There was no owners, no crowd, no atmosphere but while the odds-on favourite isn’t the wonder horse many had hoped he might be, racing’s socially distanced fans still witnessed something special on Newmarket’s deserted and rain-lashed Rowley Mile on Saturday as 10-1 shot Kameko landed the 2,000 Guineas in a race record time.
The build-up to the delayed first Classic of the season – which should have been run on May 2 – had revolved around unbeaten odds-on favourite Pinatubo but he could only finish third, beaten just over a length.
Pinatubo didn’t even confirm the form with runner-up Frankie Dettori-ridden Wichita, who had been over four lengths behind him when the Charlie Appleby-trained colt made it six wins from six runs in Newmarket’s Dewhurst Stakes in October.
Kameko powered to a shock victory in the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket
Instead, there was a silent coronation of Kameko, who gave champion jockey Oisin Murphy a first British Classic win, trainer Andrew Balding his first 2,000 Guineas success while also ensuring owner Sheik Fahad Al Thani kept his own prizemoney with his Qipco company sponsors of the 2,000 Guineas.
Balding, Murphy and Sheik Fahad can now dream of a likely tilt at the Investec Derby with Kameko, now the 4-1 favourite for the biggest race of the Flat season at Epsom on July 4.
Balding, whose one previous Classic win came with Casual Look in the 2003 Oaks only a few months after taking over the from his father Ian as trainer at the spectacular Kingsclere stable in Hampshire, said: ‘It’s quite bizarre but I promise you I did not feel any less elation than if there had been 500,000 people here.
Jockey Oisin Murphy celebrates with stable staff after victory on Saturday afternoon
‘We had been looking forward to the race for a long time. It’s fantastic they could get it on. The Guineas is the Guineas whenever it is run.’
Murphy, 24, who has been part of the Balding team since arriving from Ireland as an apprentice protégé, added: ‘There isn’t the same atmosphere after the race. In fact, there is no atmosphere but it means just at much to me.
‘The only people shouting were Frankie and me. He was shouting at me and I don’t know what I was doing. When I look back in a few years I will not remember there was no crowd just that Kameko gave me my first 2,000 Guineas winner.
‘I wanted to carry Andrew on my shoulders and swing him round to make him dizzy but I am not strong enough to do that.
‘I was afraid to dream too big in case the race did not work out, but this horse had trained well without us doing anything silly on him at home. I think he is a really good horse.’
There was no owners, no crowd and no atmosphere due to coronavirus safety measures
Pinatubo ridden by William Buick had been odds-on favourite before the day of racing
Kameko had put in a spectacular performance when winning the Group One Vertem Futurity Trophy run on Newcastle’s all-weather track in November.
But going into the race 14 of the 15 runners had their form judged in context of Pinatubo being rated the best two-year-old in 25 years.
Kenzai Warrior lost all chance stumbling exiting the starting stalls while Arizona, on paper Aidan O’Brien’s No 1 hope, was a tame 11th.
Pinatubo’s jockey William Buick looked uneasy three furlongs out before temporarily coming back on the bridle. But he could not respond when Murphy made a safety first switch off the stand’s rail, squeezing past fourth-place Miliary March to end up claiming victory in the middle of the track.
Murphy said: ‘I did waste ground by coming out but I was playing it safe rather than taking the more direct route. I was asked before was I worried about Pinatubo but he was drawn too far away from me and was always going to be ridden in a different way so I just focussed on getting a clear run.’
Balding’s father Ian missed out on the 1971 2,000 Guineas when the great Mill Reef was beaten by the equally brilliant Brigadier Gerard before going on to win the Derby.
The trainer said: ‘One of the big regrets of my father’s training career was not winning a Guineas so he’ll be absolutely over the moon.
‘There is only one Derby and I would be very keen to go that way now with Kameko. There would be a stamina doubt but there is only one way to find out..’
Pinatubo looks likely to head to the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 20.
Appleby said: ‘Obviously I’m disappointed as it’s the first time the horse has been beaten but at least he hasn’t fallen out of the back of the telly.’