Wayne Bailey: Grounds for believing George Vancouver is the value option
WITH no winner priced above 5/1 in the latest six renewals, the Irish 2000 Guineas has left punters with very little to complain about in recent years.
Indeed, the last horse to win at a double-figure price was the Jeremy Noseda-trained raider Araafa in 2006 at 12/1.
Focusing on horses at or near the head of the market would appear to pay off then, and since 1997 just two horses which were outside the top four in the betting found themselves in the winners' enclosure.
As such, I'm sure there'll be a slight sense of trepidation among the bookmakers in the betting ring today as the off-time of 3.20 approaches.
With those figures in mind, I must confess that I felt a little uneasy to see the horse I fancy, George Vancouver, priced up at 12/1 in the early markets for today's Classic at the Curragh.
Of the O'Brien quartet, he's the third longest in price and those of us that back him, run the risk of looking quite foolish afterwards should the market, once again, call this race correctly. But that's what racing is all about and if you never took a chance and went against the crowd, you'd never bag a decent-priced winner.
On official ratings, likely favourite Magician has five pounds to make up with George Vancouver, although Timeform take a different view and put the jolly top of their ratings at 132 – two pounds clear of the selection.
With Van Der Neer rated 131, the Timeform figures suggest this race will be very close, although with such disparity in the prices, it's clear that the market believes Magician is the one most likely to improve out of the lot.
While he certainly has claims, I'm not entirely convinced by what I've seen that he can step up to this grade as easily as his price suggests, especially with the possibility of the ground turning up on the firmer side of good.
He was ninth of 19 runners on debut which was his only start on good ground and his best form, including his latest win in the Group Three Dee Stakes at Chester, all came on ground that had a bit of give.
It is often said that a good horse will act on any going, but I don't fancy taking 2/1 in finding out whether that's true in this particular case.
By comparison, George Vancouver – the horse named after the British Navy officer who charted North America's Pacific coast – will have no problem with the ground and his best piece of form comes on firm at Santa Anita, where he quickened up and found a gap in the final furlong to win the Grade One Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf back in November.
That followed on from a reasonable third in the Dewhurst for which he was largely unfancied at 16/1. His opponents will point out that he was well held in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last time, but to me he looked like he needed the run after six months off and I reckon he'll give a better account of himself today.
At 12/1 each-way, a nice return is offered even if he only manages a place. That said, Richard Hannon is not sending Van Der Neer (7/2) over to enjoy the scenery and he, too, will give the favourite a good run for his money. He's won at Listed level and was second in the Group One Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster so he makes the trip to Ireland with a smart CV.
Richard Fahey's Gabrial's Kaka was no match for the likes of Magician in the Dee Stakes last time, but a race like the Betfred.com Silver Bowl Handicap (3.15 Haydock) might be more suited to his level. He won both his starts as a two-year-old and his mark of 91 gives him a good chance to finish in the money, priced around 12/1.
1.45 Curragh: Bye Bye Birdie
2.05 Goodwood: Asfare
3.15 Haydock: Gabrial's Kaka (e/w)
3.20 Curragh: George Vancouver (e/w)
4.05 Goodwood: Noble Mission