05/02/2013 1:18PM

Newmarket: Undefeated Dawn Approach and Toronado head English 2000 Guineas

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Churchill Downs is not the only track hosting the first classic race of the year Saturday. At Newmarket in England, 13 3-year-olds are set to contest the Group 1 English 2000 Guineas, the first European classic of the 2013 flat-racing season, and the assembled group, headed by the undefeated pair of Dawn Approach and Toronado, appears at least to be a solid one.

Antepost betting on the Guineas has Dawn Approach a clear favorite to win even though he is unraced since October, but Dawn Approach’s accomplishments at age 2 were substantial enough to warrant such a reputation. Dawn Approach raced six times last year and never was beaten, and only one horse – French 2000 Guineas-bound Olympic Glory – came within one length of him. Dawn Approach finished off his campaign with Group 1 victories in the National Stakes at The Curragh and Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, and was privately purchased by Godolphin while remaining in the care of Ireland-based trainer Jim Bolger.

Kevin Manning, the only jockey Dawn Approach has known, has the mount Saturday, when the biggest question facing Dawn Approach will concern the one-mile distance of the Guineas. Dawn Approach, a son of New Approach, won over seven furlongs on Newmarket’s straight course last season, but has never raced farther than that, though there is widespread assumption he will stay the trip.

Toronado, trainer Richard Hannon’s leading 3-year-old, won his three starts at age 2 and carried his winning streak into 2013 with an impressive course-and-distance score in the April 18 Craven Stakes. Toronado is no run-off, but he has good tactical speed and has made the pace in three of his four starts, including the Craven, where he pulled away to win by four lengths. A second Bolger-trained horse, Leitir Mor, led in two of Dawn Approach’s victories, and he could be used to keep Toronado honest on Saturday.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien, who has won the Guineas five of the last 11 years, and captured the 2012 edition with Camelot, has three runners Saturday: Mars, Cristoforo Colombo, and George Vancouver. Cristorofo Colombo won just 1 of 5 starts last year and was defeated by Dawn Approach, but he will get the good-to-firm going Saturday he is said to prefer. George Vancouver won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in his 2-year-old finale, but was no match for the top European 2-year-olds in other stakes last year. Mars easily won a race on the all-weather surface at Dundalk last summer, his only start, but has been the most heavily bet of the O’Brien trio in antepost wagering.

◗ Camelot, winner of the English 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby last year, is set to make his 4-year-old debut Monday at The Curragh in the Group 3 Mooresbridge Stakes.