The Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh tomorrow promises to be one of the hottest juvenile races of the season and Seamie Heffernan can hardly wait to be reunited with Aidan O'Brien's unbeaten colt Power.
O'Brien has a quite astonishing record in the six-furlong Group One having saddled 11 of the last 13 winners, with Ballydoyle stars such as Johannesburg, George Washington and Holy Roman Emperor all on the roll of honour.
Power has done everything right in his three starts to date, winning a maiden over this course and distance and striking in Listed company under Heffernan before taking the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot for Ryan Moore.
With the latter sidelined by injury, Heffernan is back in the plate this weekend and he is confident his mount is still progressing.
“I'm delighted to have the ride back on him. He's one of our smartest two-year-olds and he's a Group Two winner,” explained Heffernan.
“It seems like he has been improving the whole time, so hopefully that proves to be the case.
“He's a tough horse. He has a big heart and he responds when you really need him.
“The ground shouldn't be a problem as he's handled it well before,” he added.
“It looks a good race as you would expect and that is what racing is about.
“There are a lot of strong, mature two-year-olds in there and hopefully the luck is with us.
“The strong ones should be competing and shouldn't be afraid of each other, so we'll see what happens.
“This race is always a good trial and whatever wins it normally goes on and wins a second Group One and runs well in the Classics next year.”
Frederick Engels is a major contender for David Brown having won the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot before beating Roman Soldier — just behind Power in the Coventry — in Newmarket's July Stakes.
Brown said: “He's arrived in Ireland and travelled well. He's absolutely fine and we're happy with him.
“I think he's come on a bit since Newmarket and he deserves a crack at a race like this, so on we go.
“I think they are calling the ground good, which should be fine as it's similar to what we've been running on.
“You'd think we'd have a chance on the running with Roman Soldier at Newmarket and you'd think Power has us to beat, so we'll see.
“Johnny Murtagh always said he would ride him if we went for this race so hopefully he runs a big race. It would be fantastic to win a Group One.”
A strong British challenge also includes Mick Channon's Coventry fifth Gatepost and Railway Stakes winner Lilbourne Lad from the Richard Hannon yard.
Channon said: “My horse is in good form. He was a bit unfortunate at Ascot, but that's racing. We went the zigzag route there and it didn't quite work out for us.
“We were beaten two and a quarter lengths and you would hope we'd be competitive.
“He's a very nice horse and I think a lot of him, so we'll see.
“We're not frightened to take anything on. I think Frederick Engels could probably be the best two-year-old we've seen and this could be the two-year-old race of the year.”
Lilbourne Lad has won his last two races in Ireland and has seemingly taken connections by surprise. “He keeps on surprising us and seems to be getting better and better,” Hannon said.
“His Railway Stakes form looks solid and, while it is a hot race, he deserves to have a shot at the big boys.”
Although Power is clearly O'Brien's main hope, he has a couple of other interesting contenders in After and Reply.
The trainer's son Joseph rides the latter and said: “Power won the Coventry and he is going to be the one they all have to beat, but my horse won his maiden nicely and hopefully he can step up from that.”
Dream Ahead bids to cement his place as Europe's champion sprinter when he takes on a quality field in the Prix Maurice de Gheest-Goldikova at Deauville tomorrow.
It was on this track last August that Dream Ahead opened his Group One account with an emphatic victory in the Prix Morny on only his second start.
Although he was late in getting his three-year-old career back on track, it was well worth the wait as he displayed a blistering turn of foot to win in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket with Hayley Turner stepping in for the unavailable William Buick.
“He's in good order. He's trained very well from the July Cup until now,” explained trainer David Simcock.
“Everything has gone very smoothly and I'm really looking forward to running him,” he added.