War set to Command in Phoenix Stakes and deliver lucky 13 for canny Ballydoyle handler

O’Brien’s bank holiday focus on expensive two-year-olds

 Seamie Heffernan rides War Command to victory in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot last June. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Seamie Heffernan rides War Command to victory in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot last June. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images


Next year’s classic hopefuls will come into sharper focus at the Curragh this Sunday when War Command attempts to make it lucky 13 for Aidan O’Brien in Europe’s first juvenile Group One of 2013, the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes.

Even the champion trainer’s famous domination of the Irish Derby pales next to his 12 wins in the last 15 years of the Phoenix. And he has already indicated that his brilliantly impressive six-length Coventry winner will put his unbeaten record on the line in the €200,000 feature at HQ.

‘A lot of speed’
“We’ve very happy with War Command since the Coventry and the plan is to run him next in the Phoenix,” said O’Brien of a colt who is already clear 5 to 1 favourite for next year’s 2,000 Guineas. “He has a lot of speed as he showed in the Coventry.”

The Group Three Royal Whip, also on the same day, could also be an occasion for the reappearance of last year’s top two-year-old, Kingsbarns. The Galileo colt was winter favourite for the Derby but his three-year-old career has been blighted by injury to such an extent that he has yet to be seen in public in 2013.

O’Brien’s bank holiday focus today will be the two-year-olds as he sends a pair of expensive juveniles to Naas.

Great White Eagle, a 760,000 Guineas purchase just last April, makes his debut in the opener and although he has a host of top-flight entries, including the Dewhurst, Johnny Murtagh’s Gold Peregrine has his own Group One options and, crucially, the experience of an impressive course and distance win in June under his belt.

Ballydoyle’s other youngster has had a run and there was plenty to like about the way Juniper Tree finished out his Curragh debut behind stable companion Australia.

The 950,000 Guineas son of Galileo and multiple Group One winner Alexander Goldrun should improve significantly for that effort in a race where Murtagh is doubly-represented, but rides Galileo newcomer Altruistic.

Sophies Echo is back on the course and distance at which she successfully returned to action before subsequently heading to Galway for two races which didn’t work out too well for Tom Cleary’s filly.

She looked out of her depth in the Listed race won by Yellow Rosebud, but prior to that was an unlucky loser in the handicap won by Footprint. Back on fast ground, Sophies Echo can reward Cleary’s decision to turn her out again.

Blistering Dancer’s recent effort at Down Royal behind Tsar Paul suggests the drop back to six furlongs for today’s sprint handicap can suit.

Sound surface
Cork’s three-mile conditions hurdle is marked by another clash between Edeymi and Domination who fought out the finish of last Monday’s big amateur race at Galway. Edeymi emerged best by a head but official figures suggest Domination can get his revenge here.

Raydari put up a much less impressive show at Ballybrit, getting pulled up behind Aladdin’s Cave, but given better ground can make a quick reappearance in the two-mile handicap hurdle pay off.