Aidan O’Brien professed himself “very happy” with Saturday’s Qipco 2,000 Guineas favourite Churchill on Wednesday, saying it was a case of so far, so good.
Unlike his principal rivals, the trial winners Eminent, Barney Roy and Al Wukair, Churchill will not arrive at Newmarket with the benefit of a run. However, he has been well backed lately and clearly carries a good deal of Ballydoyle confidence.
“He seems to be fine,” said the trainer. “Everything has gone well. He was a very mature two-year-old, big and strong with plenty of scope. I’ve been very happy with him over the winter.”
O’Brien shares the record for most 2,000 Guineas winners, seven, with John Scott, who dominated the race in the middle of the 19th century. He expects Lancaster Bomber and Spirit of Valor to join Churchill in the race. Peace Envoy is unlikely to make the journey after his outing at Naas on Monday.
All of O’Brien’s Guineas winners were having their first start of the season in the Classic, so, if you are planning to oppose the favourite, it would be unwise to do so on fitness grounds. “We think he is well ready to start. I’m very happy with him at the moment,” said O’Brien.
Out of a very speedy dam line – Meow only ever ran over five furlongs while Airwave, his grand-dam was a six-furlong filly – he is by Galileo, a great influence on stamina, and while the Guineas should be fine, the Derby, for which he is also favourite, would appear to be beyond his reach.
As to what will be the champion two-year-old’s best trip at three, O’Brien said: “I’m not sure. The Guineas should be no problem. He travels very smoothly through his races and has a lot of pace.”
Churchill’s Dewhurst form was given a boost on Wednesday when Godolphin’s Blue Point, who was third behind him in the Group One last autumn, ran out an impressive winner of the Merriebelle Stables Pavilion Stakes at Ascot. He was pushed out by William Buick to beat the Mill Reef winner Harry Angel by 1½ lengths. Bookmakers could not shorten him quick enough for Royal Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup and he is now 4-1.
The two-mile Longines Sagaro Stakes is often something of a trial for the Gold Cup and that is where Hughie Morrison intends taking Wednesday’s winner, Sweet Selection. She improved all last season, culminating with victory in the Cesarewitch, and, on this evidence, has improved again. She beat Prince of Arran by 1½ lengths, with her stable companion Nearly Caught back in third.
“Nearly Caught would leave her a furlong behind on the gallops,” said Morrison. “But that’s the thing about stayers, if they do too much at home, they burn themselves out. She loves the ground, we know she stays and there may be better-class horses in the Gold Cup, but what a dream for her owners.”