Racing: Phoenix rises to be Newbury contender

That the five-year-old has not only raced 13 times worldwide but has won three Group 1 contests reflects very well indeed on his young trainer Andrew Balding, in only his third season with the licence at his historic Berkshire base. For Phoenix Reach's catalogue of physical vicissitudes would not shame Black's Veterinary Dictionary. And if he is not the best horse in the world, few would argue with his being the most resilient.

He raced just once at two, running Norse Dancer to a head in a Salisbury maiden, before fracturing his near-fore pastern, an injury that needed the insertion of a metal plate and three screws to save his life and rendered his chances of racing again no better than 50-50.

He recovered, but in the spring of his three-year-old career suffered an adverse reaction to the alien inserts, which delayed his reappearance until July. He was worth waiting for - wins in a maiden and the Group 3 Gordon Stakes and a third in the St Leger were followed by victory in the Canadian International - but at the start of last year came another bout of surgery, the insertion of more metal on to bone on the site of the old injury.

"That was three operations on his leg," said Balding. "Luckily, he is a star patient. But it meant another delay. He came back at Royal Ascot with a pretty good run, not much more than four lengths behind Rakti in the Prince of Wales's Stakes. But he was never really right all summer. And in last year's King George, he bled pretty badly."

Phoenix Reach rose again from that 10th of 11 to Doyen, and went globetrotting , extremely lucratively, during the autumn, winter and spring, winning the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin and the Dubai Sheema Classic at Nad El Sheba. But on his most recent run, second in the Singapore International Cup in May, St Bernadette deserted him again. Something, possibly a piece of grit from the Kranji track, damaged his left eye. "He developed an ulcer on the cornea," said Balding. "He needed a skin graft. He had a catheter inserted in his eye every two hours to administer drugs. It still looks a bit odd, and he has incomplete vision, but it doesn't seem to affect him."

Then just last week, Phoenix Reach developed colic for the first time in his life. "He went right off his grub and we didn't think he could be running at Newbury," said Balding. "But I should have known he's a pretty tough customer and he's fine now, fighting fit and raring to go. He worked on Monday and we are all happy with him."

The bionic one is around 12-1 for Saturday's £650,000 showpiece, for which the final line-up will be declared today. The trip is his optimum 12 furlongs and the fast ground will hold no fears. "He's a pretty good horse," said Balding, "at least, I'd like to think so. It's a shame he's not had a chance to show how good in England before now. As ever, the King George is a very tough race. But it would be foolish to underestimate Phoenix Reach's foreign form."

l Two jockeys will appear before the Jockey Club's disciplinary panel today with much at stake. Kevin Darley is to appeal against a 10-day ban, imposed for dropping his hands at Ayr, which rules him out of the King George and Goodwood meetings. Alan Munro faces a charge of violent or improper conduct, stemming from an incident at Newmarket in May, when he is alleged to have made an unprovoked attack on Richard Quinn. The penalty is a fine of up to £2,000, or suspension.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Past Tender (Bath 2.55)

NB: Edas (Folkestone 8.15)

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