Classic 'acid test' looms for 2000 Guineas favourite Air Force Blue
Air Force Blue faces the "acid test" of his Classic credentials in the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained son of War Front enjoyed a spectacular juvenile campaign, winning four of his five starts including a hat-trick of Group One triumphs to ensure he was crowned the season's champion two-year-old.
His dominant performance in October's Dewhurst Stakes confirmed he would head into the winter as hot favourite for the first Classic of 2016 on the Rowley Mile and his price has continued to contract in recent weeks, to the stage where he is now odds-on across the board.
O'Brien, who saddled a joint-record seventh Guineas winner when Gleneagles struck gold 12 months ago, has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds the latest Ballydoyle superstar, but admits only time will tell whether the stiff mile at Headquarters will be within his compass.
"He's always been very quick and has a lot of natural speed, that's why we are hoping he gets a mile," said O'Brien, whose charge has eased slightly in some places after rain turned the Rowley Mile good to soft on Friday morning.
"Obviously this will be the acid test as it's his first run over a mile, we'll probably learn a lot about him.
"Those seven-furlong two-year-old races are like enhanced sprints and it is a searching mile at Newmarket. You'd have to be hopeful that he will get it, but you can never be sure until they do it on the day.
"He's a good, fast horse. He's a horse who loves his work, enjoys his work and wants to please all the time. He's a very easy horse to train and I suppose the problem we have with him is over-training him.
"So far everything has gone well. Everyone saw last year he's a good traveller who quickens well.
"He's very relaxed and not influenced by anything at home, he's a nice independent thinker and is not a heavy-bodied horse. He covers the ground easily and economically. He really is a joy to train."
While Air Force Blue is very much the number one hope for the O'Brien-Coolmore team, they are also represented by Air Vice Marshal , who has not been seen since finishing second in Newmarket's Superlative Stakes last July.
Kevin Buckley, the UK representative for Coolmore, said: "Aidan has always said Air Vice Marshal should make into a nice Guineas horse. He just had a minor setback after his last run and the ground went against him.
"He has been training well with the Guineas in mind. Whether this might just come a little too soon, that remains to be seen."