Ebor Festival: In-form Oisin Murphy braced for Juddmonte - '˜the best race in Europe'

FOR a rider still so young, Oisin Murphy's big race reputation is already enviable.

Roariong Lion and Oisin Murphy (maroon colours) outbattle Saxon Warrior in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.

Just 22, he has won no fewer than six Group One races around the world in the past year. None, however, are as big – or important – as today’s £1m Juddmonte International at York.

The day-one highlight of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, it has attracted the best field since Frankel galloped to super-stardom six years ago.

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And, in Roaring Lion, the confident Murphy believes he has a worthy contender for, without doubt, the middle distance race of the year as older horses, like the gritty Poet’s Word, concede weight to the three-year-old Classic generation.

With the eight runners, winners of £15m to date, so closely matched on form and ratings, the concession of seven pounds by Poet’s Word – the mount of in-form James Doyle – and the older brigade to younger horses like Roaring Lion, Royal Ascot hero Without Parole and 2000 Guineas victor Saxon Warrior could be crucial.

“The best middle distance race of the year,” Murphy told The Yorkshire Post ahead of York’s four-day festival. “Over the past 10 years it’s been the best race in Europe on ratings and this is, without doubt, one of the best renewals.

“The King George, Eclipse, Juddmonte, Irish Champion Stakes and Champion Stakes – races open to horses of all ages – are the ones you want to win. It will take a worthy champion to win at York.”

Oisin Murphy.

Murphy’s encyclopedic knowledge of the form book, and knowledge that the Juddmonte was always Roaring Lion’s top target following his third-place finish to Masar in the Epsom Derby, means he is ideally placed to assess the quality of the opponents that stand between him and the biggest win of his burgeoning career.

He starts with Frankie Dettori’s mount Without Parole who, like Roaring Lion, is trained by John Gosden.

“I beat him in the Sussex Stakes on Lightning Spear – everything fell right for me – but he won the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot like a horse who will relish the step up to 10 furlongs,” said Murphy.

“Benbatl won very well in Germany last time out – I was on him that day – and when he won in Dubai. He’s a top, top horse and I think he’s gone under the radar a little bit. You have to respect him.

“As well as Benbatl, Saeed bin Suroor has Thunder Snow. He’s a Dubai World Cup winner, he’s fit and well. I sat on him the other day and he looks ready to run a very big race.

“Saxon Warrior won the 2000 Guineas for Aidan O’Brien – I had a great battle with him in the Eclipse – while Aidan’s son Joseph won the Irish Derby with Latrobe, who won’t be making up the numbers.

“Poet’s Word ran cracking races to win the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and then the King George. On this form he deserves to be favourite, but I might have a horse that has a better chance.”

Narrowly beaten by the aforementioned Saxon Warrior in last year’s Racing Post Trophy when O’Brien senior set the world record for Group One wins in a season, Roaring Lion had a slow start to the season before streaking clear to win York’s Dante Stakes in May.

Third in the following month’s Derby after just failing to see out the mile-and-a-half trip. Murphy’s horse dug deep to beat Saxon Warrior in the Coral-Eclipse – the jockey’s first Group One success for his retained owner Sheikh Fahad and Qatar Racing who sponsor the Qipco British Champions Series.

“Roaring Lion is in a very good place and John (Gosden) is delighted with his work,” said the jockey. “He worked very well the other morning under Rab Havlin.

“When I got off him after the Derby I didn’t mention the Eclipse. I mentioned the Juddmonte. It’s been a target for a while.

“Physically he’s a very imposing horse. He didn’t change shape much from two to three. He was always a big, strong two-year-old and he’s a very big, strong three-year-old.

“He was a bit of a playboy at home, but he’s a lot more mature and you’re seeing this as the season progresses.”

At the outset of one of the most significant weeks of the year, Murphy believes the Richard Hannon-trained Watan – his mount in the Acomb Stakes – is a worthy contender who can step up in grade.

The jockey sits out the Great Voltigeur Stakes, today’s chief supporting race, in which the Aidan O’Brien-trained Kew Gardens puts his St Leger credentials on the line against horses like Great Habton trainer Tim Easterby’s Wells Farhh Go, coincidentally the winner of last year’s Acomb, who will be carrying White Rose hopes.

Murphy also knows that Horseplay, his mount in tomorrow’s Yorkshire Oaks, will face a stiff task after Karl Burke’s multiple Group One heroine Laurens and the William Haggas-trained Sea Of Class, the Irish Oaks victor, were both declared for one of the most eagerly-anticipated clashes of the week.

Yet it is today’s Juddmonte that sets the tone for the whole meeting. “I like York and I like Doncaster,” said Murphy. “They are my two favourite tracks. They are left-handed and fair.

“With Roaring Lion it helps that there are no undulations. You can get into a rhythm. It suits my horse and it’s a lovely place to win. There are not normally any excuses – let’s hope it stays that way.

“The winner is going to be a champion, an outstanding horse, and for me it would probably represent a career high. It’s that good a race – I may not get to ride again in such a good Juddmonte with so much strength in depth.”

Jockey George Chaloner back on track: Page 11