Saxon Warrior can win battle with 'Gustav'
There's a very old saying in racing that the fittest horse wins the Guineas, the luckiest horse the Derby, and the best horse the St Leger.
While that phrase doesn't really stand up to scrutiny these days, fitness for a speedy race over the Rowley Mile is still most certainly a requirement.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained 5/2 favourite for this year's 2,000 Guineas (3.35 Newmarket), Gustav Klimt, looks fit and well having won the Guineas trial at Leopardstown three weeks ago - but those of us backing the O'Brien second string, Saxon Warrior, must play the guessing game as he hasn't been seen since October.
A lot can happen over the winter, and O'Brien has said he has probably never seen a horse change as much as Saxon Warrior, who has turned into "a monster of a horse - big, powerful and strong".
Those comments, although positive, may explain why Saxon Warrior is the second string under Donnacha O'Brien, with Seamus Heffernan on Gustav Klimt (Ryan Moore is riding Mendelssohn in the Kentucky Derby).
In other words, the general vibe is that Saxon Warrior may be more of a staying type suited to longer distances. But there's another old saying that does remain somewhat true, and it's that a truly great horse can win over any distance or conditions.
I'm not quite sure if Saxon Warrior is going to be one of the all-time greats - but it wouldn't be the first time a so-called second string came out on top, and jockey bookings shouldn't put anyone off backing him today around 9/2.
In races where he's had more than one runner, during the last 10 years Aidan O'Brien's first string has won 29pc of races, with the second string coming home in front 9pc of the time. Third string or worse have a very low strike rate of under 5pc, and can be generally discounted.
And while first and second string produce a loss if blindly backed to industry SP, if you shop around for prices there can often be some decent value to be had on both, but particularly the second string.
In the 1,300 races or so I looked at, backing the first string to Betfair SP produced a profit of 34pts over the 10 years - while backing the second string produced a profit of 45pts.
Of course betting is never as simple as backing a horse blindly, but the point I'm making is that while a lot of fuss can be made over jockey bookings or second strings, it shouldn't be the sole reason you draw a red line through a selection.
Getting back to Saxon Warrior, he didn't put a hoof wrong as a two-year-old, winning all three starts, including a very impressive success in the Racing Post Trophy where he dug deep to rally when he needed to, allowing O'Brien to break Bobby Frankel's record of the most top-level race wins in a year. He looks a natural and while the Derby may be more suited to his size and style, the 9/2 about him taking this along the way is a good-value deal.
Having said all that, it's hard to knock Gustav Klimt, which also looked very smart as a juvenile and as mentioned, took the Guineas trial in style in what was less than ideal heavy ground.
He's definitely going places too. Charlie Appleby's Masar also has strong claims based on his Craven win and should be thereabouts.
In the earlier Group Three (2.20), Havana Gold looks the one to beat around 9/4, getting weight from his rivals for his age.
In tomorrow's 1,000 Guineas (3.35 Newmarket), Wild Illusion is tipped for Charlie Appleby at odds in the region of 9/1.
She was very smart as a two-year-old and reversed the Prix d'Aumale form with Soustraction when successful in the Group One Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly back in October.
That definitely puts her in the frame for this, and while Aidan O'Brien's Happily is probably the one to beat on paper, her price of 9/4 is too short for me in an open-looking renewal.
I backed Third Time Lucky at 20/1 when sixth in a large-field handicap at Newbury last time, and while I've mentioned before that he's inconsistent, his mark is now quite low at 93.
That makes him an attractive bet for the Spring Lodge Stakes at Newmarket today (1.50), and I'm hoping to get a double-figure price about Richard Fahy's six-year-old, which won the Cambridgeshire in 2015.
* Last week's each-way selection, Relentless Dreamer, was placed at 33/1.
Weekend UK Selections
1.50 Newmarket: Third Time Lucky (e/w)
2.20 Newmarket: Havana Grey
2.40 Goodwood: Taurean Star
2.55 Newmarket: Defoe
3.35 Newmarket: Saxon Warrior
3.35 Newmarket (Sunday): Wild Illusion
Do the double
Soccer: Mark Hughes replaced Mauricio Pellegrino as manager at Southampton in March, and he has a lot to do in a short space of time with the Saints priced 11/8 for relegation. They are away to Everton today and while the Toffees are enjoying a reasonably good run of form, the away side have a lot more to play for. I’m backing Southampton for the win at 13/8.
Racing: Trained by Roger Varian, Defoe is certain to go off at a very restrictive price in the Group Two Dunaden Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket (2.55), possibly around 1/2. But the four-year-old colt is impossible to oppose with the only blot on his copybook last term being a below-par performance in the St Leger. He was as good as ever on his reappearance last time when taking the John Porter Stakes at Newbury, and definitely has more to come.