A COMPELLING clash of the generations between triple Group One winner Al Kazeem and young pretender Toronado will be the day one highlight of today’s Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor festival which will be screened in 79 countries around the world.
The four-day meeting takes on even greater significance as the racecourse will host the start of the second stage of the 2014 Tour de France, and chief executive William Derby hopes media coverage will “project the city of York and great county of Yorkshire to the wider world”.
Though today’s attendance is unlikely to surpass the crowds who flocked to see the incomparable Frankel gallop into the history books 12 months ago, more than 90,000 racegoers are expected to pass through the turnstiles this week as horses compete for record prize money of £3.2m as York strives to attract the best thoroughbreds.
Today’s £750,000 Juddmonte International is York’s richest ever race and sees the five-year-old Al Kazeem look to become the first horse in history and add the Knavesmire feature to hard-fought victories in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and Sandown’s Coral-Eclipse.
It will not be easy – he will be conceding eight pounds in weight to Richard Hannon’s three-year-old Toronado, who confirmed his status as Britain’s best miler by finally beating his great rival Dawn Approach at Glorious Goodwood three weeks ago.
The diplomatic Derby says the outcome is too close to call; his nap of the week is in fact Frankie Dettori returning to the big time in Friday’s Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes aboard Shea Shea for globetrotting South African trainer Mike de Kock.
That said, Al Kazeem’s connections were quietly confident last night despite the York going looking to be on the quick side.
Trainer Roger Charlton says this horse is better than his 1990 Epsom Derby winner Quest For Fame and his proven form over today’s trip of 10 furlongs is a plus.
“I’ve been delighted with Al Kazeem. He looks great and his work has been great,” he said.
“This is a different challenge for him – he is taking on the best miler in Europe (Toronado) – on a new track at York.
“He is also bidding to become the first horse to win the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Eclipse and Juddmonte International in the same season; it’s not going to be easy but he owes us nothing.
“I would be happier if the ground was good, good to soft in places, but he has won on fast ground three times this season – he handles it but I feel he is a better horse on softer ground.”
Owner-breeder John Deer, who bred the son of Dubawi from his Oakgrove Stud in Chepstow, will be a notable absentee because of a holiday, but he expects in-form jockey James Doyle to wind up Al Kazeem in the final two furlongs as Toronado races into the unknown.
“Our fellow has solid form over a mile and a quarter, so hopefully James should be able to wind him up for the last couple of furlongs,” said Deer.
“Toronado will be going into unknown territory then, and hopefully we can come out on top. We were hoping for a bit of rain, but he does have form on good to firm.”
Doyle confident: Page 22.