Appleby gets a chance to show he really can measure up to O’Brien

Masar and William Buick power nine lengths clear in the G3 Bet365 Craven Stakes at Newmarket last month. Photo: Mark Cranham/

The Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket has gone to Aidan O’Brien eight times. The world’s #1 trainer by TRC Global Rankings has proved his greatness time and again by delivering top horses off their winter breaks to score first time out.

But it is less important how he has done it than the fact he has done it. O’Brien’s hallmark is his efficiency in delivering horses in the condition to win the big races. In some other races – the Qipco 1000 Guineas, for instance – he has won with horses who have used a trial shortly before the race. It doesn’t matter.

If Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby is to develop into a genuine rival for O’Brien – something which top-class flat racing in Britain and Ireland has not seen for while – he, too, has to develop the same reputation: that when Appleby has a big-race candidate strong on paper, he delivers.

This is why the two Guineas races at Newmarket this weekend loom large for Appleby. Since September 1 last year, he has been the most efficient trainer in the world, the one with the highest strike rate in Group races – taking into account races both inside and outside Dubai.

Have a look at the TRC Global Rankings of the Jockeys, Owners, Trainer and Sires of 2000 Guineas declarations. The horses are listed in approximate order of their odds.

With world #1 rider Ryan Moore at Churchill Downs to ride Mendelssohn in the Kentucky Derby, long-time Ballydoyle stalwart Seamie Heffernan gets the ride on likely favourite Gustav Klimt, a G2 winner as a juvenile who, unlike O’Brien’s previous winners of the race, has already been seen out as a 3-year-old, winning a listed race at Leopardstown.

Together with G1 Racing Post Trophy winner Saxon Warrior – a son of former world #1 sire Deep Impact – and outsider Murillo, Gustav Klimt gives O’Brien a solid chance of yet another win.

What can Appleby do to stop him?

The answer should be ‘plenty’. Step forward Masar, a wildly impressive winner of the key Guineas trial in England, the G3 Craven Stakes. There, Masar crushed the field by nine lengths, looking the type of horse Appleby had promised he would develop into.

But Masar’s record is something of a mirror of Godolphin’s in British and Irish classics of late: he hasn’t delivered enough when it really matters.

Yes, Masar hated dirt in the listed race in Dubai last time, but let’s be honest: that was clumsy spotting of a son of New Approach (a son of Galileo, arguably with a lovely turf action) by Appleby and Godolphin. Yes, Masar had a brutal wide trip when only sixth in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar. But Appleby’s main rider, William Buick, has to take some of the blame for that, even though, in his defence, the colt was checked.

This time, Masar has new excuses. The reality is that if O’Brien had brought him here off a nine-length trial win, he would not have been available at odds of around 5-1 all week – whatever his past performances. TRC Global Rankings suggest that Appleby has dramatically improved his efficiency, having been in charge of a Godolphin string only since the Mahmood Al Zarooni scandal of 2013.

Examine the evidence: Appleby’s ranking data on the day of the 2000 Guineas for the last five years:

If Appleby delivers Masar in the shape to win on Saturday, and he fares well with the fillies Soliloquy and Wild Illusion in the fillies’ equivalent the following day, the entire landscape changes at the top level of Flat racing in Britain. For then there will be no option but to do what the figures say we should already be doing: believe in Appleby as a world-class trainer who can lead Godolphin forward in the battle with Ballydoyle.

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