Zoffany pushes turbo button to sink Suit
RICHARD HANNON'S much-hyped English hotpot Strong Suit was put firmly in his place by the decisive late surge of main market rival Zoffany under Johnny Murtagh, as the home team held sway in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes, watched by 4,212 patrons at The Curragh yesterday.
Starting at prohibitive odds in the absence of injured pair Dunboyne Express and Al Aasifh, Strong Suit flattered to deceive most of the way when up with the pace but faltered late on as initially outsider Glor Na Mara and then Zoffany mounted challenges.
"I knew a furlong out I wouldn't win" was the post-race verdict of Strong Suit's locally born partner Richard Hughes, as Richard Hannon Jnr didn't hide his acute disappointment that their charge hadn't followed up his Royal Ascot success over the Ballydoyle colt.
"We will have our horse scoped when we get him home. We're not making excuses, but for some reason he didn't confirm the Coventry Stakes form with Zoffany," said the trainer's son, as the ante-post 2,000 Guineas betting went into freefall.
As champion trainer, Aidan O'Brien and the Coolmore partners celebrated their 11th Phoenix Stakes triumph in the past 13 renewals of the historic Group One event, all the leading firms promoted Zoffany to favouritism for next year's key Newmarket Classic.
He's now a best-priced 10/1 chance with Ladbrokes and Boylesports but two points shorter according to Paddy Power and William Hill, who each had been offering 20/1 yesterday morning. Fans of Strong Suit can trade at twice the 5/1 generally ahead of this race.
This represents a complete reverse in perception as to which of them will hold sway at Newmarket -- Strong Suit having been lording it over Ballydoyle's son of Dansili on the back of his last-gasp success at Royal Ascot, where Zoffany was only sixth after "running too keen and suffering stage-fright" in O'Brien's opinion.
"Our horse was much more relaxed and there was a better pace on here. The plan was to get him settled and Johnny was cool and special on him. This is a big, powerful colt and we will look at the National Stakes next," enthused O'Brien.
Jim Bolger's high opinion of the maiden Glor Na Mara was vindicated when Kevin Manning's mount short-headed Strong Suit for the runner-up berth and the trainer-breeder has Newmarket's Dewhurst Stakes as the horse's primary target this season.
Connections had originally been thinking of waiting for the Futurity Stakes with Zoffany, which remains undefeated on Irish soil and has already proved a shrewd acquisition for the Coolmore partners even allowing for his Newmarket yearling price-tag of 220,000 sterling guineas.
In the preceding Keeneland Debutante Stakes, the eight-member McElroy Syndicate, on whose behalf agent Ben McElroy (no relation) bought Laughing Lashes for $100,000 at the sponsor's Kentucky auction, were thrilled to see the daughter of Mr Greeley open her account in style.
Fran Berry, who helped the Irish team retain the Shergar Cup at Ascot the previous afternoon, taking the Silver Saddle award as leading rider in the process, had Jessica Harrington's filly tracking the pace until taking over from Misty For Me a furlong out.
The pair then had the finish to themselves, thanks to easy-to-back favourite Together veering badly across the track to the stands-side rail, under pressure from Murtagh, as lone English raider Lily Again was unable to make an impact as a well-beaten fourth.
"It's the same syndicate that reinvested in this filly after the sale of Long Lashes last year to Godolphin and they tell me they won't be parting with this one," said Harrington, who intends to supplement the American-bred grey for a Group One race here or in France.
The other Group Two affair predictably went to the long odds-on Fame And Glory, which reeled in his regular pacemaker Dixie Music up the straight in the Royal Whip Stakes for a fourth successive victory this year.