Caravaggio rises to occasion in Phoenix

Caravaggio oozed class as he romped to an impressive, four lengths win in the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh yesterday.

The 1/8 favourite gave Adan O’Brien a fifteenth success in this prestigious event and provided the centrepiece of a memorable two-year-old treble for Aidan O’Brien and Seamus Heffernan, deputising for the injured Ryan Moore, on a day when last year’s champion two-year-old Air Force Blue flopped, again, in the Phoenix Sprint, the only blip on an otherwise successful day for Ballydoyle.

Confidently handled by Heffernan as Michael Hussey made the running on 33/1 stable-companion Courage Under Fire, Caravaggio cruised past second favourite Medicine Jack and alongside the leader with two furlongs to race. Soon in front, he stretched clear in great style when squeezed by Heffernan to win in the style of a very smart colt.

“He’s just a very good horse. It’s all pace with him, and he has a great mind - he’s so relaxed,” was Aidan O’Brien’s summing-up of Ballydoyle’s latest star.

He went on to state: “He’s the fastest we ever had – he hit a top-speed, on the GPS, of 45 miles per hour in his last piece of work. I never saw that before.”

When asked about plans for Caravaggio and the Scat Daddy colt’s prospects of staying the Guineas mile next season, O’Brien emphasised: “He’s so relaxed that he could stay. But we’ll probably keep him short enough for the moment. We’ll have a look at the Morny and maybe the Middle Park. There’s no rush going seven furlongs with him.”

Seamus Heffernan, who won the Phoenix on Pedro The Great for O’Brien in 2012, added: “He’s all speed and class and had plenty left. He has always shown a lot and has never disappointed in his work.” Reflecting on his treble, he stated, “You can’t beat riding good horses.”

O’Brien expressed himself “delighted” with the all-the-way success of Hydrangea, unlucky in running when second to Eziyra in Galway, in the five-runner Loder 2-Y-0 Fillies Race, first leg of the Ballydoyle treble.

Seamus Heffernan dictated the pace on the Galileo filly, strongly supported into 4/9 favouritism. And, when she hit top gear, Hydrangea stayed on strongly to beat 20/1 debutante Madame Cherie by two and a quarter lengths.

“She still looked green enough,” added O’Brien. “But she’s a very nice filly and will have no problem staying further.” He didn’t specify end-of-season targets for his filly, but races like the Group 1 Fillies Mile could be on her agenda.

Heffernan adopted similar tactics on Utah, which stepped-up on his Leopardstown debut sixth to win the one-mile two-year-old maiden, beating eye-catching stable-companion The Anvil by two and a quarter lengths.

“Seamus said he didn’t get a clear run in the straight at Leopardstown and would have been closer,” said O’Brien. “He got a good position from the start today and galloped to the line. He’s still a bit green and will stay further.”

Champion two-year-old of Europe last year, Air Force Blue (even-money favourite) trailed in a bad last behind Toscanini in the Qatar Racing-sponsored Phoenix Sprint (Group 3).

Toscanini, trained for Godolphin by Michael Halford and ridden by James Doyle, found plenty under pressure to see off Eastern Impact by a length and a quarter, prompting Halford to declare: “He always had the ability and he has finally grown up. He was weak and immature, but he has grown and strengthened over the last few months.”

“We always thought he was a high-class horse and he’s getting it together well. It was all about today for the time-being. That’s his ground. Six furlongs on fast ground is what he wants.”

Halford completed a double when the consistent Castle Guest landed the finale, the O’Brien’s Wines Handicap in gutsy style, giving apprentice Robert Smithers (18), from nearby Kilberry, hist first success.


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