Caravaggio can confirm Guineas potential with Phoenix Stakes success for Heffernan
Aidan O'Brien relies on the heavily fancied Royal Ascot hero Caravaggio when he bids to enhance his remarkable Keeneland Phoenix Stakes record at the Curragh tomorrow.
The Ballydoyle genius has already won the €250,000 Group One on 14 occasions, and he has two of the five declared runners for this year's renewal.
While Courage Under Fire is still a maiden after three starts, Caravaggio is a clear 7/2 ante-post favourite for next year's 2,000 Guineas.
Tomorrow, the Scat Daddy colt will trade at odds of 1/6 to stretch his unbeaten record to four when he lines out under Seamie Heffernan, the man elected to stand in for Ryan Moore, who is taking a mid-season break ahead of the busy autumn campaign.
With the runner-up Mehmas since landing a pair of Group Twos, Caravaggio's Ascot form is working out well.
He is a cracking prospect, and it's hard to look beyond him at headquarters, where the ground should be suitably quick.
Of his four rivals, the main danger is probably Ger Lyons's Medicine Jack. A son of Equiano, he improved to score at the third time of asking in impressive style at Navan in May. He has run just once since then, beating Peace Envoy with a little authority in the Railway Stakes.
Given that Peace Envoy has gone on to conquer Lyons's Psychedelic Funk in Group Three company, that is also fine form. Nonetheless, Caravaggio appeals as being a little more precocious, so he can deliver Heffernan (above), who did the steering when the classy colt made its Dundalk debut in April.
In the Qatar Racing Phoenix Sprint, O'Brien and Heffernan combine to try and get Air Force Blue back on track.
The winter favourite for the 2,000 Guineas has proved a massive disappointment, although there was some encouragement to be gleaned from his performance when he was dropped back to this six-furlong trip for the July Cup.
Still, he was beaten seven lengths in the end, which is a fair way in a sprint. This might be an opportunity for Fort Del Oro plunder a Group Three for Eddie Lynam.
On ratings, the four-year-old filly has something to find with plenty of these, especially seasoned operators such as Eastern Impact, Flight Risk and Jamesie, while her fellow four-year-old Toscanini is also smart. The 105-rated Fort Del Oro receives three pounds from everything bar Air Force Blue. She has a real chance off those weights.
Second to Divine in this grade here in June, she then won in Listed company at Naas to confirm her status as a progressive sprinter. If she continues to head in the right direction, she ought to take a bit of stopping under Billy Lee.
Earlier, Lynam and Heffernan will go close in the juveniles' maiden with Slumming Angel, which showed a bundle of early pace when fourth on her Naas bow.
Over jumps at Downpatrick tomorrow, Mr Smith, the middle leg of Charles Byrnes' sensational three-legged coup at Roscommon on Tuesday, turns out again in a two-and-a-quarter-mile handicap hurdle.
Davy Russell's only mount on the card, Mr Smith will carry just a six-pound penalty for his smooth win, but he is due to go up 14lbs, so he is eight pounds well in. On that basis, he is hard to oppose.
At Kilbeggan today, the former champion jockey could take the beginners' chase on Alan Fleming's Volvalien. A horse that promised much when it won its bumper by a long way at Listowel last autumn, Volvalien didn't make much impact in three starts over hurdles, but he will be fitter for his recent reappearance at Roscommon. He could be made for this job.