Thursday 22 March 2018

Homecoming Queen looks to have finally come of age

Right tactics have set classy filly up for Guineas double, says Ronan Groome

ON the last day of July last year, Homecoming Queen was having the fifth start of her career. After her racecourse debut in Dundalk, she looked promising on her second run in Navan but then disappointed in her next two starts. The alarm bells ring at Ballydoyle when you're still a maiden after four chances, but nevertheless Homecoming Queen was very well-backed to register a first success.

She chased the leaders early on and looked primed to challenge at the two-furlong marker, but she didn't pick up when Colm O'Donoghue asked her to, and ended up a disappointing fifth.

There comes a time when you have to give up on the hopes and expectations you have for a horse. If Aidan O'Brien hadn't realigned expectations for this filly that day at Cork, he might have after her next two runs; two more disappointing efforts at Tipperary and Dundalk. After seven runs, she looked exposed, flat-footed and simply not good enough.

Yet horses regularly make fools of us all, and who would have thought 10 months on that Homecoming Queen would be the 1,000 Guineas heroine with the second-largest winning distance in the history of the race. You have to go back to 1859 to find one that won by further, a filly called Mayonaise.

The performance was as impressive as you will see, but how could a filly having her 14th start, with just three wins to her name, win the Guineas?

The natural reaction for many, especially given that she was 25/1, was to discount the performance. Some suggested that she stole the race from the front, that Ryan Moore caught them all out. But the whole field was stacked up behind her at the three-furlong pole, where the Guineas is usually won and lost, and this is where Homecoming Queen accelerated clear.

There is a theory that the ground helped her more than the others, that it exaggerated the winning distance. The ground probably did help, but there is nothing to say she can't be better on good ground -- she won the Guineas trial at Leopardstown on good ground.

Some point to the race fitness factor, yet both Mashoora and Moonstone Magic were well-fancied off the back of trial runs, and were well-beaten on the day.

It is only right to analyse the classic races with surgical precision and especially when a lesser fancied stablemate to a would-be superstar and well-supported favourite wins so convincingly. It is also natural that the form can go underestimated, and go into the too-good-to-be-true category.

But there is every reason to suspect that Homecoming Queen is, simply, as good as she looked on the day.

After those barren first seven runs, connections decided to change tactics -- let her take the lead and set her own pace. Ever since, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor has been a different animal and those hopes and expectations went up again.

Prior to the Newmarket Guineas Joseph O'Brien said that Homecoming Queen was the main danger to Maybe and Moore, who might have had a decent selection to choose from, opted to ride the filly. It suggests she was indeed another big player, rather than the supporting cast for Ballydoyle.

Given the pace she had set early on, that she was able to move up another couple of gears and bound clear was an indication of class.

She didn't have an easy lead, nor did she lead a sedate gallop. Compelling evidence for this assumption is presented by the time she clocked, which was all of two seconds faster than Camelot's winning time in the 2,000 Guineas 24 hours earlier.

That she still has to prove herself to some observers today is a little disrespectful of her performance at Newmarket. She does, however, face a new challenge in Dermot Weld's Yellow Rosebud. The daughter of Jeremy impressed when she battled hard to win the 1,000 Guineas trial at Leopardstown on her first start of the season and she will now try to emulate Bethrah, which followed the same route to the Curragh to win the Irish Guineas for Weld in 2010.

There was also a lot of promise in La Collina's run at Newmarket and Kevin Prendergast's filly is now back at the Curragh, the scene of her terrific Group One success last term.

Yet through the defection of Maybe on Friday, the race revolves around Homecoming Queen as she bids to become the third filly in nine years to do the Guineas double. One thing is for sure, she won't be 25/1 this time.

Sunday Indo Sport

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