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Irish 2000 Guineas

It was six years ago this weekend that Charlie Hills took Just The Judge to The Curragh and landed the Irish 1000 Guineas.  That was the start of it, the trainer’s first Group 1 win, his first Classic.  Yesterday, Hills was back at The (new-look) Curragh with Phoenix Of Spain, who ran out a really impressive winner of the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas.

They billed the race as a showdown between Magna Grecia and Too Darn Hot: this year’s Newmarket 2000 Guineas winner versus last year’s champion juvenile colt.  But both were left trailing when Jamie Spencer struck for home on Phoenix Of Spain. 

Easy in hindsight but, in truth, there wasn’t much between the three colts on last year’s juvenile form.  Phoenix Of Spain had finished only a length and a half behind Too Darn Hot in the Champagne Stakes, and he had been beaten by just a head by Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futurity Trophy.  But Magna Grecia had won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in the interim.  Phoenix Of Spain hadn’t raced.  Out of sight, out of mind.

The 2000 Guineas at Newmarket was the original plan for the Lope De Vega colt. It was the obvious first target of 2019.  But a setback in January meant that Hills was up against the clock in order to get him there, and a dirty scope in April meant that he had to draw stumps on Newmarket.  After that, preparations began for the Irish 2000 Guineas.

“It was a tremendous training performance by Charlie,” said Jamie Spencer.  “I know that it’s easy to say that when you’ve won, but it’s hard enough to win a Classic even when everything goes smoothly.”

The race itself went smoothly.  Phoenix Of Spain was smartly away from stall one, and Spencer just allowed him settle into his racing rhythm.  On the front end just about from flagfall, Emaraaty Ana disputed the lead with him until they reached the three-furlong marker but, when Spencer gave his horse a squeeze, he picked up nicely and moved into a definite lead. 

Skardu mounted a challenge on the far side, and Too Darn Hot picked up on the near side, but it never really looked like either would get to the leader, as Phoenix Of Spain stayed on powerfully all the way to the line.  In the end, he finished three lengths clear of Too Darn Hot, with Decrypt getting up on the line to just snatch third place from Skardu. 

“The plan wasn’t really to make the running,” said Hills, “but we did plan to be handy. He’s done it so well.  He’s a big horse and he just keeps lengthening.  To sustain that gallop all the way.  He could go for the St James’s Palace Stakes next at Royal Ascot, and he could do even better when he steps up to 10 furlongs.  He has an entry in the Eclipse.  But it’s very special to win here today.  It’s special for the owners Tony Wechsler and Ann Plummer.  And Jamie has given him a great ride.”

Jamie Spencer rode Just The Judge too for Hills when she won the Irish 1000 Guineas six years ago.

“I thought that Phoenix Of Spain would run a good race,” said the rider, “but to win as well as he has won, you’d have to say that it’s a bit surprising.  He seems to have a bit more speed this year than he had last year.  He picked up really well there.  He was a bit fresh today too.  He can do even better with this run under his belt.” 

It was a good day for the British raiders, who had the 1-2-4 in the feature race, and who were denied a 1-2-3 only by the neck by which Decrypt beat Skardu for third place.  

The other two Group races on the day also went to the visitors.  The Richard Fahey-trained Mr Lupton quickened up nicely, also for Jamie Spencer, to get the better of the Joseph O’Brien-trained Speak In Colours and land the Group 2 Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes, while the William Haggas-trained Beshaayir made just about all the running under Frankie Dettori and stayed on well to win the Group 2 Lanwades Stud Stakes.

© The Sunday Times, 26th May 2019