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The Classic prospects of this year’s top Irish-trained juveniles in 2023
Words: Alan Hewison • Photos: Peter Mooney / Caroline Norris
LITTLE BIG BEAR (IRE) 120p
b c No Nay Never – Adventure Seeker (Bering)
The thrashing of July Stakes winner Persian Force in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes, in a good time, was the standout juvenile performance of 2022. It was the No Nay Never colt’s fourth win on the bounce, having been touched off on his debut over the same course and distance in April. Those wins had included the Windsor Castle Stakes at Ascot and the Anglesey Stakes at The Curragh. Back to the conventional six furlongs in early August, front-running tactics produced a commanding performance as Little Big Bear powered clear inside the final furlong, never stronger than at the finish. Later it transpired that the colt had incurred a slight injury when kicking out against a wall prior to the race, an injury which subsequently ruled him out of the National Stakes, after which connections opted to leave him for the remainder of the season. It would have been intriguing to see if he could have sustained the speed shown in the Phoenix over an extra furlong and given a clearer indication of his Guineas’ prospects.
Little Big Bear was the highest rated of a superb group of juveniles by No Nay Never. This crop, of course, also included the Prix Morny and Middle Park winner Blackbeard, who has been retired to stud due to injury. The capacity to train on and stamina concerns invariably surround No Nay Never’s progeny, and with good reason, Alcohol Free being his only Group 1 winner at a mile, and even she produced her career best when taking this year’s July Stakes back at six furlongs. The damside of Little Big Bear gives cause for optimism, his dam, a listed winner over an extended 1m2f by the French Derby winner Bering. Little Big Bear has the physique to train on but one has to go as far back as 2006 to find the last colt to complete the Phoenix Stakes/2000 Guineas double, that being George Washington.
AUGUSTE RODIN (IRE) 118p
br c Deep Impact – Rhododendron (Galileo)
Representing the same cross, by Deep Impact out of a Galileo mare, as Ballydoyle’s 2000 Guineas winner of 2018 Saxon Warrior. Trod a similar path by becoming Aidan O’Brien’s 11th winner of the Vertem Futurity and looks to hold strong claims of completing the same double at Newmarket in May. Previously winner of a Naas maiden and the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown, Auguste Rodin’s ran out an authoritative winner despite the heavy ground, coming home clear of his seven rivals. Connections believe he will be better again back on a sounder surface and he should have no problem staying 1m2f. The first foal of the classy Rhododendron, who won the Prix de l’Opera over 1m2f and chased home Enable in the Oaks, and whose sister, Magical was a prolific Group 1 winner with the Fillies & Mares Stakes over 1m4f included in her CV. Could well emerge as Ballydoyle’s principal Derby hope for 2023.
TAHIYRA (IRE) 116p
b f Siyouni – Tarana (Cape Cross)
Recorded an impressive success in the Moyglare Stud Stakes, the best performance by a juvenile filly in 2022, and she looks by some way the best 1000 Guineas candidate. Tahiyra lined up the least experienced in the field, having won her only previous start in a Galway fillies’ maiden. As at Galway, an impressive turn of foot was the feature of her Moyglare defeat of the previously unbeaten Meditate, who herself put daylight between her other rivals and boosted the form with an easy Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf triumph. The going at The Curragh was soft and it was on the easy side at Galway so Tahiyra has yet to race on a sound surface but she looks a really exciting prospect. Her breeding suggests she should do better still at three, being a half-sister to Tarnawa, whom Dermot Weld trained to win three times at Group 1 level, including both the Prix Vermeille and Breeders’ Cup Turf over 1m4f. Their dam Tarana, a daughter of Cape Cross, was a dual Listed winner over 1m4f. Tahiyra’s sire Siyouni has established himself as one of the top sires in France, having produced the likes of top middle-distance performers St Mark’s Basilica and Sottsass.
VICTORIA ROAD (IRE) 115p
b c Saxon Warrior – Tickled Pink (Invincible Spirit)
Took six attempts to get off the mark but proceeded to win all three subsequent starts, showing considerable improvement when upped in trip. His Deauville listed win was well franked by the runner-up going on to Group 1 success. He followed that up by taking a Group 3 at Chantilly over 1m1f and then took his form to another level in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland under a patient ride, finding plenty when getting his opening to lead inside the final half-furlong. A first Grade 1 winner for Saxon Warrior out a smart sprinter, whose dam has also produced the top-class filly Halfway To Heaven, Victoria Road should have no problem staying 1m2f in 2023 and looks the type to keep progressing.
AL RIFFA (FR) 114p
b c Wootton Bassett – Love On My Mind (Galileo)
Joseph O’Brien saddled his second National Stakes winner in three years when Al Riffa produced a stout staying performance to justify a supplementary entry to the top juvenile race in Ireland in September. That was Al Riffa’s third visit to The Curragh, his second resulting in a convincing maiden win over the same trip on good ground. The National Stakes was run on soft but Al Riffa handled it well, coming from off the pace to assert late, winning going away from the subsequent Criterium International winner Proud And Regal. A son of Wootton Bassett, whose standout performer is the French Derby winner and dual Champion Stakes winner Almanzor, and out of an unraced sister to the smart stayer and Ascot Gold Cup second Mizzou, from the family of Yorkshire Oaks winner My Emma, his forte would look to be.
