In emphatically reversing Coventry Stakes form with Buratino and giving trainer Aidan O’Brien his fourteenth success in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes, yesterday afternoon at the Curragh, Air Force Blue was promoted to clear favouritism for next season’s Newmarket 2000 Guineas.
Impressive on debut but beaten favourite at Ascot, the son of War Front was sent off the 9-4 second favourite this time, and rewarded supporters with a smooth success.
Ridden off the pace, which was set by Sixth Sense and Rockaway Valley, he travelled strongly before quickening up stylishly to challenge over a furlong out. Passing Buratino with fluency, he pulled clear to beat stable companion Washington DC with something to spare.
“He put it to bed very quickly, but when he got the front he was a little green, which is understandable,” said O’Brien. “But, you’d have to be very impressed with him. He travelled great, settled, quickened up, and galloped out well.
“He came forward lovely from Ascot - he was a baby going there. He won his maiden here but didn’t learn a lot as he jumped out and made the running. Anyone who saw him at Ascot would have known it was liable he was going to step up.
“His options would be to go back to the Prix Morny, or he may have a little rest again.
“The second horse, Washington DC, also ran very well. It was good to see the form standing up, that was the good thing about it - the second and third were Ascot winners.”
Another potential Ballydoyle Classic contender for 2016 emerged when How High The Moon took the Loder EBF Fillies’ race in very fetching style.
Held up off the pace in the early stages, her race could have been brought to a premature end when favourite Camellia Japonica clipped heels and sent Shane Foley to the ground.
Although forced to check by the loose horse and then brought wide to go around a wall of horses as the race entered the final couple of furlongs, she showed stamina and class in abundance as she ran strongly to the line to see off the gambled-on Midnight Crossing (20-1 to 7-2) by almost two lengths.
By Fastnet Rock out of Moyglare winner and dual Oaks runner-up Quarter Moon, the winner is a full sister to Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes winner Diamondsandrubies, and has been installed 16-1 to go one place better than her dam in the Epsom Oaks.
“I’m delighted. It was an eventful race, but she’s a nice filly, and you’d have to be happy with that,” said O’Brien. “She did well, learned a lot, and should improve. She’s a full sister to Diamondsandrubies, who we ran her as a two-year-old but was disappointing, so you’d have to be very happy with that.
“She has a lot of choices, she could come back for the Debutante, but there are others there for that, but she’ll definitely step up next time.”
Thankfully, Shane Foley emerged relatively unscathed from his tumble.
Of stable star Gleneagles, who missed the Sussex Stakes due to the testing conditions, O’Brien suggested the Prix Jacques le Marois, at Deauville, remains on the cards - ground-permitting.
Ger Lyons’ stable continues in great form, and he took the opening Anglesey Lodge Equine Hospital EBF Maiden with the well-backed Restive. One of the few experienced runners in the field, the 4-1 chance was given a positive ride by jockey Colin Keane, and the two looked in control of matters throughout as they ran on well to beat newcomer Stellar Mass by a length.
Navan trainer Joseph Murray secured his first victory when Captain Cullen earned due reward for his consistency with victory in the Gabriel Curran Memorial Handicap.
A winner at this track last season, when trained by Gerard Keane, he travelled well once more and, under the influence of 7lb claimer Ian Queally, the 5-1 joint favourite led a furlong out and stayed on well to beat Tom Dooley by a length.
The Group 3 Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club Phoenix Sprint Stakes turned into a real thriller, and victory went to Mattmu (3-1), trained by Tim Easterby and ridden by David Allan. Toscanini tried to make all and battled hard when challenged from the furlong marker but, in a bobbing finish, was denied by the minimum margin.
Trainer Dermot Weld was on the mark with Katimavik (8-1), who got up in the final stride to take the Tipperary Crystal Handicap, under Pat Smullen.
In the Jog For Jockeys August 23 Nursery, which closed the day’s action, Wayne Lordan rode a very positive race on Dr Doro (4-1), and it proved an astute move aboard the Tommy Stack-trained colt. A few lengths clear shortly after leaving stalls, the partnership maintained a strong gallop all the way to readily account for 15-8 favourite Know.
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