The last horse to win the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas was the Galileo colt, Churchill, owned by
Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Susan Magnier and trained by Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle, Co. Tipperary. Named Cartier Champion Two-year-old Colt in 2016, after winning five of his six races, Churchill headed straight to Newmarket for the 2,000 Guineas without a preparatory race. Ridden by regular partner Ryan Moore, Churchill was sent off 6/4 favourite and, having taken the lead over a furlong from home, stayed on well under pressure to beat Barney Roy – who stumbled badly on the downhill run into the famous ‘Dip’ – by a length.
Exactly three weeks later, Churchill lined up for the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh, in which he faced just five opponents, all of whom were officially rated at least 4lb inferior. Unsurprisingly, Churchill was sent off 4/9 favourite to win his second Classic and did so in some style. Patiently ridden by Ryan Moore, Churchill made progress on the wide outside inside the final quarter-of-a-mile before sweeping into the lead approaching the final furlong and extending his advantage all the way to the finish. He eventually passed the post two-and-a-half lengths ahead of second favourite Thunder Snow with another four-and-a-half lengths back to the third horse.
In Britain, and the rest of Europe, a Group One race is a horse race of the highest calibre, as designated by the European Pattern Committee. Group One races include some of the most prestigious, valuable and historic races in Britain, over distances between 5 furlongs and 2 miles 4 furlongs, on Grade One racecourses, such as Ascot, Newmarket and York.
Some Group One races, such as the ‘Classic’ races – that is, the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St. Leger – are restricted to certain age groups and others, such as the Nassau Stakes and Sun Chariot Stakes, are restricted to a specific gender. However, generally speaking, horses of the same age and gender compete at level weights in Group One races, with weight-for-age and weight-for-sex allowances for three-year-olds competing against older horses and fillies and mares racing against colts and geldings, respectively.
Of course, Group One races can occasionally be downgraded; to maintain Group One status, over a three-year period, the average official rating of the first four horses home in the race in question must be 115, or more. From 2018, in Group One races, other than two-year-old races, in Britain, a horse must have achieved an official rating of 80 to be allowed to run in the first place.
Yes, it did. For most of the twentieth century, the Derby was run on Epsom Downs on the first Wednesday in June. The race was staged on a Tuesday between 1915 and 1918 and on a Saturday between 1942 and 1945, when run, as the ‘New Derby’, at Newmarket, and on a Saturday again between 1947 and 1950, and in 1953, following its return to Epsom Downs. However, in the face of dwindling attendances, the last Derby to be run in its traditional Wednesday slot was the 1994 renewal, won by Erhaab, and since then the race has been run on a Saturday afternoon. The move was not universally welcomed and was subsequently described by various commentators as ‘a mistake’ or even ‘a catastrophic blunder’. Nevertheless, at one point, in the face of declining TV audience figures, a Saturday evening slot for the premier Classic was mooted by the racecourse executive at Epsom Downs.
The ‘Spring Double’ and the ‘Autumn Double’ still exist, insofar as the races that comprise both still exist, although they are rarely referred to as such and do not attract the same attention, in the press or elsewhere, that was once the case. Traditionally, the ‘Spring Double’ consisted of the Lincoln Handicap – the feature race on the first Saturday of the Flat season – and the Grand National, usually run a week or two later. The Lincoln Handicap, formerly the Lincolnshire Handicap, was run at Lincoln Racecourse, a.k.a. the Carholme, on the western edge of the city, until its closure in 1964. In its heyday, the race attracted huge ante-post interest. So, too, did the races that comprised the traditional ‘Autumn Double’, the Cesarewitch Handicap and the Cambridgeshire Handicap, which are still staged within the space of a fortnight at Newmarket each October, but in the reverse order from what was originally the case.