MEDITATE (IRE) 114
b f No Nay Never – Pembina (Dalakhani)
Kicked off a memorable 2022 Breeders’ Cup meeting for Ballydoyle with a resounding win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, recording a quicker time than her stablemate Victoria Road did in winning the colts’ equivalent. Made it 3-3 when taking the Albany Stakes in June and added the Group 2 Debutante Stakes. Continued her progression behind Tahiyra in the Moyglare Stud Stakes and when just outpaced back in trip in the Cheveley Park. Upped to a mile, Meditate outclassed her 13 rivals at Keeneland, patiently ridden off a strong early pace before coming home strongly under hands and heels. A daughter of No Nay Never, Meditate has proved herself at a mile and has to be considered a major 1000 Guineas candidate, although she probably wouldn’t want it too soft.
AESOP’S FABLES (IRE) 110
b c No Nay Never – How’s She Cuttin (Shinko Forest)
Another son of No Nay Never, Aesop’s Fables looked to have a bright future when running out a convincing winner of the Futurity Stakes in late August, his second start following a Navan maiden in April after which he had, reportedly, suffered a minor setback. However, he met defeat on all three subsequent starts and enters winter quarters with a fair bit of ground to make up. His half-brother Washington DC ended up a pure sprinter and he could be one who falls between two stools.
PROUD AND REGAL (IRE) 110p
ch c Galileo – Simply Perfect (Danehill)
A tough and progressive staying juvenile, Proud And Regal capped a fine season with a last-gasp win in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in late October in testing conditions. Winner of his first two starts, including the Tyros Stakes, the Donnacha O’Brien-trained colt then twice met defeat at The Curragh including when taking a step forward when a staying-on second to Al Riffa in the National Stakes, and the extra furlong at Saint-Cloud suited him well. The best of this year’s reduced crop of Galileo juveniles, he is out of the Fillies Mile and Falmouth Stakes winner Simply Perfect and should get at least 1m2f at three.
THE ANTARCTIC (IRE) 109
gr c Dark Angel – Anna Law (Lawman)
The Antarctic’s three wins included the Group 3 Prix de Cabourg at Deauville’s August meeting and of his five defeats, the standout run came on his final start when chasing home stablemate Blackbeard in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes, despite a slow start. The brother to top sprinter Battaash will, no doubt, be given a chance to prove his stamina early in his Classic campaign but seems an unlikely Guineas candidate.
CRYPTO FORCE (GB) 108p
b c Time Test – Luna Mare (Galileo)
The lightly-raced Crypto Force remains an interesting colt going into his three-year-old campaign, having the breeding to improve as he gets older. Trained by Michael O’Callaghan, he made quite an impression when lowering the colours of the odds-on Auguste Rodin on debut in a Curragh maiden in early June. Later in the month he realised £900,000 at the Goffs London Horses-In-Training Sale but just two days later ran disappointingly for new owners in the Chesham Stakes on fast ground. Given a three months’ break he bounced back with an impressive win upped to a mile in the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at The Curragh, produced from off the pace to win going away. From the second crop of Dubawi’s son Time Test, he should stay at least 1m2f as a three-year-old and could quite possibly stay the Derby trip. Kia Joorabchian has since switched him cross-channel to the care of John and Thady Gosden.
Michael O’Callaghan (will be trained byJohn & Thady Gosden in 2023)
SHARTASH (IRE) 106
b c Invincible Spirit – Shamreen (Dubawi)
A last-gasp winner of the Group 2 Railway Stakes on Derby weekend, Shartash’s best performance came in the National Stakes over an extra furlong when only denied second place close home, having had to wait to make his challenge. He tried the 7f trip again in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère but ran below that level, a bit keen then taking time to pick up when a never-nearer fourth. Out of a 1m2f winner at Group 2 level, he should have no trouble getting a mile at three.
SPIRIT GAL (FR) 106
b f Invincible Spirit – Awesome Gal (Galileo)
The daughter of Invincible Spirit failed to meet her engagement at the Goffs UK Breeze-Up Sale in April for renowned breeze-up consignor Willie Browne but connections soon realised they had a quality filly on their hands. Having shown plenty of speed from the off, she was off mark at the third attempt in a Naas maiden over six furlongs in September, and then dispelled any doubts over getting seven when again making all in the Listed Star Appeal Stakes at Dundalk, staying on strongly to beat the subsequent Killavullan Stakes winner Cairo. The mile of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf proved beyond her and it could be again in 2023 given her exuberant way of running.
CAIRO (IRE) 106p
b c Quality Road – Cuff (Galileo)
Steadily progressive, Cairo served up his best performance on his final start in Leopardstown’s Group 3 Killavullan Stakes, coping well with the softer ground to beat a useful field decisively. A son of Quality Road, he is not bred to get much beyond a mile but being out of a Galileo mare could stretch out his stamina a bit more. Looks the type to progress at three but has a good bit of ground to make up into a Guineas contender.