Phoenix Of Spain could hardly have been more impressive when making a belated winning reappearance in the Irish 2000 Guineas, so is a strong fancy to follow-up in the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes over the round mile at Royal Ascot on Tuesday (16:20).
Trained by Charlie Hills, this Lope De Vega colt was highly progressive as a juvenile landing the Group 3 Acomb Stakes over 7f at the Ebor Festival before twice finishing second on the upgrade.
In winning the first Classic of the year in Ireland, Phoenix Of Spain reversed Doncaster form with both Too Darn Hot and Magna Grecia.
He had little to find on the former from the Champagne Stakes and even less – just a head in fact – on the latter from the Futurity Trophy.
That Group 1 event which officially ends the British Flat season is usually a great indicator for the following year’s Guineas races, and so it proved.
Phoenix Of Spain belied the setback that caused him to miss Newmarket when making all at The Curragh.
All regular jockey Jamie Spencer had to do to put the race to bed was shake the reins approaching the final furlong and his mount scored by an authoritative three lengths.
There is absolutely no reason why the form should be reversed. Phoenix Of Spain is thus a worthy 15/8 favourite with Ladbrokes to land more Group 1 success here because, Too Darn Hot apart, he is 6lb and upwards clear of the field on ratings.
Too Darn hot remains main danger
Newmarket handler John Gosden has won two of the last five renewals of this three-year-old colts only contest with Kingman and Without Parole, and saddles a couple this year.
The aforementioned Too Darn Hot heads the challengers to Phoenix Of Spain, but has more to prove now than odds of 9/4 with Betfred suggest after two defeats this season.
After landing a four-timer last term which included successes in the Solario Stakes at Sandown, the Champagne at Doncaster and Group 1 Dewhurst at Newmarket, he was crowned champion juvenile colt.
Big things were thus expected of Too Darn Hot this season after those exploits, but precious little has gone right with him since.
Like Phoenix Of Spain, he missed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and made a belated return to action in the Group 2 Dante at York.
That is a key British trial for the Epsom Derby, but Too Darn Hot just didn’t have anything left close home and was eased by Frankie Dettori when he couldn’t win. He only went down a length to Telecaster and the form looks very weak.
Gosden normally has carefully laid plans with his star horses, so the decision to turn Too Darn Hot out just nine days later when down in trip at The Curragh for the Irish 2000 Guineas was a major gamble.
It didn’t pay off as, despite being far from disgraced chasing the ready winner home, he was never able to land a blow on Phoenix Of Spain.
The assessor has now dropped Too Darn Hot’s rating down 6lb to the same mark as his Curragh conqueror but, although still respected, he simply is not value to reverse form here.
King Of Comedy is no joke despite temperament
Speaking of Gosden runners, King Of Comedy skipped Epsom to be fresh for a tilt of this and takes a major step up in grade after a Listed success at Sandown last time out.
This Kingman colt is bidding to emulate his sire and is relatively unexposed after winning three of his four career starts. King Of Comedy won a very hot Sandown maiden on debut which contained Phoenix Of Spain last July.
Although then turned over when sent off odds-on at Redcar on his final start as a juvenile, he resumed winning ways on reappearance at Yarmouth when scoring with more in hand than the winning margin of three-quarters of a length suggests.
Gosden pitched King Of Comedy into Listed company for the Heron Stakes last time out, and backers will be concerned about his pre-race antics. He refused to go to post until Dettori dismounted and led him to the stalls.
There were also signs of greenness still in-running, but King Of Comedy was soon clear and comfortable 2 1/2 lengths winner.
Dettori now deserts him, however, to ride Too Darn Hot and that may suggest concerns about his temperament. This is the biggest assignment King Of Comedy has had to date by some way.
He is not a proven top class performer like his stable companion or the favourite, so punters siding with him at a standout 6/1 with Ladbrokes are doing so on potential and in the hope he’s matured.
An 11lb ratings hike for that Sandown win does seem a little steep and, for all his undoubted talent, King Of Comedy remains a horse to watch until he learns to settle and behave better.
Skardu and Circus Maximus each-way value
A case can be made for a few hitting the frame here, but the relatively consistent Skardu – third and fourth in the two 2000 Guineas races in the British Isles – is the most solid at 11/1 with Betway.
Trained by William Haggas, this son of Shamardal won the Craven at Newmarket and was then unlucky on the Rowley Mile in the first of his Classic assignments.
There was a clear draw bias on the nearside rail that day, but Skardu led home his group in the centre of the racecourse when beaten just over four lengths.
He has also since reversed Newmarket form with Magna Grecia at The Curragh when his old rival pulled a muscle.
Skardu has just three-quarters of a length to find on Too Darn Hot from the Irish 2000 Guineas – much less than the 9lb difference in ratings between them.
As Haggas has his team in fine shape going into Royal Ascot, another strong bid looks assured and it would thus be no surprise to see Skardu in the mix for a place again.
The leading contender from Ireland looks to be Epsom Derby sixth Circus Maximus, who is 12/1 with Boylesports and was just a length behind Phoenix Of Spain in the Futurity Trophy as a juvenile.
As the clear pick of the Aidan O’Brien trained trio coming over for this, the son of Galileo was also a fine third to Persian King in the Group 3 Autumn Stakes at Newmarket last season.
Circus Maximus also won a Listed contest at the Chester May Festival over further on the forecast good to soft ground when returning to action.
He was eased when beaten a furlong from home in The Derby, so the drop back should hold no fears.