PAT KEANE: Air Force Blue - but only if the price is right!

THE best English 2000 Guineas winner I have seen was El Gran Senor, trained by Vincent O’Brien.

He won the Newmarket classic in quite brilliant style in 1984 and you can still view the race on YouTube.

That day, El Gran Senor’s immediate victims were Chief Singer, Lear Fan and Rainbow Quest and all landed Group 1 races subsequently.

This afternoon at Newmarket another Ballydoyle inmate, Aidan O’Brien’s Air Force Blue, seeks to live up to the hype that has surrounded him for so long by getting his three-year-old career off to the perfect start in the latest unveiling of the 2000 Guineas.

O’Brien has never hidden his admiration for the colt, although it was interesting this week to note his words of caution that Air Force Blue is no certainty to get the one-mile trip.

It was only natural, as we were getting closer to the race, that O’Brien should have begun to get a trifle apprehensive.

He knows how much is riding on this horse and the hope is that we might be about to see a flying machine in action, one, perhaps, in the same league as Sea The Stars, who won this in 2009, and Frankel, successful two years later.

Air Force Blue essentially did everything asked of him as a juvenile and is already a triple Group 1 winner.

He was superb when winning the National Stakes at the Curragh and rounded off last season with a commanding display in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.

Both of those races were run over seven furlongs and it is no exaggeration to say he got the trips standing on his head.

If he stayed seven furlongs so easily as a two-year-old then you would have to think that a mile now should not present any great problem.

For many weeks I have been hearing really good reports regarding Air Force Blue’s homework and, I gather, it has been quite spectacular at times.

This does, however, shape as a fair test, with plenty of opposition numerically and some talented rivals.

The bookmakers have been running scared for a long time, but today they will have to do battle with the massive players on the exchanges and that is going to be most interesting.

We are, of course, bursting to get the wages with Air Force Blue, but the odds on offer will dictate whether that is going to be a runner or not.

The other seriously important factor is the ground, the faster it is the more confident we can be. A soft surface would certainty see us keeping our hands firmly in the pockets.

So could we be treated to an El Gran Senor, or, at least, a Sea The Stars or Frankel-type display? That’s probably stretching things a bit, but I have a feeling all of the same, granted the right conditions, we are not going to be disappointed.

I always find Julian Muscat in the Racing Post well worth reading and his comments on Colm O’Donoghue on Wednesday were rather interesting.

At Gowran Park last Sunday, O’Donoghue was set to win cosily on Bocca Baciata, until, inexplicably, easing right down in the closing stages.

In the end, Bocca Baciata, the heavily backed favourite, held on by a fast diminishing head, with O’Donoghue blissfully unaware, apparently, how close he was to getting this all wrong.

In any case Muscat argued as follows: “In these circumstances there is merit in the idea of stewards sanctioning jockeys, even if the photo-finish goes their way.’’

I could not agree more. O’Donoghue got away with it by sheer luck and punters were almost deprived a pay day that should have been stress free.

The first occasion that a jockey is suspended for this sort of behaviour is the day the silliness will largely end.

SO what to do with Vautour now? You have to say his defeat behind God’s Own at Punchestown on Tuesday was terribly disappointing.

When he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2014, by six lengths, he seemed to have a massive future.

Last year at the Cheltenham festival, he looked even better when taking the JLT Novices’ Chase by a whopping 15 lengths.

But this season, Vautour has basically been caught between two stools and is neither a two-miler or a stayer at the moment.

At Punchestown he was simply too slow for the minimum trip and his narrow defeat by Cue Card in the King George at Kempton at Christmas told us that three miles is the outer limit of his stamina and he has no chance to getting the three and a quarter miles of the Gold Cup.

WHEN Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy took that well publicised dive against West Ham United, earning a second yellow card and automatic dismissal, he was set for a one match suspension.

But then he decided to “point’’ out to the referee how wrong he was - what a laugh - and was further charged with improper conduct. Proper order too.

As a result, Vardy got suspended for an extra game and also fined £10,000. Now contrast that with what frequently happens in racing.

The local stewards do their job as best they can, even if sometimes overshooting the runway, and then watch on as an appeal not only pulls the rug out from under them, but they feel the ground literally disappearing from beneath their feet.

The point is that the stewarding system in Ireland is in disarray, farcical and almost comical. Will it ever actually be workable and logical?


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