04/28/2016 2:36PM

Air Force Blue heavily favored in English 2000 Guineas


Air Force Blue is the odds-on favorite to give trainer Aidan O’Brien his eighth win in the QIPCO English 2000 Guineas on Saturday at Newmarket.

Air Force Blue, drawn well enough in post 5, is one of 13 entrants in the Guineas, run over about one mile down a straight course that was listed as “good” on Thursday but could wind up something softer on race day with rain in the local forecast.

O’Brien won the first of his seven Guineas in 1998 with King of Kings and his most recent last year with Gleneagles, and Air Force Blue brings a big reputation into his 3-year-old debut for the Coolmore group. After a debut win last summer in Ireland, Air Force Blue was beaten two lengths by Buratino in the Coventry Stakes at Ascot, but he wasted little time redeeming himself, winning three Group 1s – the Phoenix and the National in Ireland and the Dewhurst in England – by more than eight lengths combined to finish off his 2-year-old season.

The Dewhurst also is contested at Newmarket, and in it Air Force Blue was dominant, held up in midpack before running on to a comfortable victory. O’Brien typically eschews prep races for his leading Guineas hopes, and Air Force Blue, an American-bred son of War Front, has done all his preparatory work at O’Brien’s yard, Ballydoyle, in Ireland. The trainer has said that Air Force Blue still must prove he stays a mile, and the colt will race for the first time in a tongue strap, but antepost bettors have so far generally proven less than skeptical, with Air Force Blue heavily favored all winter to win his fourth in a row Saturday.

The only other Guineas starter in single-digit odds in overseas betting markets is Stormy Antarctic, whose connections will not at all mind rain late this week at Newmarket. Running over rain-softened ground, Stormy Antarctic stormed home from the back of the field to score an encouraging course and distance win April 14 in the Craven Stakes, beating the highly regarded Foundation by more than three lengths.

Stormy Antarctic picked up in the Craven where he left off last fall, with his 2-year-old finale producing a second-place finish to Johannes Vermeer in the Group 1 Criterium International. Marcel, who makes his 3-year-old debut in the Guineas, a week earlier had beaten Johannes Vermeer in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy Stakes at Doncaster.

Buratino, the only horse to beat Air Force Blue, also is among the Guineas entrants, but he has the look of a precocious 2-year-old with distance limitations. And the relative limitations off a dozen horses might be revealed if Air Force Blue does what’s expected of him Saturday.