Phoenix Reach back for King George

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The Independent Online

They intend a more exotic trip at the end of the season, but the chances are that the same horse will still be insisting on their attention. In fact, he will probably end up going with them.

Balding has already raced Phoenix Reach in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Japan, Canada and France, and his big target later this year is the Cox Plate in Australia. The horse will doubtless be perplexed to find himself expected to perform on a racecourse barely quarter of an hour from Kingsclere. "Perhaps we'll have to take him down to Greenham Common and get him flown around for a couple of hours before the race," Balding said yesterday.

Perversely, the horse's nomadic career may have compromised his standing at home. "Obviously he is extremely tough, but he is also very talented," Balding said. "There is a certain tendency to disregard the form of these international races. I suspect that some consider him a sub-standard group one horse, though Alexander Goldrun certainly hasn't done the Singapore form any harm. Anyhow Phoenix Reach has now won nearly £2m in prizemoney, so it is not really going to bother me what people might think."

Alexander Goldrun was nearly three lengths behind Phoenix Reach when he was just worn down close home in Singapore in May, and she has since won at the élite level back in Ireland. That performance confirmed Phoenix Reach to be equally effective at 10 furlongs, the distance of the Cox Plate, having previously recorded group one wins over 12 at Nad al Sheba, Sha Tin and Toronto. But then his hallmark is a ferocious dependability. Lesser horses, certainly, would have disintegrated where Phoenix Reach has thrived. "He split a pastern as a two-year-old, and needed a plate and three screws inserted into a fetlock," Balding recalled. "Then after he won the Candian International, X-rays revealed a stress fracture in the same fetlock, and he needed another operation. Last year he ran the only two poor races of his life, but it turned out that he bled internally in the King George,"

Balding felt suitably stricken when he returned from Singapore to learn that the horse was in the wars again - this time with a severe eye infection. Balding explained: "He developed an ulcer on the cornea and it did look as though he would lose the eye. Fortunately, the surgeons out there did a wonderful job, and he has pretty much regained basic vision. Typically it has not affected his work or demeanour at all."

It is a pity that Phoenix Reach was not himself in the race last year, as his young trainer has handled him with great adventure and assurance. Only one three-year-old contested the race last year, and once again the King George seems unlikely to match its heritage as the race to measure different generations.

Trainers are increasingly of the opinion that lucrative international opportunities late in the calendar nowadays demand that the classic generation takes a midsummer break - especially if they go and discover their limitations. While Eswarah, the Oaks winner, remains unlikely to be supplemented to the Irish version on Sunday, she does retain an obvious alternative in the fillies' Nassau Stakes at Goodwood.

King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Newbury, 23 July). Totesport betting: 2-1 Azamour, 100-30 Grey Swallow, 5-1 Bago, 7-1 Hurricane Run, 9-1 Phoenix Reach, 10-1 Gamut, Yeats, 14-1 Eswarah, 16-1 others.

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