10th June 2021
Potential US challenge for Keeneland Phoenix Stakes
Castle Star leads Irish trained entries
Wesley Ward is well represented in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes, following the publication of first entries today. The US based trainer has entered Golden Bell, Napa Spirit, Lucci and Kaufymaker in the Group 1 contest for two year olds, taking place at The Curragh on Sunday 8th August.
Irish trainers are well represented with two time winner Castle Star trained by Fozzy Stack among the 54 entries. Aidan O’Brien, who last won the race in 2017 with Sioux Nation, has entered Cadamosto, Yet, Prettiest, Tenebrism and The Acropolis, while sons Joseph has entered winners Andreas Versalius and Velocidad, while Donnacha has entered Masseto, recent runner up in the GAIN Marble Hill Stakes.
Ger Lyons, who trained Siskin to win the race in 2019, has entered Dr Zempf, an impressive winner at the Curragh recently, while Pinar Del Rio trained by Paddy Twomey and Twilight Jet trained by Michael O’Callaghan are other notable Irish trained contenders.
2018 winner Advertise was the last British trained winner and many top trainers are targeting the race this year. These include several winners including Dukebox and Gisburn trained by Richard Hannon, Ebro River trained by Hugo Palmer, Caturra trained by Clive Cox, Forca Brasil trained by George Boughey, Angel Bleu and Hello You trained by Ralph Beckett and Go Bears Go trained by David Loughnane.
Yankee Dream, trained by Eoghan O’Neill, is the sole French trained entry and this son of Starspangledbanner won impressively at Chantilly in early May.
Tony Lacy, Vice-President of Sales at Keeneland, said: “We are proud of our continued sponsorship of the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes. We’ve seen some brilliant recent renewals and are delighted that this year’s race promises to be yet another exciting contest. We look forward to again celebrating the strong bond between Ireland and America’s bloodstock and racing communities at The Curragh on Sunday, August 8.”
Evan Arkwright, Racing and Sponsorship Manager The Curragh, commented
“It is hugely positive to see such high class entries for the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes and attracting runners from France, Britain and most notably the USA really adds to the profile of the race. We are very grateful to Keeneland for their support and look forward to working with them to ensure the race continues to be rated as one of the best in Europe for two year olds.”
The History of the Phoenix Stakes
The Keeneland Phoenix Stakes has long been established as one of the top races for two-year-olds in Europe and it is a race with a storied history.
First established in 1902, it was originally run over five furlongs at Phoenix Park in Dublin under the name of the Phoenix Plate. The name of the race was changed to the Phoenix Stakes in 1956 and having earned Group 2 status in 1971, it was upgraded to a Group 1 in 1979. Having been switched to Leopardstown for one year in 1982, it returned to Phoenix Park in 1983 with a new distance of six furlongs. When the Phoenix Park closed in 1990, the race was switched to Leopardstown, but the loss of the sprint track there in 2002 resulted in it being moved to its current home at the Curragh that year.
While the race has gone through many changes during its long history, one thing that has remained consistent is its ability to produce top-class winners. One of the best known early victors in the race was Trigo who prevailed in the 1928 renewal for Jack Rogers. Moved to be trained by Dick Dawson in England as a three-year-old, he won the Derby at Epsom, the St Leger at Doncaster and returned to Ireland to win the Irish St Leger.
There was another notable winner in 1951, with the Darkie Prendergast-trained Windy City putting up a phenomenal performance to win the race by eight lengths. He went on to win the Gimcrack Stakes at York by five lengths and then narrowly failed to give the subsequent Poule d'Essai des Pouliches winner Pomare 11lb in the Prix d'Arenberg at Chantilly. Those performances were sufficient to see him crowned Champion Two-Year-Old in Ireland, Great Britain and France, which was a very rare treble at the time. Indeed, the Timeform rating of 142 that he achieved as a two-year-old remains the highest Timeform rating ever achieved by a horse trained in Ireland.
1976 produced one of the most impressive female winners in the history of the race. Cloonlara was trained by Vincent O’Brien and despite having won her first two starts in great style, she was sent off second favourite for the Phoenix Stakes behind the impressive Norfolk Stakes winner Godswalk. However, the race proved to be no contest, with Cloonlara producing a blistering display of front-running to prevail by six lengths. While she never quite recaptured that form due to her deteriorating temperament, Cloonlara did make her mark as a broodmare, producing Glenstal who won the National Stakes at the Curragh and went on to enjoy success as a sire.
On the subject of sires, one of the most notable Phoenix Stakes winners that went on to enjoy a highly-influential second career as a stallion was the winner of the 1995 renewal Danehill Dancer. Trained by Neville O’Callaghan, the son of Danehill went into the Phoenix Stakes off the back of a winning debut in a maiden at Newmarket and made light of his inexperience to prevail by a neck. The colt returned to Ireland to win the National Stakes at the Curragh the following month and that would prove to the highlight of the remainder of his racing career. However, much greater things were to come for Danehill Dancer as a stallion, with him starting from a low base and progressing into one of the leading sires in Europe. His best-known offspring include Choisir, Fast Company, Jeremy, Legatissimo and his two winners of the Phoenix Stakes, Alfred Nobel and Mastercraftsman.
Since Aidan O’Brien’s rise to power in Ballydoyle, he has been a dominant force in the Phoenix Stakes. Having won it for the first time with Lavery in 1998, he has saddled the winner 16 times last time in 2017 with Sioux Nation. There have been any amount of star performers amongst those winners, with the top-class juveniles Fasliyev, Johannesburg, Air Force Blue and Caravaggio standing out, along with the subsequent Classic winners George Washington and Mastercraftsman. Siskin won the race in 2019 and subsequently gave trainer Ger Lyons his first Irish classic success the following year in the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas