Trials. What are they worth? Four of the last five 2000 Guineas winners didn’t run in one, instead preferring to take in the first classic of the season on their reappearance, and this year’s ante-post Guineas favourite Churchill – like Aidan O’Brien’s last two 2000 Guineas winners – will attempt to do the same.
The recent Guineas winners that did take in a trial didn’t run in the more obvious Craven Stakes – run over all eight furlongs of the Rowley Mile itself – but instead ran in Saturday’s upcoming Greenham Stakes at Newbury, a race which has gone from strength to strength in recent years.
The most obvious name that comes to mind when thinking of the Greenham is probably Frankel, who used the race as a successful stepping stone towards his classic win in 2011, beating Excelebration (who else) in to second by four lengths. There are plenty of other subsequent Group 1 winners in the race’s recent history, too, including Olympic Glory, Kingman, and Muhaarar.
Even further back in the Greenham’s roll of honour you’ll find multiple Group 1 winner – and now classic-winning sire, courtesy of Galileo Gold – Paco Boy, while the now-stallions Dutch Art and Canford Cliffs were both second in other renewals.
But is the Greenham the best classic trial? What even denotes a good classic trial? Can it only be seen as a success if it provides the winner of the classic in which it is a trial for? This isn’t the best measure of strength, given that plenty of potentially top-class trial winners/runners often head elsewhere, and one of the more obvious ways to assess the strength of a classic trial is by the number of Group 1 winners that came out of the race. For simplicity (rather than sexism), we have solely concentrated on the main trials for the 2000 Guineas and the Derby in Britain and Ireland.
Of the 10 trials the Greenham is clearly the strongest in terms of providing subsequent Group 1 winners in recent years, and even if we take away Frankel’s nine subsequent Group 1 successes, the race still comfortably accounts for second-placed Dante, which is definitely the strongest Derby trial in Britain and Ireland. Somewhat surprisingly, the Ballysax Stakes – which would have performed substantially better had we been looking further back to when prolific Grade 1 winners Yeats and Fame And Glory won the race – was near the bottom of the pile despite providing last year’s Derby winner Harzard. The other Irish trial on the list, the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (also won by Fame And Glory and Yeats) also comes out poorly, and if Fascinating Rock (who won two Group 1s later in his career) had not starred in both the Irish trials in 2014, both races would be even lower down the pecking order.
So, the Greenham is the strongest 2000 Guineas trial in Britain and Ireland in terms of the top-level winners it provides, while the Dante is the pick of the Derby trials. But as races in general – using the same measurement of ‘strength’ – how do the races compare with the classics themselves?
This shows that the Greenham has been something of a mini-classic itself in terms of the quality horses it has produced, even outperforming the Derby in number of subsequent Group 1 wins (though of course the Derby is later in the season, and a win in that race usually means a swift call up to stud).
“The 2000 Guineas is the final two-year-old race of the season” is a phrase regularly rolled out at this time of year, but it does bare plenty of truth when one considers the relationship between the Dewhurst Stakes, which often decides who will be crowned the season's champion two-year-old, and the Guineas. Dawn Approach was the last horse to complete the double in 2012/13 and this year’s Guineas favourite Churchill will attempt to do likewise. But is the Dewhurst really the strongest classic trial?
It is, of course, worth pointing out that two-year-olds who have run in the Dewhurst have more opportunities to win Group 1s after that race compared to those that ran in the Greenham (if they go on to run at the Breeders’ Cup, for example). Regardless of that, the Greenham still stands up very well, though Churchill has the potential to make this last graph look significantly different by this time next year.
Looking at the quality of the race over the last seven years, the Greenham is more than just a 2000 Guineas trial, it is a race to look forward to in its own right (as long as it isn't held at Chelmsford, at least). With three of the current entries for this year's race sporting Timeform large ‘P’s next to their ratings (indicating that they are open to significant improvement on what they have achieved to date), including one of the most talked about horses of the off-season, Frankel's son Swiss Storm, another top-notch renewal is in prospect...