THE only people not taken aback by Declaration Of War humbling the more fancied Al Kazeem and Toronado in the Juddmonte International – York’s richest-ever race – were Aidan and Joseph O’Brien, the winning trainer and jockey.
“I’m not sure if it was as much of a surprise to us as it was to a lot of people,” said O’Brien junior who told the Yorkshire Post that he had learned from his errors in the Coral-Eclipse after being caught out by Al Kazeem’s winning burst.
“In the Eclipse it was all my own fault. I was out-thought. I was only getting involved in the last 100 yards and it was all over. A mile-and-a-quarter on hard ground suits him lovely. I watched the replay over and over again, and when Al Kazeem hit the front here, I made sure I had the move covered. I wasn’t making that mistake again.”
Next month’s Irish Champion Stakes – and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in USA – are likely targets for the Ballydoyle four-year-old who had won the Queen Anne Stakes, Royal Ascot’s opening race, in June.
In winning the Queen Anne and International, the centrepiece of a £1.1m raceday to mark the first day of the 2013 Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, Declaration Of War followed the legendary Frankel who pulled off the double 12 months ago – top class form. The blips were his defeats in the meantime to Al Kazeem and Toronado, two of yesterday’s vanquished.
A slightly perplexing result at first glance, this was a victory for the older generation – but not the James Doyle-ridden Al Kazeem who paid the price for the good to firm ground and finished third. Like the mighty Brigadier Gerard in 1972, the International was a race too far after his successes in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Eclipse where he had two lengths in hand over the O’Brien stalwart. “James never felt happy at any stage,” said Al Kazeem’s trainer Roger Charlton.
The same with the race for second which went to the younger brigade in the form of Jim Bolger’s Irish Derby winner Trading Leather – top miler Toronado could not have been more disappointing, easing down to finish a remote last and was later seen coughing. Three weeks ago and it was so different – Toronado had three lengths in hand on Declaration Of War in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.
Trainer Richard Hannon’s son and assistant, Richard jnr, said: “He just didn’t run his race. It wouldn’t have made a difference if it was over six furlongs, seven or a mile.”
Trading Leather had made the early pace, with Al Kazeem handy throughout. Yet, as Al Kazeem hit the front in the home straight, the aforementioned Doyle became more aninmated – Toronado had already been eased down at this point – and Declaration Of War pounced to give O’Brien senior a third win in the race. A year ago, O’Brien stood to the side of the hallowed York winner’s enclosure as he paid tribute to Frankel – and his much missed trainer Sir Henry Cecil – who he described as the “greatest ever”.
O’Brien’s accumulation of Group One races is more than comparable to the great Cecil’s – the issue now is whether the form of this year’s Juddmonte will pass the test of time. He certainly thinks so.
“He has such an unbelievable constitution, this horse, we’ve never had one like him,” said O’Brien.
“Every day at home he’s getting better and better, which is amazing. He looks like a horse getting ready to have his first run.”
There was then a tender moment as O’Brien waited to collect his trophy. He tapped his son Joseph on the shoulder and whispered “well done”. As he did so, the 20-year-old looked his father in the eyes and said: “Cheers.”
While being first jockey to Ballydoyle, is, perhaps, the best job in Flat racing, it is also the toughest because the standards are so demanding and have proved too great for many. There is no favouritism, not even for the trainer’s son. But those two words of praise meant Joseph O’Brien flew back to Ireland on a high. He deserved to. He had just atoned for his Eclipse defeat.