Middle Park and Del Mar in Ebro River’s sights

The Middle Park Stakes and a trip to the Breeders’ Cup are among the missions under consideration for Ebro River following his creditable effort in Ireland last weekend.

Having claimed top-level honours in the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh last month, Hugo Palmer’s charge returned to the Kildare circuit to bid for a Group One double in what looked a strong renewal of the National Stakes.

The Al Shaqab Racing-owned juvenile ultimately had to make do with minor honours behind the Charlie Appleby-trained Native Trail and Aidan O’Brien’s previously unbeaten colt Point Lonsdale, but was far from disgraced.

“He ran a tremendous race really,” said Palmer.

“Ryan Moore (on Point Lonsdale) never left James (Doyle, on Ebro River) alone, not even for a second, and I think that probably paid for both Point Lonsdale and Ebro River at the end of the race.

“The winner was very good, but the second and third softened each other up from a very long way out.”

Ebro River, who is a son of Palmer’s 2000 Guineas hero Galileo Gold, was running over seven furlongs for the first time in the National Stakes – and his trainer admits he could eventually prove to be a more potent force back over shorter distances.

He added: “It’s very difficult to say whether he stayed, because I don’t think you’d find any arguments against the statement that the National Stakes was the best two-year-old race run so far this year.

“Point Lonsdale was the top-rated two-year-old going into the race; Ebro River was a Group One winner, and Native Trail was unbeaten and remains unbeaten.

“I think it’s fair to say Ebro River is not as good over seven furlongs as he is over six, and we’re certainly not looking to step him up to a mile next year – we don’t see him as a Guineas horse.

“There is a well-documented and straightforward path to the Commonwealth Cup, which has been designed for horses like him.”

Hugo Palmer has more big races in mind for Ebro River
Hugo Palmer has more big races in mind for Ebro River (Mike Egerton/PA)

While Palmer has stamina doubts longer term, he views a potential appearance over a mile at the Breeders’ Cup as a likely objective, potentially preceded by a drop back to six furlongs in the Middle Park at Newmarket on Saturday week.

Palmer said: “It’s poured with rain all day in Newmarket today. He doesn’t need soft ground by any means, but what he doesn’t want is firm ground.

“The Middle Park is the most obvious option for him. The alternative is the Jean-Luc Lagardere (at ParisLongchamp), and we’re very keen on taking him to the Breeders’ Cup to run in the Juvenile Turf over a mile.

“I think a very sharp mile round Del Mar, round two turns, will suit a horse who is already Group One-placed over the stiffest seven furlongs in Europe.”

Middle Park likely to be next on Ebro River agenda

Ebro River looks set to sidestep the Prix Morny on Sunday week and head straight for the Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

Having performed well in defeat in the Coventry at Royal Ascot, the July Stakes at Newmarket and the Vintage at Goodwood, Hugo Palmer’s charge claimed big-race honours in last weekend’s Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh.

In the immediate aftermath Palmer raised the possibility of Ebro River making a relatively quick return to action at Deauville.

But with owners Al Shaqab Racing targeting Richard Hannon’s Molecomb Stakes winner Armor at the French Group One, Palmer’s Galileo Gold colt is likely to be saved for the Middle Park on September 25.

“He’s come back (from Ireland) great, you wouldn’t know he’d had a run to be honest,” said the Newmarket handler.

“I think Al Shaqab are very keen to run Armor in the Prix Morny. I think that’s been his plan since Goodwood.

Ebro River returns to the Curragh winner's enclosure
Ebro River returns to the Curragh winner’s enclosure (Niall Carson/PA)

“I’ve said that we’ll leave Ebro River in the Morny, in case for whatever reason Armor didn’t or couldn’t run.

“On the assumption Armor does go there, I would have thought the Middle Park will be Ebro River’s next target.

“He’s had seven races by August 8, so he’s allowed a little bit of time.”

Ebro River in full flow for Phoenix Stakes gold

Ebro River created a minor surprise as he got the best of a thrilling finish to the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh.

A Listed winner back in May, Ebro River had been out of luck in three subsequent Group-race outings – albeit never far away, most recently finishing a narrow fourth in the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood last week.

He looked up against it with the likes of Railway Stakes first and second Go Bears Go and Castle Star, plus the highly-regarded Dr Zempf, in opposition and was sent off at 12-1 for Group One honours.

Teaming up with Shane Foley for the first time, Ebro River was prominent throughout – but it looked as though those lining up in behind to challenge would swallow him up in the final of six furlongs.

However, Ebro River dug deep to fend off Dr Zempf by three-quarters of a length, with 6-4 favourite Go Bears Go a further head back in third and Castle Star a length away in fourth.

Ebro River is trained by Hugo Palmer, who saddled the colt’s sire, Galileo Gold, to win the 2000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes back in 2016.

The Newmarket handler said: “I’m absolutely delighted, really thrilled.

