December 4, 2022

Special Reserve faces seven in Phoenix title defense

Special Reserve holds off Aloha West in the Phoenix at Keeneland (Coady Photography)

Special Reserve will seek a second consecutive victory in the $350,000 Phoenix (G2) on Friday’s opening-day program at Keeneland. Trained by Mike Maker, the gelding followed last year’s win with a close fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Del Mar, and Special Reserve will be prepping for another shot at the championship race.

A total of eight contestants will seek a free berth to the Sprint in the “Win & You’re In” event, and the six-furlong Phoenix has added value this year with the Sprint being held at Keeneland on Nov. 5.

Special Reserve exits a 3 1/2-length, wire-to-wire win in the Sen. Robert Byrd Memorial S. at Mountaineer on Aug. 6, and the six-year-old gelding will show speed in this spot with new pilot Tyler Gaffalione.

Sibelius will compete for favoritism following a pair of sharp wins, receiving a 105 Brisnet Speed rating for a 3 3/4-length allowance tally at Saratoga and a 106 figure for a 7 1/4-length romp in the Lite the Fuse S. at Pimlico on Sept. 10. Jeremiah O’Dwyer trains the up-and-coming gelding, and Sibelius is seeking his first graded win. Junior Alvarado rides the four-year-old, and Sibelius does his best running on or close to the lead.

Necker Island has never been better for Chris Hartman, finishing first in a pair of back-to-back stakes before recording head third in the Louisville Thoroughbred Society S. at Churchill Downs on Sept. 17, and the five-year-old will be rallying from off the pace with Francisco Arrieta.

Stakes victors Sir Alfred James and Top Gunner are also worthy of at least minor consideration. Baytown Bear, Long Range Toddy, and Manny Wah round out the field.