Dublin: 20°C Saturday 13 August 2022

Little Big Bear sensational in Phoenix Stakes as Al Riffa gives Joseph O’Brien a landmark winner

Meanwhile, Go Bears Go got back to winning ways in the Rathasker Stud Phoenix Sprint Stakes.

Ryan Moore onboard Little Big Bear.
Ryan Moore onboard Little Big Bear.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

AIDAN O’BRIEN’S LITTLE Big Bear looked every inch a superstar as he dominated the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes from start to finish to give the Ballydoyle trainer his sixth winner in the Curragh Group One in the past seven years.

There was drama early in the contest as 11-8 favourite Bradsell appeared to stumble coming out of the stalls, but it was Little Big Bear who was sent to the front by Ryan Moore in the early stages.

The 13-8 shot was shadowed by Richard Hannon’s Persian Force, who at one stage appeared to be travelling better than the son of No Nay Never, but as the UK raiders loomed large passing the two-furlong pole, the Anglesey Stakes winner was just beginning to slip into top gear and was soon accelerating away from his pursuers.

Daylight was the biggest danger in the final furlong with the youngster recording a seven-length success over Persian Force, with Shartash, who did his best work late, another half-length back in third.

The victory not only brought up a hat-trick for the highly-talented two-year-old, but also O’Brien’s 18th success in the six-furlong contest and the layers were suitably impressed, with the colt made favourite across the boards for next year’s 2000 Guineas.


Earlier on Saturday, Al Riffa took the John Ormonde Wexford Sand Irish EBF Maiden – a victory that gave Joseph O’Brien the 1,000th success of his training career.

Runner-up on debut here last month, the Wootton Bassett colt was ridden prominently throughout by Dylan Browne McMonagle and supporters of the well-backed 1-2 favourite will rarely have had a concern.

O’Brien’s charge quickened nicely at the two-furlong pole and was always doing enough, with Aidan O’Brien’s Salt Lake City running a race full of promise in second.

Assistant trainer Brendan Powell said: “Dylan said he jumped off smarter today and was up there. He’s so big and still immature, but he’s come on bundles for his first run. The future is bright with him and he could be anything. He’ll stay well.

“Once he started niggling he felt he had to kick when he did. He said he kept quickening from two out all the way to line. Even a stronger gallop would have suited him.

“He seems to go on this quick ground for a big horse. Dylan said he’d be better with a little cut in it. They have mentioned National Stakes and you would have to talk about that with him. For the size of him I think he’s going to be a cracking three-year-old.”

The landmark win has come for O’Brien in just over six years with a licence, and Powell added: “It’s phenomenal what he has done at his age. Joseph is in Saratoga with a runner tonight and a couple tomorrow.”

The Paddy Twomey-trained Shelton (4-1) was another to benefit from a prior outing as she stayed on strongly for victory in the Loder Irish EBF Fillies Race.

Twomey said: “I think she’s a nice filly and she learned from her debut. I was hoping she’d run a nice race coming here and delighted the way she won.

I haven’t thought past today, but she has an entry in the Debutante and the Moyglare. I think seven is no problem and we’ll talk to Billy (Lee, jockey) and regroup. He said she should be well capable of stepping up in class.

“The trainer would love to take baby steps, but he might not be allowed!”

Wave Machine joined Al Riffa and Shelton in showing experience to be key in winning the John Ormonde Gallop & Arena Construction Irish EBF Maiden, on her third start after occupying third place on her previous two runs.

Meanwhile, David Loughnane’s Go Bears Go made every yard to get back to winning ways in the Rathasker Stud Phoenix Sprint Stakes.

Away well in first-time cheekpieces, Rossa Ryan was always at the head of affairs aboard the son of Kodi Bear and showed tremendous tenacity to keep finding when challenged in the closing stages, holding off Ano Syra to record a one-and-a-quarter-length victory.

It was the second time the Amo Racing and Omnihorse Racing-owned colt has struck at the Kildare venue, having also landed Railway Stakes as a two-year-old, and the all-the-way victory was the perfect way for the speedy three-year-old to build on his second in the Hackwood Stakes at Newbury.

There was no joy for fellow UK-based raiders Wings Of War and Dubawi Legend, who finished fourth and fifth respectably.

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Loughnane said: “It’s easy to train a good horse. He loves it here – three runs, two wins and a third in the Phoenix Stakes last year where I thought he was a bit unlucky in the wrong part of the track with a strong headwind.

“He disappointed in Royal Ascot but just got out of the wrong side of the bed, overheated and didn’t run his race.

“He’s only been out of the frame twice in his life and is an absolute pleasure to train. He’s a horse that I hold very close to my heart and probably always will.

“He’s a terrier and would step into a ring with Mike Tyson – he’s afraid of no one. The longer they come at him the better he is. I’d love to see him over seven.”

Go Bears Go was cut to 12-1 for Haydock’s Betfair Sprint Cup by the sponsors, while Paddy Power go 12-1 from 16-1 for the British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot over a track and trip Loughnane’s stable star was successful over earlier in the season.

But Loughnane revealed an American adventure was on the cards for Go Bears Go, possibly followed by a trip to Paris.

He said: “At the moment the plan is to head to Kentucky Downs on 10 September. There is a Grade Two over there worth a lot of money over six and a half furlongs and then possibly a tilt at the Foret in October.

“He doesn’t want too long between his races, he gets a bit bored. He wants three weeks, maybe four, and he loves travelling. This race worked in nicely.” 

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