ALREADY the best Flat race in the world on official ratings, there is every prospect of York’s £850,000 Juddmonte International enhancing its reputation still further after a stellar 42 horses were declared for this year’s Knavesmire renewal.
All eyes will be on Frankie Dettori’s mount Golden Horn who won the Betfred Dante Stakes at the iconic track en route to Epsom Derby glory earlier this month. His participation will depend on how the colt performs in next month’s Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, but connections have always maintained that 10 furlongs is the champion’s optimum trip.
If the John Gosden-trained Golden Horn does line up at York on August 19 and then wins the opening day highlight of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, he will become the first horse since Authorized in 2007 to win the Dante, Derby and International in the same season. And the jockey on that occasion? That man Dettori who is riding on the crest of the proverbial wave after resurrecting his career this year in spectacular style.
Yet victory in the Juddmonte, won by the incomparable Frankel in 2012 and with a rich history dating back to Roberto’s victory in the inaugural running in 1972, would be no formality for Golden Horn.
His potential rivals include Aidan O’Brien’s champion miler Gleneagles who recently added the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot to supreme victories in the English and Irish and 2000 Guineas and Andre Fabre’s French Derby winner New Bay.
These terrific three-year-olds will not have it their own way against Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle who will represent the older generation. This talented but lightly-raced four-year-old won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot last week when dashing the hopes of Yorkshire-trained The Grey Gatsby in a photo finish after Kevin Ryan’s charge enjoyed little luck in running.
If The Grey Gatsby, second in last season’s International to the O’Brien-trained Australia, is to become the first Yorkshire-trained winner of the richest ever race to be staged in the county, he will have to put up a career-best performance. The assignment, based on early entries, will be that tough.
And so it should for a race that is the top-ranked in the world according to the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. Other notable entries include 1000 Guineas heroine Legatissimo, another trained at Ballydoyle by O’Brien, and the Australian raider Criterion.
This global dimension to York, an increasing and welcome feature of the Ebor Festival’s added prestige, is reflected in the entries to the meeting’s two other Group One races. As such, the Darley Yorkshire Oaks on August 20 is the intended target for O’Brien’s Epsom Oaks winner Qualify, meaning all four Classic winners from 2015 hold York entries.
O’Brien could also be represented by defending champion Tapestry who is one of 17 fillies entered from the Emerald Isle in a potential field that includes four French-based challengers and an intriguing German representative in Lovelyn from the Peter Schiergen yard near Cologne.
Meanwhile, 53 sprinters are entered in the five-furlong Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes on August 21. They include two-time champion Sole Power, as well as 14 Yorkshire speedballs headed by David O’Meara’s G Force, Tim Easterby’s Mattmu and Kevin Ryan’s Astaire who was a creditable third in Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
However all eyes will be on runaway Royal Ascot winner Acapulco after Florida-based trainer Wesley Ward indicated that the two-year-old filly will chase the £310,000 prize fund and become his first ever York runner. The dazzling winner of the Queen Mary Stakes would have to carry 8st under weight-for-age allowances if she was declared to take on her elders – a tantalising advantage.
Ward plans to cover the bases by also nominating her for the Pinsent Masons Lowther Stakes, a Group Two contest specifically for juvenile fillies. He said: “She is definitely coming. I have cross-entered her in the Lowther Stakes but the race I want to point towards running her in is the Nunthorpe. That is where we are heading!”
Ward also revealed that he plans to bring the smart colt, Finnegan, to contest the Group Two Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes on August 22 – Ebor day – after the colt’s late withdrawal from the Coventry Stakes at the Royal meeting.
Ward feels the timeframe between Royal Ascot and the Ebor Festival couldn’t be better for his two challengers. He said: “I think that it will give me plenty of time to get them back on their feet and plenty of time to have them just absolutely perfect to go over and to perform at the top level.”
For Ward, it would mean his first runners at York and he said: “I have been dying to come the last few years… I am really looking forward to this.”
And so are the Yorkshire racing public.