Reigning champion male sprinter Work All Week and sophomore upstart Runhappy bookend a field of 12 for Friday’s $250,000 Phoenix (G3), co-feature on opening day of Keeneland’s fall meet and a major prep for the TwinSpires.com Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) over the same course and six-furlong distance on October 31.
The Phoenix, which dates to 1831, is the oldest stakes run in North America, and Work All Week will be trying to win it for the second consecutive year. The six-year-old Illinois-bred held on to win the 2014 Phoenix by a length as the 2-1 favorite, and then upset the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at odds of 19-1 four weeks later at Santa Anita.
A perfect 10-for-10 on dirt following the Breeders’ Cup, Work All Week surprisingly dropped his first two starts of the year, both times as the odds-on choice. Two lengths second to Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) winner Alsvid in the Aristides (G3) at Churchill Downs in May, Work All Week was then 4 1/4 lengths second to Favorite Tale in the Smile Sprint (G2) at Gulfstream. Work All Week rebounded on August 1 with an eight-length romp over modest competition in the $100,000 Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial at Mountaineer.
Work All Week and hot jockey Florent Geroux will have to overcome post 12 to successfully defend their Phoenix title, and a sharp break will be necessary to avoid getting caught wide down the backside.
Runhappy, a romping winner in four of five starts including the King’s Bishop (G1) at Saratoga, drew post 1 in the Phoenix. Breaking widest of all from post 11 in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop, Runhappy nonetheless made a short early lead and extended it to four lengths through the stretch to capture his stakes debut. A son of Super Saver, Runhappy comfortably defeated older horses in allowances at Indiana Grand Ellis Park in his previous two starts.
Work All Week possess the top-ranked BRIS Prime Power (154.3) ranking and Runhappy the highest last-race BRIS Speed rating (111) in the Phoenix field, the significance of which was highlighted by Ed DeRosa here.
Holy Boss, third by six lengths as the favorite in the King’s Bishop, saw a four-race win streak snapped there, but shortening up a furlong might help the Steve Asmussen charge, who registered wins in the Amsterdam (G2), $100,000 Chick Lang at Pimlico, and $100,000 Bachelor at Oaklawn during that run.
Also looking to bounce back from a recent loss at Saratoga is A. P. Indian, a disappointing sixth in the restricted $100,000 Tale of the Cat last time. The lightly-raced five-year-old had finished first or second in all nine of his previous starts, and registered stakes wins at Monmouth and Parx during the spring.
Making an unexpected move from the turf to dirt is Sharp Sensation, recently placed in grass sprints at Saratoga and Parx. Perhaps still a candidate for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) later in the month, the five-year-old is not without solid dirt form having taken the $60,000 Bet On Sunshine at Churchill last November in his only try on the surface.
Other notables in the field are 2014 King’s Bishop runner-up Fast Anna, Grade 3-winning sophomore Barbados, and $100,000 Hot Springs hero Gentlemen’s Bet, who is looking to bounce back to his best form after three sub-par outings.
(Work All Week photo: Keeneland/Coady Photography)