Little Big Bear has been crowned Europe’s Champion Juvenile for 2022, achieving a rating of 124 for his impressive demolition of the field in the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh last August.
The colt becomes the 12th European Champion Juvenile to be trained by the great Ballydoyle handler Aidan O’Brien, and also the first son of No Nay Never to achieve the distinction.
Reflecting on Little Big Bear, IHRB handicapper Mark Bird said: “His dominant performances in taking the Group 3 Jebel Ali Racecourse and Stables Anglesey Stakes and the Group 1 Keeneland 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 5lbs clear of stablemate Blackbeard (119), who in turn finds himself 1lb ahead of another potential Ballydoyle star in the impressive Group 1 Vertem Futurity Stakes winner Auguste Rodin. Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Victoria Road also features in the top ten with a mark of 115.
Sharing runner-up honours with the now-retired Blackbeard is Chaldean, the winner of the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October and the highest-rated British-trained juvenile of the last year.
Trained by Andrew Balding, the son of Frankel won four of five starts in 2022, with the Group 2 Coral Champagne Stakes at Doncaster and the Group 3 Tattersalls Acomb Stakes also going his way prior to his season-concluding Group 1 success.
Graeme Smith, BHA Handicapping Team Leader (2yos; 3yo+ 5f-7f), said of Chaldean: “He improved with each of his five starts at two and proved really straightforward in doing so. Any suggestion that he’d been the beneficiary of tactical advantages in the Acomb and Champagne Stakes were firmly dismissed as he again made most in the Dewhurst, where he held on slightly more readily than the head margin suggests.”
While the Irish were dominant at the top of the classification, with four of the six highest-rated juveniles, it was a second successive deep year numerically for the British, with 25 horses amongst the 43 European two-year-olds rated 110+ following an average of around 20 in the five years prior to that.
As far as the fillies were concerned, it was 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 following her impressive romp in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh in September.
Mark Bird said of Tahiyra: “She set off impressively in the illustrious hoofprints of her half-sister and Breeder’s Cup heroine Tarnawa, when winning at Group 1 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.”
Looking to the future
Each year when unveiling their final Classifications of the previous season’s juveniles, the handicappers attempt to identify some lesser-known horses that could make a splash in 2023. Indeed last year, the future Dante and Derby winner Desert Crown and St Leger winner Eldar Eldarov were both highlighted on the back of their racecourse debuts. Who might make their mark in 2023?
Coppice (Kingman – Helleborine) John & Thady Gosden
Of all the two-year-olds that raced only once in Britain in 2022, Coppice achieved the highest figure. What’s more, she looked anything but all out in beating next-time winner Whispering Dream by a length and three quarters over seven furlongs at Kempton in October, with the 81-rated Hey Lyla a further four and a half lengths back in third. The time is strong considering how inefficiently the race was run. Coppice is a sister to the brilliant 2018 Coventry Stakes winner Calyx, from a blue-blooded family. She’s already proven at seven furlongs and looks an exciting prospect for 2023, with a 1000 Guineas trial surely on the agenda.
Imperial Emperor (Dubawi – Zhukova) Charlie Appleby
Imperial Emperor beat only five rivals when making a successful debut at Newmarket in early October but he created a big impression. The time was reasonable considering how inefficiently they ran, and he was only really getting going towards the end of the eighth and final furlong and was eventually eased down to beat the 81-rated Attaj by three and a half lengths. That performance alone looks to be worth a figure in the 90s and longer trips look sure to bring significantly more still. Both his sire and dam won at Group 1 level, his dam also being a sister to Ghaiyyath (also by Dubawi), and he looks a very exciting prospect with the Derby trials in mind.
Beginnings (Lord Kanaloa – Winter) Aidan O’Brien
Beginnings comfortably landed a modest seven furlong Dundalk maiden in November, in the process emulating her dam, who ended her two-year-old season rated just 89 but who then went on to success in four Group 1 races at three. Already ahead of her dam at this point in her career, she rates an exciting prospect for next season if she can show improvement along similar lines at three. Beautifully-bred, she appears to have significant scope to improve physically and her uncomplicated style of racing and push-button acceleration means she has all the tools at her disposal to take high order among the fillies in 2023.
Sandy Creek (Frankel – Bonanza Creek) Joseph O’Brien
Sandy Creek showed sufficient promise on her racecourse debut at the Curragh in June to suggest that she has a bright future over staying trips as a three-year-old. A daughter of Frankel, she was doing her best work late when beating all but one of her 18 rivals over seven furlongs on Irish Derby weekend. Out of a half-sister to Prix De Diane winner Bright Sky, who was bought out of the Wildenstein dispersal in 2016, she is herself a half-sister to Group 3 winner Stone Age.
Notes to editors:
1. The complete European Two-Year-Old Classifications for 2022 can be found here.