With many big names missing, most notably Too Darn Hot, Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas looked wide open but Magna Grecia proved far too good in the mile contest, the first British Classic of the year. In front of a big audience, which included Sheikh Mohammed and both Sheikh Hamdans, the 3yo Invincible Spirit colt was yet another big race success for Aidan O’Brien and his 33rd British Classic winner who was enjoying his tenth 2000 Guineas victory. In the process, he became the first handler since the 19th century to win the opening Classic of the domestic season three years in succession.
The manner by which Magna Grecia, owned in partnership by a Coolmore syndicate and the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Stables, and ridden to victory by Donnacha O’Brien, put his rivals to the sword was certainly a fitting way to celebrate O’Brien’s dominance of a race he first won with King Of Kings in 1998. “We’re thrilled and it’s really exciting,” said the trainer. “He’s a lovely, straightforward horse but we were a little bit worried he was away from the other fancied runners in the race. But he was given a lovely ride and I couldn’t be happier. “There are so many people in so many areas all doing their best so we’re privileged to be a part of it and to have such horses. When it happens it’s great for everyone and we need success to keep everyone going.” Magna Grecia, last year’s Group 1 Futurity Trophy Stakes winner, raced in a group of just three on the stands rail well adrift from their 16 rivals in the centre of the track.
Yet the trio, led by Silvestre de Sousa and Shine So Bright, always appeared to have the upper hand, and by the time the winner’s stablemate and favourite Ten Sovereigns had come through to head the larger group, Magna Grecia was storming clear of his two rivals and towards the winner’s enclosure. The runner-up, outsider King Of Change, was beaten two and a half lengths and also raced in the small standside group, with Craven Stakes winner Skardu finishing first in the larger group but over four lengths behind the winner. Yet, however tempting it might be to suggest a draw bias to those on the rail, there was a dominance about Magna Grecia rarely seen in a Classic. The speed he showed was enough to ensure he will stay at a mile for the immediate future, rather than chase the Derby dream. “He’s developed a lot of speed and is starting to travel this year,” said O’Brien.
“He has become very pacey; John Magnier always thought he’d be a miler, and he knows pedigrees like nobody else. I’d imagine the Irish Guineas, and then the St James’s Palace at Ascot, would be what they’re thinking now.” Stormy skies depositing intermittent showers on the Rowley Mile eased the going to good by race time and O’Brien felt the rain had washed away the chances of the Ryan Moore-ridden Ten Sovereigns, who is set to revert to sprinting having run out of steam in finishing fifth. “The thinking was that he was getting his chance at a mile today before going back in trip,” said the trainer. “The rain certainly didn’t help Ryan’s horse; it was a big minus because the top was shifting off the ground. “He’s a 6f horse we’d hope would get the mile, but he still ran a very good race and travelled well.”
About his son, Donnacha, who is six feet tall, he added: “It’s very tough for him weight wise and he works hard at it. It’s great to have him this year but it’s not easy. He’s a big man.” Despite sweating off the pounds, the 20yo cut a cool figure before, during and after his success, even when he was stranded in the smaller standside group.
“I jumped well and we seemed to be on terms from halfway,” relived the winning rider. “I’ve been riding him in his work and knew when I asked him he wasn’t going to stop. I was confident to kick him on early. “He’s stronger and a better horse than last year. I think he’ll get a mile and a quarter but he has plenty of pace and is uncomplicated. It sucks sitting in the sauna for an hour but, when you’re riding those type of horses, it’s worth it.” Earlier, Mabs Cross recorded consecutive victories in the 5f Palace House Stakes for David Armstrong, Michael Dods and Paul Mulrennan. Carrying a penalty for her victory in the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye last autumn, the 5yo daughter of Dutch Art finished strongly to deny Equilateral, who had looked the likely winner entering the final furlong, to score by a neck.
Winning rider Mulrennan said: “Giving that penalty away, she has proved she is the real deal. She has improved as the winter has gone on and she is now stronger. “She had to do it the hard way, as she was always stuck out on the wing a little bit so had nothing to race with. “She is a very special filly and fair play to Michael Dods, he is a dab hand with these. She will improve as well as she has not had a run this year. “The King’s Stand, Temple Stakes, Nunthorpe and back for the Abbaye will be on the agenda, so it is happy days. This is extra special as I missed the bulk of last season through injury, but you have to take the highs with the lows. “There will be plenty more good days in her. It is nice that Michael and the owners have stayed loyal to me as the phone was ‘hopping’ for other people to get on her.”
Sporting the silks of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Silvestre de Sousa produced a masterclass when never headed aboard Communique in the 1m4f Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes when the duo led from ‘pillar to post’. Although a previous winner over the course and distance, Mark Johnston’s charge had finished well beaten on his return to action at Newbury and looked to have plenty on his plate with John Gosden’s classy filly Coronet and Roger Varian’s defending champion Defoe among his six rivals. However, the outsider set only a moderate pace in front and thrice Champion Jockey De Sousa had kept a bit up his sleeve as he raised the tempo racing inside the final stages.
Last year’s winner Defoe finished with a flourish, but Communique never looked in any real danger of being caught and passed the post a length and a quarter to the good. Johnston, for the same owner, also saddled the third home Mildenberger, with favourite Coronet probably a shade disappointing in fourth. “He clearly wasn’t going too fast in front, but they have given him six lengths. He has managed to get a little breather in and kick again and they’ve all had that ground to make up,” said Johnston. “I thought Mildenberger looked like he was coming, but he was caught out again by the turn of foot of Communique. He has stayed on reasonably so I’m happy with him as well. I think both are great horses to go to war with.
Communique was not here as a pacemaker, he was here on merit and won it on merit.” Defoe is owned by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid and UAE-owned horses continued to shine with the renowned blue and white of Sheikh Hamdan carried to victory by Moyassar. A 3yo Tamayuz colt trained by Richard Hannon and ridden by the owner’s ‘first jockey’, Jim Crowley, he was chased home in a 6f handicap by Mawakib in the famous yellow silks of Sheikh Ahmed. Out of luck with Defoe, Sheikh Mohammed Obaid, trainer Roger Varian and jockey David Egan, deputising for the suspended Andrea Atzeni, gained some compensation with UAE Jewel. Victorious over a mile on debut in April, his only previous start, the 3yo Dubawi colt doubled up in the 1m2f Listed Newmarket Stakes. Varian said: “UAE Jewel is a progressive horse who has done that well considering he only saw a racecourse in April. We really like him.”