Little Big Bear wins 2022 European champion juvenile crown

Ante-post favourite for the 2000 Guineas, Little Big Bear, has been crowned Europe's champion juvenile for 2022.

Narrowly beaten on his racecourse debut at the Curragh, the son of No Nay Never went on to win each of his four subsequent starts, including the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot.

But it was his scintillating display on what proved to be his final juvenile appearance in the Group One Phoenix Stakes that saw him top the charts with a rating of 124.

Little Big Bear, who missed a planned step up to seven furlongs in the National Stakes, is trainer Aidan O'Brien's 12th European Champion Juvenile.

O'Brien said: "We always thought from day one he was very good and we were very surprised the first day that he got beat, but with two-year-olds that can happen.

"Every run after that we did what we thought he would do. We always thought he was a very smart horse.

"We were looking forward to the National Stakes. He always showed plenty of speed, but when he stepped up to six furlongs he did really improve and I remember Ryan saying he'd get seven on his ear after the Phoenix Stakes.

"He's by No Nay Never who is a big influence on speed, but there's a good chance that a mile could be within his compass this year. We're looking forward to seeing what he can do.

"That (2000 Guineas) is what we're thinking at the moment."

Reflecting on Little Big Bear, Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board handicapper Mark Bird said: "His dominant performances in taking the Group Three Anglesey Stakes and the Group One Phoenix Stakes propelled him clear of his rivals in the race to be Europe's top two-year-old from an early stage of the season and whetted the appetite for what promises to be an exciting three-year-old career."

Not for the first time O'Brien made a significant impact on the upper echelons of the rankings, with Little Big Bear 5lb clear of stablemate Blackbeard (119), who in turn finds himself 1lb ahead of another potential Ballydoyle star in the impressive Vertem Futurity Stakes winner Auguste Rodin - clear favourite for the Derby at Epsom.

O'Brien said: "We think Auguste Rodin is a very good horse. We were nearly not running him in the Vertem Futurity as he's a lovely, big, slick horse and we were worried about the ground.

"He's a very good mover with a good mind, we always thought he'd be a better horse at three and we think he'll get middle distances, so the plan with him is he'll probably start in the Guineas and see where we go from there."

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Victoria Road also features in the top 10 with a mark of 115, while O'Brien feels there is more to come from 114-rated Juvenile Fillies' Turf heroine Meditate.

"With Meditate, the twice she got beat it was probably our fault," he added.

"When she got beaten in the Moyglare, she's a filly that has plenty of speed and we made the running with her over seven furlongs in soft to heavy ground, so that didn't make a lot of sense when you look back.

"Then we might have panicked a little bit and ran her back in the Cheveley Park a bit too quick. She ran very well, but was probably a little bit flat.

"We were very happy going to America that she'd had a bit of time to freshen up and we knew the way we wanted to ride her this time. We always thought she was a very high-class, high-quality filly.

"It was only when we stepped Victoria Road up in trip that we started to get the best out of him.

"He could be a French Classic-type horse - French Guineas/French Derby-type horse."

As far as the fillies were concerned, it was Meditate's Moyglare Stud Stakes conqueror Tahiyra, with a mark of 118, who provided another major milestone in the career of the legendary Dermot Weld, ending the season as the trainer's first ever European Champion Two-Year-Old Filly.

Bird said of Tahiyra: "She set off impressively in the illustrious hoofprints of her half-sister and Breeders' Cup heroine Tarnawa, when winning at Group One level on just her second start.

"Providing Dermot Weld with his inaugural European Juvenile Champion filly, she is owner H.H. Aga Khan's first juvenile female champion since Zarkava in 2007."

O'Brien also gave mention to Justify filly Statuette, who was two from two last season but has not been seen in competitive action since landing a Group Two at the Curragh in June.

He said: "She's a massive filly and I was surprised she came as quick as she did. We tried to back away from her and when we did she started to grow more.

"We're very happy with her and we'll take our time with her. We'll train her for the Classics and see where we go, but we won't force her.

"If it comes too quick for her we can go to Ascot, but I'm very happy with how she's done physically.

"She's going to be a filly to look forward to."

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