A lot has been said about Little Big Bear, with trainer Aidan O’Brien always having it in the back of his mind that the juvenile could be “a bit special.” And, you could say he was waiting for the moment his confidence was confirmed on the course. Well, his dominant victory in Curragh at the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes did exactly that.
O’Brien has been successful now on seventeen occasions in Group One, but you’re not going to find many of his charges which have done so impressively as Little Big Bear, who defeated a strong field with seven lengths to spare.
The son of No Nay Never was under the control of jockey Ryan Moore, who was at the front of the pack and dictating from the get-go. And Moore found there was still plenty left in the tank as Little Big Bear motored away in the final furlong, with Persian Force coming in second and Shartash third.
Coventry Stakes winner Bradsell, which entered the race undefeated, was expected to go well and pose a threat to Little Big Bear. However, the horse, trained by Archie Watson, had to settle for fourth after an early stumble getting out of the stalls. Whether Bradsell could have mounted a serious challenge is unknown, but the day undoubtedly belonged to Little Big Bear, O'Brien, Moore and all connections.
You could say that O’Brien’s charge’s fourth win was made more impressive as there was a chance that he could have been pulled out of the race. Speaking about the incident, O’Brien said, “We had a little bit of a scare with him before the race. After coming up here, he kicked a wall, and the clip of the shoe went into his hind foot, so he was a bit tender when we put the shoe back on him.
“It was one of those things, and it could easily have gone the other way, so my thanks to everyone for letting it happen. For humans, it might be the equivalent of pulling off a fingernail, so we are very appreciative.”
Little Big Bear’s success in the Keenland Phoenix Stakes, which was a career-best display, saw him rise to the top of the betting and be installed as the 5/1 favourite for the 2023 English 2,000 Guineas. And with that in mind, O’Brien already has a plan of what will come next.
“It was a very deep race, but the closer the race got, the more worried we were after what happened to him, but he has serious class. I can’t recall any winner we have had of this race-winning like that,” O’Brien said.
“From day one, we thought he was very special. He has serious power. He would have no trouble staying seven furlongs, even though he has so much speed and travels so strong. He could go to the Prix Morny. He could go to the Middle Park. He could even go for the Nunthorpe,” he added.