Super Sergei spearheads O'Brien bid for unprecedented 17th Phoenix Stakes
Keeneland Phoenix Stakes (Group 1) | 2yo | 6f | ATR
It's almost 20 years to the day that Aidan O'Brien began his unparalleled domination of the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes, performing one of his early masterstrokes as a trainer when landing the Group 1 prize in 1998 with once-raced maiden Lavery.
According to Greek mythology, the Phoenix was a bird who sang harmonious songs at dawn each day and Sunday's Curragh feature could well see the Ballydoyle trainer notching his 17th success in the contest through the sweet music of Sergei Prokofiev.
The Canadian-bred son of Scat Daddy was impressive when winning at Navan and Naas, before being stepped up to six furlongs for the first time when last seen in the Coventry at Royal Ascot.
He finished third behind Calyx, who raced on the opposite side of the track, and just a neck behind Advertise, who locks horns with the Ballydoyle number one again.
O'Brien said: "Virtually all our horses, including Sergei Prokofiev, were under the weather to some degree because of the bug that was floating about the place. But Sergei Prokofiev seems well now and we're happy with him."
O'Brien is responsible for four of the six runners, and said of his other representatives: "Gossamer Wings was beaten only a short head in the Queen Mary before finishing fourth in the Duchess of Cambridge last month.
"We're happy with her and with So Perfect, who ran fourth in the Queen Mary before winning a Group 3 over the course and distance last time.
"The Irish Rover also ran in the Coventry and we've been happy with him since."
Meade to Advertise his abilities
The last British-trained winner of the Phoenix came the year before O'Brien secured his first success – Princely Heir in 1997 – but Advertise's connections are understandably optimistic he could produce a rare away win.
Owned by Phoenix Thoroughbreds, Advertise won the July Stakes after finishing second at Royal Ascot and trainer Martyn Meade said: "We gave him a breeze this morning and he's better than ever.
"It's all systems go and I couldn't be more pleased with him. He's got a rock-solid temperament and you can't faze him. It's a big ask and we've got to jump another hurdle."
He added of Frankie Dettori's mount, who is rated 2lb superior to Sergei Prokofiev: "On form he looks great, but it's just if anything else has improved – we don't know how well Sergei Prokofiev is going. It's perfect timing from Newmarket, where he didn't have a hard race.
"He's been on the ground so it shouldn't be a problem but, if there was a drop of rain overnight, I don't think it'd be against him."
The sextet is completed by Indigo Balance, a barrier trial winner at Dundalk before opening his account at the first attempt at the Curragh, though he blotted his copybook when beating only one rival home in the Coventry when last seen.
Trainer Jessica Harrington said: "He's a lovely horse, who won his maiden very nicely at the Curragh before not running well at Ascot, but I think he was just growing at the time. He's back in good form now."
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