WHAT do Johannesburg, Danehill Dancer, Holy Roman Emperor, and Mastercraftsman have in common?
Yes, they all carried Coolmore silks and established themselves as Group 1 producing sires, but the real common thread that binds their race records is that they all won the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh.
The Phoenix Stakes is the first European Group 1 for juveniles each season and has been farmed by Aidan O’Brien since he began training in the 1990s. In fact, the Ballydoyle maestro has won this race 16 times in the last 22 years including 4 of the last 6 renewals.
With these numbers in mind, one would be forgiven for presuming Aidan has another Sioux Nation or Air Force Blue to fire at the target this year, but instead it’s actually a son of Air Force Blue, brother to Sioux Nation that leads his challenge!
Giorgio Vasari was a renowned Italian painter but his equine namesake is a rapidly progressive sprinter. Being turned over as an odds-on favourite on your first two starts is hardly the ideal way to introduce yourself to the racing public, but Giorgio Vasari has improved markedly for the application of blinkers — winning his subsequent two starts and prompting his trainer to supplement this horse for the Phoenix Stakes earlier this week.
If he is to justify that supplementary fee and continue his upwards trajectory, Giorgio Vasari will have to beat seriously talented British raiders, some of whom have also been supplemented for €12,000.
The Lir Jet was one of many horses impacted by the deferral of breeze-up sales in the spring. Shrewd pin-hooker Robson Aguair purchased this colt for £8,000 as a yearling and instead of waiting for the Covid lockdown to subside, he opted to send this horse to Michael Bell for whom he won on debut at Yarmouth at the beginning of June.
Just 16 days later, The Lir Jet lined up at Royal Ascot and collared Wesley Ward’s Golden Pal in the dying strides of the Norfolk Stakes, this time in the colours of Qatar Racing — well done Robson Aguair!
Exactly a month on from his Royal Ascot success, The Lir Jet started at odds of 1/3 fav for the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin in Chantilly only to be denied by Richard Hannon’s tough as teak Acclamation colt Ventura Tormenta by a short head.
Where is all this going you might ask? Well, Sunday’s Phoenix Stakes stages the rematch of The Lir Jet and Ventura Tormenta, but with the added intrigue of Ireland’s quickest juveniles.
Michael O’Callaghan’s brilliant Molecomb winner Steel Bull has also been supplemented and will now carry the familiar colours of Mrs Chantal Regalado-Gonzalez. Steel Bull built on his debut win at Naas to beat a competitive field at Goodwood nine days ago and must be considered a lethal weapon for those in opposition.
Ken Condon has been making hay this summer and will hope his harvest continues courtesy of recent Railway Stakes winner Laws Of Indices. Sent off at odds of 66/1 in that Group 2 event, there will be no such odds about his chances on Sunday.
All these ingredients slotted into the same set of stalls over six furlongs makes for the most competitive Phoenix Stakes in years!
As racing fans, we love to see international competition — something we have been deprived of so far this season. As tests go, this race will teach us plenty about which country has the strongest juveniles this season.
The Curragh isn’t the only track staging top-level competition this weekend as Earthlight leads a strong Godolphin charge on the Prix Maurice De Gheest at Deauville on Sunday.
Godolphin have long been a dominant force on the racetrack, but they have considerably upped their game in recent seasons. Andre Fabre has played a pivotal roll in their success story this year with Victor Ludorum and the aforementioned Earthlight building on their awesome records last season.
Earthlight remains unbeaten from six starts including last year’s Middle Park win over Golden Horde and a low key seasonal reappearance over this weekend’s course and distance last month in Listed company.
Fabre has opted to remain at sprint distances with this horse, something Charlie Appleby might yet ponder with Pinatubo. While the entries for this race were deep in quality, many potential contenders were in the Godolphin camp which resulted in them sidestepping a clash of the royal blue.
Step forward Earthlight — it’s your time to shine!