Air Force Blue will lead the charge when Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien bids to win the Group 1 QIPCO 2,000 Guineas – the first event of the 35-race 2016 QIPCO British Champions Series – for a record-breaking eighth time at Newmarket’s Rowley Mile Racecourse on Saturday 30th April.

A two-time Group 1 winner, including when running away with the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes over seven furlongs of the Rowley Mile in October, Air Force Blue is one of 17 colts to stand their ground at the confirmation stage for this £500,000 one mile contest.

The first British Classic of the season, the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas is the world’s top three-year-old race over the last decade, based on the average official handicapper’s rating of the first four horses to finish in each of its last ten renewals.

O’Brien has three other candidates in Air Vice Marshal, Bravery and Shogun while the chances of Ireland plundering the trophy for the eighth time in the last dozen years are enhanced by the presence of both the Group 3 Killavulan Stakes winner, Blue de Vega, and the Group 2 Futurity Stakes hero, Herald The Dawn, among the confirmed entries.

The home team is led by Stormy Antarctic, who beat Shogun into third place in the Group 3 Novae Bloodstock Insurance Craven Stakes on the Rowley Mile on 14th April, and Buratino, the only horse to have beaten Air Force Blue – in last June’s Coventry Stakes.

A further English challenger has emerged in the shape of the Group 2 Vintage Stakes winner, Galileo Gold, who has been confirmed by his trainer Hugo Palmer as the likely QIPCO 2,000 Guineas mount of Frankie Dettori.

Kevin Buckley, representing Coolmore, owners of Air Force Blue, Air Vice Marshal, Bravery and Shogun, said: “Air Force Blue has wintered very well and enjoyed a faultless preparation. He has developed physically and his training regime has gone perfectly.”

“But he is still a young horse – you have to remember that he will not have reached his third birthday until next Monday.”

“There has to be some form of concern about him staying the mile simply because he hasn’t done it before. But both his training and his physique suggest that it should be fine and we are fairly confident that he will get the trip.”

“Air Vice Marshal had a minor setback after he was second in the Superlative Stakes last July and then the ground went against him while Shogun finished off the race well when third in the Craven and would prefer better ground than he ran on that day.”

Hugo Palmer, trainer of Galileo Gold, said: “If the ground is good or slower then Galileo Gold will take his chance in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas. I was delighted to see three millimetres of rain falling this morning.”

“The French 2,000 Guineas at Deauville is also still a possibility for him as, with 15 days between the two races, there is nothing to stop a horse from running in both.”

“Frankie [Dettori] wants to ride him. But he feels that, if the ground is fast, the speedier horses will do him for toe coming out of the dip just like they did in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp, where they stole three lengths on him before he finished best of all.”

The QIPCO 2,000 Guineas is the opening race of the 2016 QIPCO British Champions Series.

Rod Street, Chief Executive of QIPCO British Champions Series, said: “QIPCO British Champions Series is now in its sixth year and the QIPCO Guineas Festival is always a brilliant start to the Series. There is so much to look forward to this year including the Classic crop battling it out in the Series’ opening races this weekend, as well as returning heroes from last year’s Series, including Solow and Jack Hobbs, later in the year.”

“Saturday also marks the start of the Stobart Flat Jockeys’ Championship. Last year Silvestre De Sousa was the runaway winner of the Stobart Championships and I am sure that he will be all out to defend his title. It’s set to be a riveting contest, with so many jockeys having viable claims and we look forward to crowning the eventual winner at QIPCO British Champions Day in October.”

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