Phoenix of Spain lifts Hills to Guineas peak
The first classic of the Irish flat racing season went to an overseas challenger, but there was a strong Irish flavour to Phoenix Of Spain's Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas win.
It was the second time winning trainer Charlie Hills combined with Tipperary jockey Jamie Spencer to bag an Irish classic, having garnered the 1,000 Guineas six years ago with Just The Judge.
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Spencer is renowned for swooping late, but on this occasion had Phoenix Of Spain in front from the outset.
This was to prove a wise tactic in a surprisingly slow-run affair, and the Lope De Vega colt kicked clear to win by three lengths from the John Gosden-trained joint favourite Too Darn Hot, with Paddy Twomey's Decrypt leading the home battalion in third.
Magna Grecia, who headed the market with Too Darn Hot, never looked like completing the Guineas double, with Ryan Moore sending out distress signals a long way out, although to his credit, the Newmarket hero did stick to his task to finish fifth.
It was a fantastic training effort by Hills, whose father Barry won five Irish classics, as the victor was running for the first time since finishing a head second to Magna Grecia in the Futurity Trophy at Doncaster last October.
"It was very impressive" said Hills. "We were slightly concerned with the draw in one and were really conscious to get a good start. We just didn't want to get stuck on the rail in behind a few.
"Luckily he jumped good. The plan wasn't really to make the running but Jamie gave him an absolute peach and he's some horse.
"To sustain that gallop all the way through (was impressive) and he just keeps lengthening. He's a big horse and whatever he did last year was a bonus. He's got a hell of a future ahead of him.
"We had a setback in January which put us back three or four weeks and it's always hard chasing a horse to get ready for an English Guineas. We did get him there but unfortunately we had a dirty scope prior to the race so we couldn't run.
"He's got a great family on the dam's side and he's by a fantastic sire in Lope De Vega. Whatever he was going to go, he was going to be better at three."
There were plenty of Irish connections with Phoenix Of Spain quite apart from Spencer, who is a now a triple winner of the Irish 1000 Guineas but was recording his first Irish 2000 Guineas triumph and first classic success since reversing his decision to retire at the end of 2014.
The result was good news for Irish breeders, with the winner bred at Tourgar House in County Waterord and Ballylinch Stud standing his sire.
Among the happiest people at the new-look Curragh was CEO of the Irish National Stud Cathal Beale, who revealed afterwards that he had purchased Phoenix Of Spain to stand at the Kildare stud and leased him back to Tony Wechsler and Ann Plummer for the duration of his racing career.
That gamble has now proved Beale a master of foresight, while those that took up the offers of shares such as Dermot Cantillon of Tinnakill Stud were also boasting beaming smiles.
Spencer was completing a double as he steered Mr Lupton to victory in the Group 2 Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes for Yorkshire-based Irish trainer Richard Fahey.
Frankie Dettori had to settle for second best on Too Darn Hot but did not leave empty-handed, grabbing the Group 2 Lanwades Stud Stakes on Beshaayir for William Haggas, whose father-in-law Lester Piggott enjoyed multitudes of Curragh successes and was in attendance.
It was a standout day too for lower-profile trainers, with Kieran Cotter landing the opening Foran Equine Irish EBF Maiden courtesy of Daugher In Law, while Banbridge-based Milan native, Natalia Lupini claimed the Heritage Hotel & Spa Handicap with Blairmayne.
Sunday Indo Sport