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Force can turn the Air Blue

RISING FORCE: Air Force Blue can give Aidan O’Brien a 15th victory in the Group One Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh tomorrow 
Neville Ring

Aidan O’Brien has a quite remarkable record in the Group One Phoenix Stakes, traditionally the juvenile sprint championship at Phoenix Park.

Moved to Leopardstown in 1991, it found another new home when relocated to the Curragh in 2002. O’Brien won it that year for the fifth consecutive season when 16/1 chance Spartacus (Colm O’Donoghue) sprang a surprise as stablemate Hold That Tiger, the 11/10 favourite, managing only ninth place. 

Since then Ballydoyle juveniles have taken the race another nine times to make it a total of  14 wins.

Air Force Blue can give him another success tomorrow. He was beaten fair and square by Mark Johnston’s Buratino last time but there looks more to come from the War Front colt who was having only his second outing, while the winner had plenty of experience coming into the race, making his sixth start.

The fact he is the first choice from a strong Ballydoyle trio suggests how highly-regarded he is.

Painted Cliffs was impressive when winning the Railway, defeating Rockaway Valley in great style.

He beat that rival a lot more convincingly than Air Force Blue had on his debut here but it was at different stages of their development and Painted Cliffs had been well behind Air Force Blue when both made their debuts.

He has progressed significantly since, but again it looks telling that Joseph sides with Air Force Blue.

The third of the Ballydoyle runners is the speedy Washington DC, who won the Windsor Castle at Ascot and tackles six furlongs for the first time. He shows a lot of pace over five so the stiff six here is a bit of a concern.

Perhaps the most salient factor pertinent to Air Force Blue’s chance this weekend is that undeniable fact that the stable, and in particular its juveniles, are in peak form.

Ballydoyle have nothing in the sprint department with their older horses and field nothing against Eddie Lynam’s three-year-old sprint filly Anthem Alexander in the Group Three Phoenix Sprint Stakes.

She ran a cracker at Ascot when third in the Commonwealth Cup and again wasn’t beaten far behind this year’s leading sprinter Muhaarar when sixth in the July Cup last month. She had run out an impressive winner at this level at Naas in early June when she had Toscanini behind.

Toscanini wears cheekpieces for the first time here after a battling victory in a conditions race at Naas last month.

That form was boosted subsequently and he looks sure to play a leading part.

Maarek is a class performer on his day but wants a good dig in the ground and isn’t sure to get that here, while English raider Mattmu deserves respect but may be facing a stronger level of competition now.

He was a good second in a Group Three at Newcastle on his last outing towards the end of June.

Fort Del Oro took her maiden in good style here in June but this looks a significant step up in class now.

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