Churchill conquers Europe as two-year-old Classifications are unveiled

24 Jan 2017 Racing/Fixtures

Churchill, with a rating of 122, has today been announced as the ninth European champion two-year-old to be trained by Aidan O’Brien in the past 18 years as the European two-year-old Classification 2016 is published.

In winning both the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh and the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, he follows in the footsteps of previous champions Air Force Blue (124), Dawn Approach (124), New Approach (126) and Teofilo (123), all of whom won both of these races en route to becoming the continent’s leading juvenile.

Mark Bird, Irish Turf Club Handicapper and delegate at the European two-year-old meeting, said:

“Churchill’s final rating of 122 sits just marginally below this century’s par rating for a European Champion two-year-old of 123. However, the progressive nature of his form allied to his obvious physical scope and impressive pedigree give rise to hope that his early career may be just the launch pad to greater success as a three-year-old.

“As his namesake once stated, “the price of greatness is responsibility”, so we hope and expect that Churchill will live up to his reputation in 2017”.

Aidan O’Brien would also have been responsible for the top three juvenile fillies were it not for the exploits of the outstanding Lady Aurelia (121), who missed out only narrowly on being rated Europe’s first female two-year-old champion since Ravinella shared top honours with Warning back in 1987. Nevertheless, she is rated the best two-year-old filly in more than a decade, having produced one of the most memorable performances since Arazi when smashing both the opposition and the clock in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot. That 121-rated performance is trumped only by Queen’s Logic’s 2001 success in the Cheveley Park (122) in the fillies’ division in the last 24 years.

Graeme Smith, British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Handicapper responsible for two-year-olds, said:

“How Lady Aurelia will fare in 2017 is one of the more intriguing questions for the season ahead. Neither her success in the Prix Morny nor her subsequent defeat in the Cheveley Park came close to substantiating her Royal Ascot performance in ratings terms. However, the step up to six furlongs following the Queen Mary may well have been a contributing factor and I for one am keeping an open mind with regard to her three-year-old prospects”.

Aidan O’Brien is responsible for five of the top 10 horses on the list in a strong year for the Irish. Despite Group 1 successes for The Last Lion, Wuheida, Rivet and Thunder Snow it has been a below-par year for British-trained two-year-olds with 19 inclusions coming up some way short of the recent average of 25. With lots of the more powerful stables having reported sickness issues through the summer it could well be that many of the better prospects did not run as frequently as they might have. Thunder Snow (118) sets the benchmark in Britain, having shown his best form when winning the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud by 5 lengths.

Ten inclusions represents something of a comeback year for the French and National Defense (118) emerged as the French champion two-year-old after a difficult year for his trainer Criquette Head-Maarek when running away with the Prix Jean Luc Lagardere.

As ever, attention soon switches to the spring and hopes for the season ahead. Graeme Smith provides his views of a dark horse or two to follow:

“The flip side of a quiet year for British-trained two-year-olds is that there’s a host of horses with major untapped potential. One of the more interesting could be John Gosden’s Tartini, who won his only start to date at Nottingham in late October. A seemingly unconsidered 25/1 shot behind a short-priced stablemate, he looked to need the experience for most of the race and it was surprising just how much ground he made up as he got the message. The first three drew some six lengths clear of a couple who’ve won subsequently, and this half-brother to the Great Voltigeur winners Lucarno and Thought Worthy could be one for the Derby trials. Other once-raced horses to watch out for include Owen Burrows’ filly Talaayeb, Gosden’s Cracksman and Richard Hannon’s Excelebration colt, Barney Roy”.

Mark Bird adds his views on the Irish ones to watch:

“In Ireland, potential improvers also abound and I would highlight two as particularly worth following. Sir John Lavery is a Galileo colt out of a half-sister to Hawk Wing and coped well with bad ground in breaking his maiden at the second attempt. Also, Awtaad’s half-sister Aneen put up a performance that was pregnant with promise in taking a back-end Curragh maiden on her second start”.

The Andre Fabre-trained Akihiro (111) is unbeaten in two starts and looks particularly promising with the French classics in mind.

Notes to Editors

  1. The full European two-year-old Classification 2016 can be found here: European two-year-old Classification 2016.
  1. The European Handicappers meet annually at the direction of the European Pattern Committee to discuss and agree the European two-year-old rankings. Two-year-olds are included in the Classification if they put up a performance in Europe rated at 110 or more or if they perform to this level outside of the Continent whilst trained in Europe. The Classification does not form part of the LONGINES WORLD’S BEST RACEHORSE RANKINGS and is published for informational purposes. The two-year-old Classification was first published in 1978.