Keeneland Phoenix Stakes Preview
(Group 1 – 6F)
Sunday 09 August 2015
An Aidan O’Brien benefit usually, and he sends three extremely well bred colts to try and maintain his domination in a race he has won on seven of the last eleven runnings. David Wachman has two wins to his name in that period, and he relies on a smart filly to make it three from twelve.
No favourite has won since 2009, Alfred Nobel for who else but Aidan O’Brien. It is an exceptionally difficult little puzzle to solve according to the bookies, but God loves a trier, and below is a summary of what I believe to be the prospects of the competitors in this Group 1 contest.
1. AIR FORCE BLUE (A O’ BRIEN/J O’BRIEN)
Looks to be the Coolmore first string on jockey bookings, and the yard is currently in rude health having had a rake of winners at Leopardstown on Thursday. This son of War Front won what has turned out to be a very strong maiden at the Curragh (6F good) on debut, before chasing today’s rival Buratino home in the Group 2 Coventry at Royal Ascot, beaten two lengths with no apparent excuses.
Pedigree is stuffed with talented two year old performers on the dam side, and his grand-dam is USA 2yo champion filly Flanders. It is no surprise to see him competing at the top table given his pedigree, and it wouldn’t be the greatest shock to see him tried on the dirt at the Breeders Cup later on in the season. However, with regards to today’s race, if ground conditions are similar to Ascot it is difficult to see him reversing places with Buratino. Can be backed at 5/2 and should run well, but his odds looks a little bit skinny to me and I’ll be waiting for him to go stateside to run on the dirt before I get involved.
2. BURATINO (JOHNSTON/BUICK)
When this colt started out in a class 4 maiden at Chelmsford back in March I doubt connections had any inkling he would end up here, as favourite for a Group 1 at the Curragh. He is a worthy favourite though, and, barring a blip at Sandown, he has done nothing but progress throughout the season, culminating in a superb victory in the Coventry at Royal Ascot when he lowered the colours of Air Force Blue, who he faces again today.
This son of Exceed And Excel is bred for the job too, and his dam is from the family of the top class stallion Danehill Dancer. His pedigree suggests he will only get better with each run as he matures, and that scenario has transpired so far. It is hard to believe he can be backed at 9/4, and it must be the presence of a trio of O’Brien horses that has skewed the market somewhat.
The only unknown would be easy ground, and if it turns soft that changes things. His full sister has been placed on soft in a low grade race so he may well handle cut but there will still be some doubts if the ground deteriorates. If it is a nice weekend though, and the Curragh dries out, ( the forecast is good) it is difficult to rule out further progression from this colt and he will be difficult to beat. 9/4 is a more than fair price.
3. PAINTED CLIFFS (A O’BRIEN/O’DONOGHUE)
Well beaten on debut behind Air Force Blue, an effort that can be excused given his trainers record with first time out horses, and has come on massively since. Won his maiden next time at Leopardstown before easily winning the Group 2 Railway Stakes at the Curragh on his next start. He had Rockaway Valley a couple of lengths behind on that occasion, who ran Air Force Blue close in his maiden win.
He is a son of first season sire Canford Cliffs, who has had a smashing start to his career at stud, with a 40% strike rate from 35 offspring. His dam is a half sister to Excellent Art and is related to numerous winners. Is a difficult one to gauge given it is his stallion’s first season at stud, but if he is anything like his Dad he should keep on progressing. A literal reading of his form, via Rockaway Valley, would suggest he has the beating of Air Force Blue, and as such he has to represent value at his current odds of 5/1. His stable is in cracking form too.
4. ROCKAWAY VALLEY (HARRINGTON/FOLEY)
Has form that ties in with a couple of the runners in this field, and has come up short on both occasions. First to Air Force Blue on debut, and then on his bow in Group company behind Painted Cliffs at The Curragh. Sandwiched in between those efforts was a facile maiden victory, also at the Curragh, on good to yielding ground.
