Wednesday 22 November 2017

Engels can can rise above rivals in Phoenix

The Curragh plays host to the best two-year-old race of the year tomorrow when Power, Frederick Engels and Lilbourne Lad clash in a mouth-watering edition of the Phoenix Stakes.

Along with last week's facile Goodwood winner Harbour Watch, these three precocious juveniles are the ones that have generated most acclaim in amassing nine triumphs between them.

The likes of Tough As Nails and Gatepost add further muscle to the Keeneland-sponsored Group One that Aidan O'Brien -- who saddles two others along with Power -- is bidding to win for a 12th time in 14 years.

David Brown, Frederick Engels' little-known Nottinghamshire-based trainer, is still searching for a debut top-level success.

Two years ago to the day, he saddled his only previous runner in Ireland when Doncaster Rover was unplaced in the Phoenix Sprint.

Now he takes on the might of the game's superpowers in their own back yard with a horse named after Karl Marx's collaborator on The Communist Manifesto.

When you consider the kind of money that Coolmore splashes out on horses -- the Galileo filly Was in the opening maiden cost a cool 1.2m guineas -- it certainly would be no mean subversion of power if the former point-to-point handler departs with the €110,200 prize money in just his fourth year with a Flat licence.

The remainder of the eight-race Curragh card is likewise chock-full of quality.

The juvenile fillies' pecking order is due to be ascertained in the Debutante Stakes and this year's Sprint also promises to be an informative affair.

To go with their three live chances in the main event, the raiders are responsible for no less than four of the nine contenders in that Group Three.

One of the quartet, David Evans' outsider Norville, is due to be partnered by the returning Cathy Gannon.

Lest we forget, the last time the former champion apprentice rode in Ireland she combined with Evans to land a similar contest with the unconsidered Dingle View a year ago. Write the Dubliner off at your peril.

2.35 Keeneland Royal

Whip Stakes

Banimpire sets the standard in this select field.

She has gone from strength to strength this term, the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot providing a fifth win of the year.

Just touched off by Blue Bunting in the Oaks last time, Banimpire will be a formidable opponent if the drop back to 10 furlongs doesn't inconvenience her too much.

Given her earlier form this term, it isn't likely to be a serious problem.

On paper at least, Dunboyne Express is her only legitimate rival.

While that one hasn't lived up to its promise yet, he certainly turned in an improved performance when chasing home Famous Name over this trip at Leopardstown last time.

Verdict: Dunboyne Express might unsettle Banimpire over 10 furlongs.

3.35 Keeneland

Debutante Stakes

Teolane ran no race at Ascot in June, but will figure here if she has been rejuvenated by a break since then.

Maybe had her back in fourth when both made their debuts at Naas in May, but Jim Bolger's filly improved to win her next two starts impressively.

Maybe also won her next two, latterly making light of her rider doing overweight to land a Leopardstown Group Three. If she can build on that, she will be hard to beat.

Remember Alexander came good at the third attempt when she defied the colts at the same level at the Dublin venue last month. She won't be too far away here, while Lightening Pearl, Rubina and Yellow Rosebud are all open to improvement.

Verdict: A chance is taken on Teolane recapturing her best.

4.05 Keeneland

Phoenix Stakes

The unbeaten Power appears to be the leading Ballydoyle hope following his game Royal Ascot success. Nonetheless, it should not be forgotten how authoritative Reply was when scoring here in May.

Lilbourne Lad and Tough As Nails face off again having finished first and second over course and distance in June. Since then, French Emperor (third) and Vault (fifth) have franked that form by winning. Frederick Engels is also a real contender.

Beaten on his first two starts, he has now won three-in-a-row, and his strong finish should suit the Curragh.When he landed a Group Two at Newmarket last time, he readily pulled clear of Roman Soldier, which Power only just overcame at Ascot.

Verdict: Frederick Engels' form suggests he is one to keep on side.

5.05 PP O'Leary Memorial Phoenix Sprint Stakes

Empowering probably won't be quite up to this level of sprint, but her front-running display in defeat at Naas suggested that she might not be too far off it either.

Six furlongs on decent going brought out the best in Six Of Hearts here in June.

Winker Watson will also enjoy the conditions, though he hasn't been in great form.

Hitchens and Deacon Blues must concede weight all round. Hitchens won over course and distance in May before running a stormer to be third to Dream Ahead in the July Cup, while two commanding triumphs in the Wokingham at Ascot and a Newbury Group Three augur well for Deacon Blues.

Verdict: Deacon Blues is progressive enough to go close.

Irish Independent

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