racing as all meetings in June, July and August are due to be behind closed doors.

Arena Racing Company managing director Mark Spincer said this week that he hoped some people may be allowed in for the group's flagship St Leger meeting at Doncaster from 9-12 September.

However, the sport will be led by government guidance, with no decisions expected for some time.