Ebro River wins Europe’s first 2-year-old Group 1 of 2021

August 8, 2021

Ebro River (12/1) won Europe’s first two-year-old Group 1 race of the season when taking the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh, Ireland, on Sunday.

The Hugo Palmer-trained winner was a first success for English runners since Advertise took the race in 2018 for handler Martyn Meade and jockey Frankie Dettori.

Today’s winning rider, Shane Foley, was winning consecutive editions of the €250,000 race, having visited the winners’ enclosure with the now-retired Lucky Vega last season for Irish trainer Jessica Harrington.

The Phoenix Stakes, first run in 1902 at Phoenix Park Racecourse and upgraded to Group 1 status in 1979, is traditionally the first test at the highest level for juveniles each season.

Ebro River came into the race with what seemed unlikely winning form. He had failed to win any of his last three starts, finishing fifth in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, fourth at Newmarket, and fourth again latterly at Goodwood, all at Group 2 level. The Listed Stakes winner from last May was facing some stiff competition on Sunday, despite being rated third highest going into the race. 

The Group 2 Railway Stakes at The Curragh is usually a stepping stone to the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes, and this season’s winner and runner-up Go Bears Go and Castle Star re-opposed again. 

Go Bears Go, trained by England-based Irishman David Loughnane, had a length and a quarter in hand on the Fozzy Stack-handled son of Starspangledbanner Castle Star (7/2) over course and distance on 26 June. 

The 2021 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes victor Ebro River was prominent throughout today’s feature race, thought it looked as though he might be strongly challenged from behind by more popular betting market horses.

The son of Tally Ho Stud’s Galileo Gold, who Hugo Palmer trained to win the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2016, found plenty on the stand side rail as the Ger Lyons-handled son of Dark Angel, Dr Zempf (5/2), fourth in the Group 2 Railway Stakes, made his challenge. 

Ebro River won by three-quarters of a length from Dr Zempf, with the race favourite Go Bears Go (6/4) a further head back in third, ahead of Castle Star, another length behind in fourth place.

Aidan O’Brien, the race’s most successful conditioner, having saddled the winner 16 times since 1998, arguably played a weakened hand in this year’s renewal with top juveniles Glounthaune, Contarelli Chapel and Tenebrism all suffering recent setbacks.

The Ballydoyle trainer was represented by Prettiest, a daughter of Darley’s Dubawi out of a Coolmore mare, Alice Springs, and The Entertainer by Coolmore’s Caravaggio, winner of the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes in 2016 for O’Brien, out of Cape Joy. Neither was at the business end of the race, with both disappointingly finishing second last and last respectively. 

With less than two lengths separating the first four colts home in the 2021 edition of the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes, it remains to be seen how solid this form will be. 

Photo: Ebro River, (The Curragh Racecourse @curraghrace)

Contributing Authors

Breandán Ó hUallacháin

Breandán Ó hUallacháin writes about Irish, British, French and Australian horseracing, both National Hunt and Flat. He has an interest in the history of racing...

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