FOR the 12th time, Aidan O’Brien has trained the European Champion Juvenile, as Little Big Bear earned that distinction with a mark of 124 after his seven-length demolition of the Phoenix Stakes last August.
He becomes the first son of No Nay Never to win the title and is rated 5lb clear of his nearest pursuers, stablemate Blackbeard and the Dewhurst winner Chaldean.
Little Big Bear was the subject of plenty of hype from the very start of the season, most of which was generated when O’Brien gave a glowing appraisal of his ability on a press morning at Ballydoyle.
The trainer would reveal later that he was stunned when the colt was beaten on his debut at the Curragh which was his only defeat of the season.
He went on to win his maiden at Naas before overcoming significant adversity in-running to win the Listed Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot. However he took his form to another level when powering clear in the Group 3 Anglesey Stakes before the Phoenix Stakes, which he turned into a procession in the final furlong and a half.
Little Big Bear missed the chance to further enhance his reputation when a rear foot injury kept him off for the remainder of the season but none of his counterparts got close to his achievements in the end-of-season Group 1s and he remains the 5/1 favourite for the 2000 Guineas in May.
Sadly, Blackbeard had a more serious setback, and was retired before his intended Breeders’ Cup target. His mark of 119 was testament to a wonderfully consistent season in which he ran seven times and won five, including Group 1 wins in the Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes.
The Frankel colt Chaldean equalled him with his head win over Royal Scotsman, joint third best on 118, in the Dewhurst, having previously won the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster.
Auguste Rodin is also on 118 after a highly promising win in the Vertem Futurity Stakes at Doncaster.
That was just his third start so he has more scope to progress than those ahead of him and he is hugely exciting for O’Brien, as a son of Galileo out of a Deep Impact mare, with both those stallions having unfortunately passed away in recent years.
Godolphin and Charlie Appleby have had two of the previous three European Champion Juveniles but their best two-year-old in 2022, Noble Style (117), was seventh best overall.
However, he was denied the chance to enhance his rating due to a colic setback, having looked a colt of significant potential when too good for Marshman (113) in the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes.
Completing the top 10 on a rating of 115 were the same trainer/owner’s Silver Knott and O’Brien’s Victoria Road, who were split by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, the latter coming out on top.
Tahiyra is even less exposed, having had just the two starts, so the fact that she has been rated the best filly around on a mark of 118 is seriously exciting.
She becomes the first ever European Champion Two-Year-Old Filly for Dermot Weld and she earned that title off the back of a scintillating two-and-a-quarter-length win over subsequent Breeders’ Cup scorer Meditate (114) in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.
That has her 3lb clear of the next best filly which was the John and Thady Gosden-trained Commissioning (115), who did her best work in the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile. These three fillies are clear at the top of the betting for the 1000 Guineas.
The best Irish juvenile colt outside of Ballydoyle was Joseph O’Brien’s Al Riffa (114, joint 11th), who won the National Stakes on just his third start, with Donnacha O’Brien’s Proud And Regal (113, joint 17th) who was second to Al Riffa in the National and then secured the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.
The best Irish juvenile colt not trained by the O’Brien family was Crypto Force (110, joint 33rd), impressive winner of the Beresford Stakes for Michael O’Callaghan.
The son of Time Test has since switched stables to John and Thady Gosden.