Moore steers Churchill to comfortable Guineas double
Teeming, unforecast quantities of rain drenched Ireland's premier Flat racecourse in the build-up to the Irish 2,000 Guineas, as if the elements were determined to provide a new test for Churchill, the latest "unbeatable" to emerge from the Ballydoyle stable.
The imposing colt returned spattered with muck but with an extra sheen on his reputation, having powered past Thunder Snow for a comfortable victory at odds of 4-9.
"It wouldn't be his ground," said Ryan Moore on dismounting, noting that the track had been similarly muddy on the only occasion Churchill was beaten, when making his debut a year ago. "He went through it because he's such a strong horse but that ground wouldn't suit a horse with his class."
It would have been easy to treat Thunder Snow's claims lightly, following his baffling display in the Kentucky Derby three weeks ago, when he did a fair impression of a bucking bronco as soon as the stalls opened and was pulled up after a furlong. Connections still have no explanation for what happened there but evidently he remains a quality animal and, having won a Group One on soft last year, is a real threat if you are a bit worried about your own horse's ability to cope with a sodden surface.
Thunder Snow duly cruised into contention at the top of the straight, easily avoiding the risk of being boxed in by Churchill's two stablemates. But when Moore asked his mount to challenge, Churchill responded so quickly that he hit the front more than a furlong out - rather earlier than his jockey had planned.
Godolphin, owners of the runner-up, will have another crack at Churchill next month when Barney Roy takes him on at Royal Ascot in the St James's Palace Stakes. Barney Roy has a length to make on Churchill from their Newmarket form this month, but Churchill was so good here that betting on an upset next time is, for now, an unattractive proposition. Bookmakers wiped off the last of the 11-8 about Churchill for Ascot and the 5-4 followed soon after, leaving him an even-money shot with three weeks to go.
Aidan O'Brien has now trained an extraordinary 69 winners of European Classic races in his 20 years with a licence but seems no more inclined to accept the credit for same than when he started out. All mentions of the tally prompted familiar comments from O'Brien about what a big team Ballydoyle is and how privileged he is to be a small part of it.
He was determined, however, to make sure Churchill got his due praise and suggested the horse has become such a natural athlete that he instinctively knows how to prepare himself for exertion. "He gets a little big jig-joggy rather than upset [before a race]. His whole demeanour doesn't change other than, I suppose, like an athlete warming themselves up. That's what he does, he jig-jogs and then straight away back to complete calm. Then he jig-jogs again and back to complete calm but never gets upset in his mind, I'd say. Very unusual that way."
Christophe Soumillon, Thunder Snow's jockey, was briefer and more emphatic. "We were beaten by the best three-year-old in Europe," the Belgian said.
O'Brien proved less fortunate with Acapulco, a late non-runner on this card because of a temperature. But he seemed confident the filly will recover in time to take her chance in one of the sprints at Royal Ascot.
Meanwhile, the temporary facilities here seemed under some pressure, despite a crowd of 3,000, half the formal capacity while the main stand is pulled down and rebuilt.
Better weather will be necessary if the expected 6,000 for today's 1,000 Guineas card are not to have a frustrating experience.
The Curragh has made an obvious effort to keep their customers happy and one can understand why management would rather not let the Classic races be run elsewhere but the outcome does not seem the ideal one from the broader perspective of Irish racing. A much better experience would have been offered if this weekend's racing had taken place at Leopardstown.
Sunday Indo Sport