Phoenix Of Spain upstaged his old rivals Too Darn Hot and Phoenix Of Spain to take the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas in emphatic fashion at the Curragh.
The Charlie Hills-trained colt had finished second to each of the market principals on his last two starts of 2018, and went to the Classic without a previous run this season, having missed the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket after scoping dirty.
However, he showed he was ready to run for his life in a race that had been hyped as a clash between the big two.
Jamie Spencer had Phoenix Of Spain (16-1) smartly away and soon in a good position. Skardu and Emaraaty Ana were also to the fore, with Aidan O’Brien’s Newmarket victor Magna Grecia and Mohawk close up.
Too Darn Hot and Frankie Dettori loomed ominously large in the centre of the course just under three furlongs out, with Magna Grecia weakening out of contention not long afterwards.
Too Darn Hot put in a strong challenge, but Phoenix Of Spain was up to the task and kept on strongly to win by three lengths.
Half a length away was Decrypt, who snatched third place from Skardu.
Hills said: “It was very impressive. We were slightly concerned with the draw in one and were really conscious to get a good start. We just didn’t want to get stuck on the rail in behind a few.
“Luckily he jumped good. The plan wasn’t really to make the running, but Jamie gave him an absolute peach and he’s some horse.
“To sustain that gallop all the way through and he just keeps lengthening. He’s a big horse and whatever he did last year was a bonus. He’s got a hell of a future ahead of him.
“We had a setback in January which put us back three or four weeks and it’s always hard chasing a horse to get ready for an English Guineas.
“We did get him there, but unfortunately we had a dirty scope prior to the race so we couldn’t run.
“We had given him a racecourse gallop at Newmarket on Craven week and the week after that he scoped dirty – who knows, it might have been a blessing in disguise.
“He had some fantastic form last year when he was beaten by Too Darn Hot and Magna Grecia.
“At Doncaster (Vertem Futurity Trophy) things didn’t work out for us. Unfortunately we just got too far back and if we had ridden him a little bit more like today I think he would nearly have won that race.”
He added: “I had my first Classic winner here with Just The Judge (Irish 1,000 Guineas) back in 2013. That was a tremendous thrill and this is very special as well.
“It’s so great for the owners, Ann (Plummer) and Tony (Wechsler), who have put so much into the sport over recent years and deserve every success they get.
“We’ll obviously enjoy today and then sit back down in a couple of days and prepare him for Ascot and the St James’s Palace.
“After that we’re really looking forward to stepping him up to a mile and a quarter. He has an Eclipse entry as well.”
John Gosden was delighted with Too Darn Hot’s performance so soon after his seasonal debut at York – a run that had come following a delayed start to the season that meant he missed the Greenham and the Guineas at Newmarket.
The Newmarket trainer said: “He ran a good race and I’m very happy with him.
“It was a big ask coming back nine days after the Dante, but he ran a solid race.
“The St James’s Palace is the target for him now.”
Skardu could also go to Royal Ascot after backing up his fourth at Newmarket with a creditable fourth place, one ahead spot ahead of Magna Grecia.
His trainer William Haggas felt a stronger pace would have suited his colt better.
“I’m not making any excuses, but he could have done with a better gallop early. He was just a bit too handy and I think he’s better coming off a fast pace,” said Haggas.
“He just ran out of gas at the end, but I thought the winner was impressive. He did nothing wrong and galloped strongly to the line.”
When asked if he would go to Ascot, he said: “I would hope so. He’s got a bit of improving to do.
“I thought he’d improve from his 2000 Guineas run, although I suppose he did beat Magna Grecia if you look at it literally.”