THE eagerly anticipated Group 1 Keenland Phoenix Stakes was billed as the preeminent juvenile race of the season so date – and the marquee event didn’t disappoint as champion two-year-old elect Little Big Bear (120+) delivered a stunning performance.

The race itself was a carbon copy of the Angelesey Stakes, with the only difference being the son of No Nay Never ran considerably faster, clocking an overall time marginally faster than 112-rated Go Bears Go (117) who himself returned to top form when winning the Group 3 Phoenix Sprint Stakes earlier on the card.


The closing three-furlong sectionals put the gloss on a dominant display which saw the Group 1 winner cover the ground in 33.88secs, compared to Go Bears Go who stopped the clock at 34.04secs.

After jumping smartly, Little Big Bear travelled with exuberance without ever looking likely to go any faster than required and, passing the two-furlong marker, there looked to be a race in the offering.

However, for just hands and heels riding by Ryan Moore, his mount quickened right away from a stellar field, leaving this correspondent to opine that the closing sectional and therefore overall race time could have been even faster.

Coventry Stakes runner-up Persian Force (108) claimed second, with his closing sectional of 35.13secs adding further context to the winner’s closing effort.

Admittedly, Ascot winner Bradsell (93+) stumbled leaving the stalls, although it cost Archie Watson’s colt the possibility of finishing runner-up and nothing more. (Subsequently Watson reported that Bradsell “unfortunately sustained a season-ending injury” in the race.)

As for moving up in trip with a view to next year’s Qipco 2000 Guineas, the Dewhurst Stakes was cited as an end of season target with the National Stakes at the Curragh on Champions Weekend the stepping stone.

To my eye, the extra distance of next year’s first classic will not be a problem as the four-time winner relaxes perfectly through the early stages of his races.

Quite simply, this was a breath-taking display and represented one of the highlights of the season to date.

Bears Go sharpens up

GO Bears Go looked much sharper in the first time cheekpieces which, assuming they continue to work, opens the door to further winning opportunities for David Loughnane’s three-year-old.

The Shropshire-based trainer reported the son of Kodi Bear to be heading to the US for his next assignment with the long term aim a return to the Breeders’ Cup.

Ano Syra (113) produced a career best to finish runner-up, Johnny Feane’s filly can win at Group 3 level.

Big Gossey (100) gained due reward for his Curragh consistency with a two-length win in the concluding five-furlong handicap in a time figure closest to the group races when adjusted for distance. Charles O’Brien’s five-year-old clocked 34.46secs for his closing sectional.

Fluent Bennet

Gordon Bennet (98) is another who enjoys the Curragh as he added a win to his two second places with a fluent success.

Gary Carroll produced the favourite from last place to win decisively in a time which belies his current rating. A closing sectional of 35.33secs was satisfactory when compared to the other winners although also suggests the four-year-old is the only one to take from the race.

Shelton (92+) posted the superior numbers of the two seven-furlong winners and can progress for Paddy Twomey. The Mehmas filly finished of her race in 34.83secs compared to Al Riffa (88), who covered the same ground in 35.30secs.

Big Wave

To conclude the coverage of the card, Wave Machine (82) clocked an equivalent time to Al Riffa when adjusted for distance with her time figure comprising a sectional of 35.04secs.

In Ecstasy (90+) made a successful handicap debut courtesy of a closing effort of 35.23secs. Joseph O’Brien’s gelding is worthy of a tracker entry as he won going away.