Is a son of Holy Roman Emperor and her dam, who is by Elusive Quality is related to plenty of decent types, but most of the best form on offer has come over middle distances. His biggest hope is that the rain arrives, and if they do his chance will be enhanced. However, if the forecast is correct and the ground dries out it is difficult to see him reversing the form with the two O’Brien horses. Only of interest if there is cut in the ground and can be backed at 10/1.
5. SIXTH SENSE (JOHNSTON/FANNING)
Listed winner at Ascot over 7F on soft last time out, showing that he handles cut in the ground. Also won his maiden and was Listed placed on good to firm, advertising his versatility regarding underfoot conditions. However, he struggled on his sole start at Group level on good to firm (6F) Newmarket, and barring a deluge a similar story looks likely today.
Is by Shamardal and out of a Sadlers Wells mare, so he will likely make up into a lovely three year old. His dam is from the family of Irish and English Derby double winner Generous, which again suggests it will take another year and a step up in trip before we see the best of him. Loads to find on official ratings, and is deservedly priced up at 40/1. Best watched.
6. WASHINGTON DC (A O’BRIEN/HEFFERNAN)
Listed winner over 5F, the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot back in June, form that has taken a couple of knocks since with Areen, who went down by a head, coming up short at Group 2 level on his next two starts. Also won his maiden over the minimum trip, and this will be his first start at 6F.
Is a son of first season sire Zoffany, who was all about speed and won this race as a 2yo. His great grand-dam, Magic Flute, was a Cheveley Park/Coronation Stakes winner and his dam was Listed placed over the minimum trip too. Well bred, as one would expect coming from these quarters, and given his breeding he deserves respect, especially with his stable in such scintillating form. His form looks a little bit inferior to some of the other runners in the field though, and he has to prove he belongs at this level. Each way hopes at best and can be backed at 7/1.
7. ZEBSTAR (KELLEWAY/SMULLEN)
Hails from the Gay Kelleway yard, a trainer that regularly punches above her weight considering her limited ammunition in comparison to the bigger yards. Won on debut over the minimum trip at Newmarket (good to firm), in a race that has produced plenty of winners, and shaped as though 6F would be well within reach. Is highly regarded by connections, and the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes was nominated as the target after his win. He was a late withdrawal from that race, probably on account of the lightning quick ground, and connections have decided to travel to Ireland to tackle Group 1 company instead.
Hasn’t got the illustrious pedigree boasted by some of his rivals, and he could well be outclassed in this field. However, he really is the apple of his trainers eye and it is great to see a smaller yard taking on the big boys. Probably best watched, but his odds of 33/1 are very tempting from an each way perspective given the high regard his trainer holds him in, especially if there is some juice in the ground.
8. MOST BEAUTIFUL (WACHMAN/LORDAN)
The sole filly in the field and she receives a handy 3lbs from her rivals. Winner here in a fillies Group 3 last time out in a good time (6F good) and looks set to encounter similar conditions today. Won her maiden on good to firm, and ran well on her debut on soft, so looks versatile ground wise.
Is out of a useful Listed winner who is by Cape Cross, and is by first season sire Canford Cliffs. Looks likely to be a very nice filly next season, but I’m not sure she will be up to taking on the best of the boys just yet. Still, she needs respecting coming from the trainer that won this with Damson back in 2004, another filly. Could run into a place and can be backed at odds of 10/1.
Given Aidan O’Brien’s outstanding record in this race his three entrants are entitled to plenty of respect. Of the trio Painted Cliffs makes most appeal under these conditions, but he will have his work cut out to lower the colours of likely favourite BURATINO, who is sure to improve again from his last run if his pedigree is to be believed, and if he does he should run out a comfortable winner once the ground remains good. Zebstar could outrun his massive odds with Smullen booked, and if the heavens open Rockaway Valley enters calculations.
2. PAINTED CLIFFS
4. AIR FORCE BLUE