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Phoenix Stakes: O’Brien pair all set for red-hot renewal

Fri 5 Aug 2022

Little Big Bear and Blackbeard give Aidan O’Brien a formidable hand in his bid for a remarkable 17th victory in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh on Saturday.

Johannesburg (2001), George Washington (2005), Mastercraftsman (2008), and Caravaggio (2016) are among the previous winners of a juvenile Group One the trainer has dominated over the past 25 years.

By his own lofty standards the Ballydoyle maestro has endured something of a lull in the prestigious contest, having not trained the winner since Sioux Nation struck gold in 2017, but he appears intent on adding to his tally this weekend.

Little Big Bear, who supplemented success in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot when dominating his rivals in the Anglesey Stakes at the Curragh three weeks ago is the choice of Ryan Moore.

He is joined by another son of No Nay Never in Blackbeard, who was last seen accounting for stablemate The Antarctic – a winner in France earlier this week – in the Prix Robert Papin at Chantilly.

O’Brien said: “We’ve been happy with both since their last runs.

“We’re very happy with the horse that went to France (Blackbeard) and happy with the one that won at the Curragh (Little Big Bear). Everything has gone well with both since their last runs.

“They are both improving with each run and they are coming forward nicely, we think.

“The two won very nicely the last time so you’d have to be very happy with both, really.”

O’Brien is unlikely to have things all his own way, with Bradsell and Persian Force – first and second in the Coventry Stakes at the Royal meeting – both making the journey from Britain.

Archie Watson has made no secret of the regard in which he holds Bradsell, who bolted up by nine lengths on his debut at York prior to his authoritative display at the showpiece Ascot meeting.

The Upper Lambourn handler is anticipating another bold showing in Ireland from the colt, who is owned by Victorious Racing.

“Archie is very happy with him, it seems to be a very hot race with Little Big Bear running so we’ll find out on the racecourse,” said Bahrain-based Fawzi Nass on behalf of connections.

“Archie is happy with the horse and the ground, the form has worked out well and if he can replicate his performance at Ascot then I think we might be in good shape.

“He’s very exciting, fingers crossed he repeats it.”

The Richard Hannon-trained Persian Force has a length and a half to find with Bradsell on Royal Ascot form, but has since bounced back to winning ways in the July Stakes at Newmarket.

Emily Scott, racing manager for Persian Force’s owners Amo Racing, said: “I was at the yard on Wednesday and Richard was very positive about the horse.

“It’s a small, but select and strong field, we go there with a lot of confidence that we’ve got a very nice horse and if he’s come forward from Ascot as much as Richard thinks he has, hopefully he can put it to Bradsell and the O’Brien duo.

“He should have a great chance and as Richard said to me, whatever beats him, if anything beats him, is going to be good.”

Further strength in depth is added by Johnny Murtagh’s Shartash, who earned his step up to the highest level by touching off Blackbeard in the Railway Stakes over the course and distance.

Joseph O’Brien’s outsider Apache Outlaw, beaten little over a length into third place in the Railway, completes the line-up.

Go Bears Go bids to bounce back

David Loughnane’s Go Bears Go will seek further Group success in the Rathasker Stud Phoenix Sprint Stakes.

The three-year-old was last seen finishing second in the Group Three Hackwood Stakes at Newbury in July, coming home a length and a quarter behind Owen Burrows’ Minzaal.

Prior to that he was disappointing when 10th in Royal Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup, a run that looks an anomaly this season as he won the trial for that race and was placed in the Sandy Lane earlier in the term.

The colt has run twice at the Curragh previously, winning the Railway Stakes ahead of Castle Star last year before finishing third in the Group One Phoenix Stakes when beaten only a length by Ebro River.

“He’s been rock-solid all year apart from Royal Ascot, where he just didn’t turn up on the day for whatever reason,” said Loughnane.

“But he was very good in the Commonwealth Cup Trial prior to that and arguably the best race he has run in was the Hackwood last time, when he produced a very good run.”

The son of Kodi Bear will cross paths with Fozzy Stack’s Castle Star again, who has been seen once this term when fifth in the Sapphire Stakes, with fellow Tipperary trainer Joseph Murphy also represented as he runs Gustavus Weston.

The seasoned six-year-old won the race as a 16-1 shot in 2019 and returned last season to take the title again when beating Ger Lyons’ Power Under Me by two and a quarter lengths.

On both occasions the going was softer than the good conditions expected on Saturday and Murphy is hoping the ground gets no quicker before the race.

“He’s very well, he could do with just a drop of rain as he wouldn’t want firm in the name, good is fine for him,” he said.

“We hope he’ll come back to him himself, he’s drawn 12 and we’ll hope he’ll run a good race.

“You can’t judge it too much on that (his two past wins) but I’d be hoping for a good run from him.”

Power Under Me is in action again for Lyons after finishing third to Ken Condon’s Teresa Mendoza on his most recent outing in the Listed Dash Stakes at the Curragh in June.

The two horses will meet again at the same track at the weekend as Teresa Mendoza is one of a trio of entrants from Condon’s Kildare stable alongside Moss Tucker and Quarantine Dreams.

“Teresa Mendoza likes the Curragh and has a good record there,” he said.

“She’s been in good form this year, she ran a good race in York last time (fourth in the Summer Stakes) and she does enjoy the Curragh.

“She’s a Listed winner now and she’ll be running in Group races for the rest of the season, so hopefully she can run well.

“Moss Tucker is very much an improving horse and has got quicker and stronger with maturity.

“He has a rating of 100, he hasn’t run in a stakes race before but he’s hopefully one that can step up.

“He’s pretty ground versatile and into the autumn he’ll be better with cut in the ground. He’ll be aimed at those sort of stakes races but he’s certainly an improving horse and we’re looking forward to it.

“Quarantine Dreams had a couple of nice runs in sprint races in the springtime, I think six furlongs is probably perfect for him.

“He’ll be ridden a little bit colder this time than he was recently. He’s run well at the Curragh previously, so let’s hope he can run well again.”

Flying the flag for Britain is Hugo Palmer’s Dubawi Legend, third behind Minzaal and Go Bears Go in the Hackwood when tried over a sprint trip for the first time.

Clive Cox’s Wings Of War is another British contender and will be partnered by the in-form Hollie Doyle after coming home third in the Group Three Prix de Ris-Orangis at Deauville last time out.

Cox said: “I thought it was a really good run in France, I was very happy with that and he was back on track.

“He’d had a good run in the Sandy Lane, but he wasn’t helped by his draw in the Commonwealth Cup.

“He’s travelled over well to Ireland and I’m looking forward to suitable conditions, and I hope the track will suit as well.

“It’s a competitive race and I’m very happy that’s he’s travelled well, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Aidan O’Brien runs New York City, Group-placed and a Listed winner already this year, with Lyons’ Polonia Stakes winner Sacred Bridge and John Feane’s consistent Ano Syra completing the field.

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