Shane Foley salutes the crowd aboard Ebro River
Shane Foley salutes the crowd aboard Ebro River (Niall Carson/PA)

“I just looked at the race and I felt up to now, all the two-year-old races had been kind of in a bit of a heap. I looked at the race and I saw that Go Bears Go was a worthy favourite, but he had been beaten at Royal Ascot by the horse that we beat at Goodwood (Perfect Power, fifth in the Richmond Stakes).

“I know we were getting 3lb from him, but that just pricked my interest a bit and we thought we’d beaten the horse that beat the favourite so we must have a chance – so then we did a rain dance!

“He obviously handles the ground very well, but he ran a very good race in the Coventry which was properly fast ground. He ran very well in the July Stakes which was not quite as fast but still fast, I think he’s pretty versatile.”

Ebro River had been ridden from behind in his previous races, but Palmer felt the decision to let him bowl along had proved crucial to the result.

He said: “I think the key thing we have done today – the ground I think is notable – is ride him differently. I’ve been telling James Doyle to hold him up, get him to settle, ride him to finish and I think – it’s taken me five times to work it out – but I think those were duff instructions really!

“I always thought he would (get further) but as he gets on, gets heavier and stronger, he looks a bit more like a sprinter. I just don’t know – he finished off best of all today. I’d happily take on that field over seven furlongs, but you go to seven furlongs and you’re taking on a slightly different type of animal.

“We’ll see – he’d either go the the Prix Morny or the Middle Park now I would think, and possibly both depending on how he comes out of it.”

Galileo Gold stands at Tally Ho Stud in County Westmeath and Ebro River was purchased for 75,000 guineas as a yearling in October.

Palmer added: “I’m pretty sure he (Ebro River) was his first winner and he was certainly his first stakes winner when he won the National and now he’s his first Group One winner – Roger O’Callaghan (of Tally Ho) won’t be able to accuse me of not doing my bit!”

Shane Foley poses with Ebro River
Shane Foley poses with Ebro River (PA)

For Foley, the win provided a joyous culmination to a trans-Atlantic weekend, having been in New York on Saturday night.

He said: “I had my head between my legs yesterday and it was a long haul home (after Cadillac was beaten in Saratoga). I got in at 8am this morning.

“I flew private with Ryan (Moore) to Boston and it’s thanks to the Magniers for letting me jump on that plane as I wouldn’t have got home otherwise.

“I’ve had three rides today and three winners, including a Group One winner, so that’s brilliant. Racing is full of highs and lows so you need to enjoy the good moments.

“Hugo fancied the horse. He’d a good run in the Coventry and he’s tough and genuine.

“I just said I wouldn’t mind changing tactics as they had been dropping him in. It looked like there wasn’t much pace today and with that tailwind it’s hard to get them back.”

Ebro River rockets into Royal Ascot reckoning

Hugo Palmer’s Ebro River entered the Royal Ascot equation with a striking victory in the Coral “Beaten By A Length” National Stakes at Sandown.

Out of Palmer’s 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold, he arrived having finished sixth to Forca Brasil on debut before running out a ready winner at Doncaster.

Sent off at 4-1, he blew the start and conceded plenty of ground – which over five furlongs usually means race over, but James Doyle soon had him back on an even keel.

The most impressive part of his performance came with a furlong to run when he hit the front and quickly shot clear.

He was so far in front that he was able to survive a marked drift to his left and still beat Little Earl by three and a quarter lengths.

Palmer said: “I was stuck on the motorway rather than on course, but managed to pull over and see the race. I’m obviously delighted.

“He’s looked very smart from the first day he came in. He’s obviously still a bit babyish and has a few crinkles to iron out – how we do that, I’m not sure.”

Betfair and Paddy Power introduced the winner into their Coventry Stakes betting at 14-1.

Considering options, Palmer said: “I’m not sure which race at Ascot yet, he wouldn’t be able to give away four lengths in the Norfolk like he did tonight.

“He’ll be fine on any ground and it isn’t a surprise he’s so precocious – Galileo Gold would have won at two in April if he had an owner, but I still had him.

“This horse will get a mile in time, but we’ll gradually step him up as the season progresses. He’s got some growing up to do.”

He added: “He got quite warm there and Ebro River might have been the only person who didn’t want to see at crowd at Sandown tonight!”

Doyle said: “He has plenty of talent. He is tricky, there is no getting away from that, but the guys have done a great job with him from day one and he has always shown us a lot of ability in his gallops. But he does have that trademark of running around a bit when he gets there.

“You would hope it is something he would grow out of with more experience. We just have to be mindful of it, I guess.

“I didn’t foresee them racing off the fence, so then I had no cover and it was a little bit messy, but he is super talented and has shown that on each occasion.

“As we know Ascot is quite wide open so you don’t want to be doing too much running around there. He doesn’t tend to jump that quick and I don’t think that will be a problem at Ascot.

“He is quick and travels very easily and almost over-races through the early part of the race. Obviously the Coventry is generally the race you want to win as it can make stallions. I think if we can get those creases ironed out in the early part of his race and get the timing a bit better, the six shouldn’t be a problem.”