2,000 & 1,000 Guineas: Oisin Murphy could Kick On with first Classic success

Oisin Murphy riding Kick On to victory in The Bonhams EBF Maiden Stakes at Newmarket in 2018
Oisin Murphy piloted Kick On to victory in The Bonhams EBF Maiden Stakes at Newmarket last year

With a number of significant absentees - notably the winter favourite Too Darn Hot - the Qipco 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket has a distinctly open look to it.

While champion trainer Aidan O'Brien - looking to carry off the trophies for the first Classic race of the British Flat season for a 10th time - has strong representatives in Magna Grecia and the unbeaten Ten Sovereigns, it's a large field in which plenty fancy their chances too.

Those in the running include Madhmoon, from the stables of octogenarian Irish trainer Kevin Prendergast; Advertise, the mount of Frankie Dettori, which has gilt-edged form in defeat; Skardu and Royal Marine, first and fourth in Newmarket's Craven Stakes in April; and Kick On, trained by John Gosden and being ridden by jockey Oisin Murphy.

In many ways, Kick On would be an appropriately-named first Classic-race success for Murphy, 23, whose star has been ever-ascendant since he claimed the top apprentice's title in 2014.

That upward trajectory only accelerated with success for the nephew of Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey and trainer Jim Culloty in four top-level races on board Roaring Lion in 2018.

Many believe, however, that new heights may soon be reached; a much sought-after maiden Classic is certainly one possibility, and perhaps even the title of champion jockey, won for three of the previous four seasons by Silvestre de Sousa.

Along with James Doyle, Jim Crowley and prolific Northern circuit-based riders Danny Tudhope and Paul Hanagan, the ambitious Murphy knows he is in the forefront of the title race, which starts on Guineas weekend, but the Brazilian-born reigning champion will take some unseating.

"Silvestre de Sousa is a great role model, and he's got an unbelievable work ethic," Murphy told the BBC.

"He's a very good rider; I sit beside him [in the jockeys' changing room] six times a week and unfortunately for me and everybody else Silvestre hasn't lost any hunger, in my opinion.

"I'm very pleased with the position I'm in as regards support from owners and trainers."

Three-time champion Flat trainer John Gosden
John Gosden became Flat racing's champion trainer for a third time in 2018

John Gosden, trainer of both Roaring Lion and Kick On for Qatar Racing, to which Murphy is number-one jockey, believes the young rider has what it takes to make it to the top.

Gosden, Flat racing's champion trainer for the third time in 2018, said: "He's always had a very refined style and has a good racing brain, great balance on a horse and is very cool under pressure.

"He has all of the attributes, and as long as he can stay on the wonderful thing called 'the straight and narrow', and perform at the top level, I'm sure he'll be there for a very, very long time."

Kick On is rated about 16-1 for the historic, one-mile 2,000 Guineas, run for that sum when first staged in the early 1800s, but these days with a purse of over £500,000.

To the colt's advantage is that he's twice a winner on the Newmarket track, most recently leading all the way in the Feilden Stakes, over a quarter-mile further, in April.

"He's a very tough horse," said Murphy. "John is very happy with him, and in an open year I think he has a realistic chance of running a big race."

Oisin Murphy riding Look Around to victory in The British Stallion Studs EBF Star Stakes at Sandown in 2018
Oisin Murphy rode Look Around to victory in The British Stallion Studs EBF Star Stakes at Sandown in 2018

In the fillies-only 1,000 Guineas, another prize raced for since the early 19th Century and worth a similar amount to the 2,000 Guineas in 2019, Murphy partners outsider Look Around, trained by in-form Andrew Balding.

She has ground to make up on the favourite Qabala, finishing fourth to the impressive winner of the Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket's Craven Meeting in April, although her jockey is hopeful the deficit can be made up.

Qabala is again to be ridden by 19-year-old David Egan, another former champion apprentice (2017) who's tipped for the top.

Being son of jockey John Egan and former trainer Sandra Hughes, herself part of a racing dynasty, he has the pedigree for it.

And, intriguingly, amongst Qabala's opponents is Garrel Glen, a long-shot being ridden by John Egan.

Commentary on the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas (Saturday, 4 May, 15:35) and 1,000 Guineas (Sunday, 5 May, 15:35) is on BBC Radio 5 Live.