Much will rightly be made of Aidan O’Brien seeking to land the Group One Keeneland Phoenix Stakes for a remarkable 17th time at The Curragh on Saturday.
But the serial Irish champion has suffered a few setbacks in recent renewals, and has been stuck on 16 triumphs since Sioux Nation struck in 2017. Between 1998 and 2017, his grip never slipped for more than 12 months so four successive failures equate to something of a rot for Ballydoyle.
The two O’Brien challengers last year ended up occupying the final two places, while his three runners in 2020, who included St Mark’s Basilica, could finish no closer than fifth. In 2018 and 2019, the master trainer came up short despite having three of the five runners on each occasion.
With the prolific Blackbeard now a non-runner, O'Brien solely relies on Little Big Bear, the ante-post favourite. The advice when confronted by any grizzly is to stand still, slowly wave your arms and say a little prayer (you can have that last bit on me as it’s not in any of the manuals) but this one has not frightened off the opposition, with leading British juveniles Bradsell and Persian Force ready to try and tame him.
Here’s a guide to an exciting cast of five. You can watch the big race live on Racing TV at 4.15pm.
Trainer: Joseph O'Brien. Timeform rating: 108. Odds: 40-1.
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🏆 Group 1 @keenelandracing Phoenix Stakes
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The Churchill colt was a relatively cheap buy and looked awkward in front when losing his maiden tag at the third time of asking at Fairyhouse in June. However, he didn’t do much wrong when a close third behind Shartash and Blackbeard in the Railway Stakes last time, when he didn’t get much time to open up after his rider, perhaps understandably, seemed at pains to keep him covered up. Could be more to come, although I'd have taken more notice had connections reached for headgear.
Now a non-runner
Trainer: Archie Watson. Timeform rating: 119p. Odds: 9-4.
Hollie Doyle gave an update on Bradsell on Wednesday
The bargain buy was a dazzling nine-length winner on softish ground on his debut at York and then won a strong renewal of the Coventry on much quicker going at Royal Ascot with authority, despite being a little squeezed at the start. That form has a glow with the next three home having all subsequently won Group Two contests, while several of the also-rans have also done their bit. Archie Watson was swift to nominate this race as a possible next target and he has strong claims of being the third British-trained winner of this in the past five years.
Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Timeform rating: 115px. Odds: 2-1.
Touched off on his Curragh debut, when he had subsequent Group Two winner Shartash behind, and he’s won his past three starts in good style on a range of ground. The stamina-bred colt seemed to get away with 5f when a narrow winner of the Windsor Castle (form holding up well enough) and looked much more effective back over an extended 6f at The Curragh last time when surging clear in the Group Three Anglesey Stakes, a race Dick Whittington won before going on to glory here in 2014. Looks the No 1 contender for a yard that has won this 16 times.
Trainer: Richard Hannon. Timeform rating: 117. Odds: 9-2.
Professional from day one, when he easily landed the Brocklesby at Doncaster. His only defeat in four starts was when runner-up to Bradsell in the Coventry, when he stayed on well having been unable to instantly respond to the winner’s kick two furlongs out. Has since not been extended to win an ordinary renewal of the July Stakes at Newmarket, when ridden more forward. He has a similar profile to Advertise, the 2018 winner. Another bold bid looks on cards, with the tactics used at Headquarters likely to be deployed once more.
Trainer: Johnny Murtagh. Timeform rating: 113p. Odds: 11-1.
The Verdict: Angus McNae studies the Railway Stakes
There’s plenty of stamina on the dam’s side of his pedigree but he’s not short of pace, travelling fluently and showing a willing attitude to edge out Blackbeard in the Railway Stakes here last time, having previously been a narrow winner from Age Of Kings at Naas. Those wins confirmed the promise of his debut, when he finished behind Little Big Bear, and in the past decade Siskin and Sudirman have pulled off the Railway/Phoenix double. Looks the type to keep progressing and cannot be discounted, especially at double-figure digits.
A cracking renewal. Bradsell clearly boasts the best form and, having had only two starts, he is open to as much improvement as any of the opposition. Four of the past seven winners of this ran in the Coventry en route and he can emulate the brilliant Caravaggio, who did the double in 2016. Persian Force can again chase him home, with Little Big Bear and Shartash looking the pick of the home team.
Full predicted finishing order: 1 BRADSELL. 2 PERSIAN FORCE. 3 LITTLE BIG BEAR. 4 SHARTASH. 5 APACHE OUTLAW.
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