Churchill crowned top juvenile

Churchill "ticked all the boxes" for the handicappers as he edged American filly Lady Aurelia to the title of European champion two-year-old for 2016.

Churchill: Crowned top juvenile in 2016

The Galileo colt won five of his six juvenile starts and heads the ratings on a perch of 122 following the publication of the European two-year-old Classification.

Churchill is the ninth European champion two-year-old to be trained by Aidan O'Brien in the past 18 years.

In winning both the National Stakes at the Curragh and the 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.

O'Brien would also have been responsible for the top three juvenile fillies were it not for the exploits of the Wesley Ward-trained 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 smashed 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.

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".

He added: "It was quite a close-run thing this year, with Lady Aurelia on one hand and Churchill on the other. We debated and then came to the unanimous decision that we would prefer to have Churchill ahead of Lady Aurelia. His rating essentially comes from the run in the Dewhurst, which is working out to be very strong form.

"He is the ninth champion to be trained by Aidan O'Brien. He is towards the lower end where he ranks among those nine.

"We sat here last year with Air Force Blue as a dominant champion after his Dewhurst win and the prospects for him looked good at that stage.

"I suppose looking forward for Churchill, it will be interesting to see what happens next year in terms of form. He looks very progressive and has improved from run to run. His breeding is a major plus factor for him and he looks to have the physical size and scope. He looks to have ticked all the boxes. He does look a worthy champion in our view.

He went on: "If you go back to 1978 when the first two-year-old ratings were published, he would certainly be towards the bottom end of the ratings. Aidan O'Brien has had nine champion two-year-olds and he is joint second bottom, only Camelot would be ranked lower as champion.

"He is on the same rating as Mastercraftsman. Aidan's best was two-year-old was Fasliyev, he was rated 126 so he is only 4lb off him.

"An average champion since the turn of the century is 123, so he is just a touch off that."

Graeme Smith, British Horseracing Authority handicapper responsible for two-year-olds, described Lady Aurelia's performance in the Queen Mary as the "most stunning two-year-old performance since Arazi".

He said: "How Lady Aurelia will fare in 2017 is one of the more intriguing questions for the season ahead.

"That Queen Mary performance was absolutely stunning. I would say it was the most stunning two-year-old performance since Arazi (in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile of 1991). It was breathtaking in terms of the way she demolished the field.

"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.

"I do feel she is a five-furlong filly on what we have seen last year. She went too fast in the Cheveley Park. Whether she was precocious or trains on to be a fantastic three-year-old is very much up in the air at the minute."

O'Brien is responsible for five of the top 10 horses on the list, with Lancaster Bomber (117), Brave Anna (116), Caravaggio (116) and Rhododendron (116) the others.

Despite Group One successes for The Last Lion (116), Wuheida (114), Rivet (115) and Thunder Snow (118), 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.

Thunder Snow is joint third with Criquette Head-Maarek's French youngster National Defense.

Smith said: "There are 47 horses qualified for the classification this year rated 110 or more. That is slightly towards the low end historically. It's the fifth-lowest total since the turn of the century and I think the reason for that falls on the shoulders of the British horses.

"It's been a strong year for the Irish, 17 of the 47 is their joint second-highest total since 2000 and 15 have come from Ballydoyle.

"British two-year-olds won four Group Ones. There are only 19 in this classification and the average since the turn of the century is 25, that just goes to show – I will go short of saying a decline, but that is a shortfall. The reason I would put forward for this is the health of these horses.

"There was a lot of talk, especially from Newmarket, that there was a well-being issue within the town. I just think as a result there is lots of unexposed horses with major untapped potential as they were not afforded the opportunity to show what they could do at two."

Read More at Sporting Life

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