Five key questions ahead of Guineas weekend at Newmarket

The first two classic races of the season are at Newmarket this weekend.
The first two classic races of the season are at Newmarket this weekend.

We're set for a huge weekend of racing, and Nick Seddon has picked out the five key talking points on Guineas weekend from Newmarket, Newcastle and Haydock Park...

Is Pinatubo the real deal?

As is natural with a superstar two-year-old, Pinatubo has faced questions about whether he'll train on into his three-year-old campaign - questions which have lingered for longer than usual due to the delayed start of the season. There's no doubt that he was a special juvenile, winning all six of his starts, including twice at Group 1 level, and earning ratings as lofty as 128 (official) and 134 (Timeform). While he's deservedly an odds-on favourite for the 2000 Guineas, the rumour mill has been in full swing, and he'll need to prove he's more Frankel than Air Force Blue.

If he runs to anything near his two-year-old form, he's unopposable, however there are three places on offer and some nice colts are available at double figure prices, namely Kinross and Military March. The first-named struggled behind Kameko when a well-supported favourite for the Futurity Trophy at Newcastle last November, though he was a deeply impressive winner on debut here a month before and his connections obviously think highly of him, while Military March certainly has the tools to have a say. The Derby is the ultimate aim with him, and he's the favourite for the Epsom classic at the time of writing, but he looked smart when winning the Autumn Stakes over course and distance last October, and looks the each-way play at around the 16/1 mark - bearing in mind that the Guineas is one of the most important trials for Epsom. 

2000 Guineas
Military March silk

Military March (EW)


Can Waldkonig showcase his Epsom credentials?

Wolverhampton has thrown up several smart two-year-olds in recent years, including Pinatubo, who made an impressive winning debut there last summer, and it was hard not to be taken with Waldkonig's effort to win on his first start over just shy of nine furlongs there in December. He couldn't be anymore eye-catching on paper, being by Kingman and a half-brother to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Waldgeist, and he was impressive in the way he quickly found several extra gears to put the race to bed in the closing stages.

Admittedly, it wasn't the hottest of contests, but he impressed on the clock that day, and recorded quicker closing sectionals than the exceptionally fast Kachy had managed at the same course the previous year. He's currently a 10/1 chance for the Epsom Derby at the time of writing, and he has the opportunity to showcase his credentials for that particular classic in the listed Newmarket Stakes over a mile and a quarter on Saturday (Newmarket 15:00). He should improve for the extra furlong and a half or so, and it would be a surprise should this regally bred colt suffer defeat on his second start. 

Newmarket Stakes
Waldkonig silk



Will the Sagaro Stakes unearth a Gold Cup contender?

Newcastle hosts the rearranged Group 3 Sagaro Stakes on Saturday afternoon (Newcastle 14:40), a race which is a recognised trial for the Ascot Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. The race hasn't produced a subsequent Gold Cup winner since The Queen's Estimate in 2013, and it seems unlikely that this year's renewal will produce anything more than a lively outsider for the showpiece event at the Royal meeting.

However, one who makes plenty of appeal for win purposes is the 2018 Northumberland Plate winner, Withhold. He carries the colours of the exceptionally shrewd Tony Bloom, and he's been campaigned sparingly since landing a gamble in the North East two years ago, missing out on a run in the Melbourne Cup that same year due to suffering a broken blood vessel.

He's largely held his form well since, barring a below par run over shorter in last year's Ebor Handicap at York, and he looks ready for another crack at Group level - with this track and trip should suiting his front-running style. Indeed, Withhold has a fine record when returning from an absence, and in what looks a winnable renewal of the Sagaro, everything points to a big run on Saturday. 

Sagaro Stakes
Withhold silk



Will a red hot-looking Brigadier live up to its promise?

Like the vast majority of pattern races that we've seen so far this week, Sunday's Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes has a temporary home, and will this year be run at Haydock Park instead of Sandown (Haydock 14:40). The defection of Sangarius from Friday's Paradise Stakes at Newmarket due to the going means that a red hot field of nine are due to line up, and bearing in mind that this race regularly throws a top level middle distance performer, it would be no surprise should this year's renewal prove to be a red hot one. Indeed, each of Sangarius, Bangkok and Telecaster are upwardly mobile types, while last year's Cambridgeshire Handicap winner Lord North looks ready for the step up to Group level based on the form he was showing in the autumn.

However, it's difficult to oppose the five-year-old Elarqam for the Mark Johnston team. He's proven to be something of a late bloomer, and took a while to hit full stride, but he really came into his own last season; winning the Group 2 York Stakes in July, before following that up with a good effort to finish third in the Group 1 International Stakes at the same track a month later. He looked unlucky to only place that day having hit trouble in-running - something Johnston alluded to himself after the race - and bearing in mind that his trainer will have him ready for this, and that conditions will suit, Elarqam is fancied to win this on route to marking himself out as a top-level performer this term.

Brigadier Gerard Stakes
Elarqam silk



Is Quadrilateral the right angle in the 1000 Guineas?

Like in the 2000 Guineas, there's a pretty strong favourite in Sunday's fillies' equivalent, and there are plenty of punters who will be backing Quadrilateral to come out on top for Roger Charlton. The daughter of Frankel couldn't have been more impressive in her three starts as a juvenile last term, graduating from maiden company to Group 1 success in less than two months, and signing off with a hugely impressive victory in the Fillies' Mile at Newmarket. There are several smart fillies in the line-up, namely Millisle, Love and Raffle Prize, though none seem to have the same scope for improvement as Quadrilateral, and bearing in mind that she will get further yet, she could well take hold of her generation's division very quickly. 

1000 Guineas
Quadrilateral silk


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