Aidan O’Brien always thought that Little Big Bear (13/8) was “a bit special” and the exciting juvenile backed up his trainer’s confidence when streaking to a dominant success in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh on Saturday.
This was the Ballydoyle maestro’s 17th triumph in the prestigious Group One, but few have done it as impressively as the son of No Nay Never with seven lengths to spare over a strong field at the finish line.
Ryan Moore dictated affairs from the front before streaking away in the final furlong with Persian Force (4/1) back in second for Richard Hannon while Johnny Murtagh’s Railway Stakes winner Shartash (8/1) was staying on back in third.
The previously unbeaten Coventry Stakes winner Bradsell (11/8 favourite) – trained by Archie Watson – was back in fourth having stumbled coming out of the stalls but this was all about Little Big Bear.
His fourth win was all the more noteworthy given that his participation was far from certain on race day after a “scare”.
“We had a little bit of a scare with him before the race. After coming up here he kicked a wall and the clip of the shoe went into his hind foot, so he was a bit tender when we put the shoe back on him,” O’Brien said.
“It was one of those things and it could easily have gone the other way, so my thanks to everyone for letting it happen. For humans it might be the equivalent of pulling off a fingernail, so we are very appreciative.”
This career-best display sent Little Big Bear soaring to the head of the betting for next year’s English 2,000 Guineas at 5/1 with O’Brien mapping out some ideas for the remainder of his two-year-old campaign.
“It was a very deep race but the closer the race got the more worried we were after what happened to him, but he has serious class. I can’t recall any winner we have had of this race winning like that,” O’Brien said.
“From day one we thought he was very special. He has serious power. He would have no trouble staying seven furlongs, even though he has so much speed and travels so strong. He could go to the Prix Morny, he could go to the Middle Park (Stakes), he could even go for the Nunthorpe (Stakes).”
Mammals were also the order of the day in the Group Three Rathasker Stud Phoenix Sprint Stakes where British raider Go Bears Go (11/4 favourite) showed his love for the Kildare track once again.
Trained by Galway native David Loughnane and ridden by Tuam’s Rossa Ryan, the three-year-old made all to score by a length and a quarter having taken the Railway Stakes over course and distance last season.
Loughnane lauded the son of Kodi Bear for his battling qualities as he repelled all challengers with a trip to the US on his horizon next month.
“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 said.
“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 (furlongs).
“At the moment the plan is to head to Kentucky Downs on the 10th of 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.”