Not only is the feature £850,000 Juddmonte International set to reaffirm its status as the best Flat race in the world on official ratings, but top American trainer Wesley Ward is set to target next week’s meeting.
His precocious two-year-old filly Acapulco, a runaway winner at Royal Ascot this year, is hot favourite for Friday’s Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes when she will only have to carry eight stone in this Group One sprint.
Her stablemate Finnegan is also on track for the Group Two Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes on Saturday.
Derby is proud at how the festival has flourished since Royal Ascot – and the decision five years ago to add a fourth day and switch the Betfred Ebor, Europe’s most valuable Flat handicap, to a Saturday.
More than 80,000 racegoers are expected to attend Knavesmire next week and enjoy state-of-the-art facilities following the completion of a £10m redevelopment of the North End. Wednesday’s opening day will also see the unveiling of a statue of Frankel, the 2012 Juddmonte winner, and the official opening of gates in honour of the wonder horse’s late trainer Sir Henry Cecil.
Up to 1,800 staff each day will be tasked with creating the best spectator experience in racing and nothing is left to chance – an expert will be at hand to repair the lifts if there is a hitch. “We hope he is able to spend the day doing nothing more onerous than drinking Yorkshire Tea,” said Derby.
Yet, while the meeting is a showcase for Yorkshire hospitality and fashion, the horses are the star attraction and Derby is particularly pleased that this year’s Juddmonte line-up, headed up Epsom Derby hero Golden Horn and dual Guineas winner Gleneagles, will uphold the reputation of a race which continues to grow in stature following the wins of Sea The Stars in 2009 and the aforementioned Frankel three years later.
He is particularly pleased that the Australian champion Criterion is set to run in the Juddmonte and will look to replicate the last-gasp success of the Antipodean sprinter Ortensia who came from last to first in the 2012 Nunthorpe under a nerveless William Buick.
“Hopefully the global reputation of the track has helped to bring the world’s best horses here,” added Derby. “We work hard on that and we had discussions with the various connections when they were here for Royal Ascot earlier in the summer.
“For our flagship race to be the best in the world is huge. This is not a judgment but based on numerical form ratings which place the Juddmonte above races like the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Breeders’ Cup, Japan Cup and Melbourne Cup. For Yorkshire to have the highest-rated race in the world, it is a great tribute to everyone involved with Yorkshire racing.”