JOCKEY James Doyle has ridden many tough racehorses in a career now being richly rewarded by big race successes.
He’s been associated with battle-hardened warriors like Al Kazeem and Noble Mission as well as classy champions like Kingman and Sea Of Class.
Yet, when he says Poet’s Word is the toughest horse he’s ridden, it’s a ringing endorsement ahead of tomorrow’s £1m Juddmonte International.
The opening day highlight of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, the feature race has attracted eight high quality entries who have accrued 12 Group One successes – and £15m in prize money – in their careers to date.
And, while each of the runners would do justice to the roll of honour of this 10-furlong race which has been previously won by some of racing’s all-time greats, Poet’s Word is the horse to beat in a race which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
Victorious in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot when providing veteran trainer Sir Michael Stoute with a record 76th winner at the showpiece, the horse then outbattled stablemate Crystal Ocean in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the Berkshire track.
No horse has won Ascot’s two prestigious races, and the Juddmonte, in the same season since Duke Of Marmalade completed the hat-trick 10 years ago for Aidan O’Brien whose strangely out of sorts yard will be represented by 2000 Guineas victor Saxon Warrior.
“He’s a worthy favourite coming off the back of successive Group One wins in tough races and, as you can imagine, I’m excited about riding him in the top race of the week,” said 30-year-old Doyle, who has also enjoyed big race success in recent years on the Yorkshire-trained Ribchester and Amazing Maria.
“He’s as tough a horse as I’ve ever ridden – he doesn’t shirk the issue.
“He really put his head and neck down in the King George and stretched all the way to the line. He was very brave.”
He’s a worthy favourite coming off the back of successive Group One wins in tough races and, as you can imagine, I’m excited about riding him in the top race of the week
Asked if that hard race may have left a mark, the jockey said: “It shouldn’t affect him.
“I don’t think he lost much weight, from what I’m hearing, and all the vibes from the stable are very positive.
“He’s a big, robust horse who is blossoming. He’s different class to ride – he relaxes well and is push-button. He does whatever you ask.”
Doyle also has no qualms about Poet’s Word dropping back in trip to 10 furlongs after winning the King George over a mile-and-a-half in one of the races of the year.
“He’s versatile and showed a good kick in the Prince of Wales’s,” added the rider, who remains retained by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation despite being inexplicably declared surplus to requirements by trainer Saeed bin Suroor whose Benbatl features in the Juddmonte field.
“He’s got plenty of other good form over a mile-and-a-quarter, too, such as when beaten a neck in the Irish Champion Stakes.”
Doyle is also due to partner Irish Oaks heroine Sea Of Class in Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks provided the Knavesmire is not hit by unforeseen rain.
The horse is trained by Skipton-born William Haggas, who said: “Sea Of Class is very well. She moved beautifully on Thursday morning in her final bit of work. I don’t really want to run her on soft ground. But if the ground is good or better then I look forward to it.”
There will be plenty of clues for next month’s St Leger – the final Classic of 2018 – after tomorrow’s Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes attracted a strong nine runner field.
Aidan O’Brien runs Kew Gardens, a Group One winner in France, for which he carries a penalty.
He has already won at Royal Ascot over the St Leger trip.
O’Brien’s four-strong team is completed by Nelson, The Pentagon and Zabriskie.
Great Habton trainer Tim Easterby’s Wells Farhh Go threw his hat into the Leger ring when winning the Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket last time. He was also successful in the Acomb Stakes at this meeting last season.
Charlie Appleby has two strong contenders in Old Persian, who will be ridden by the aforementioned James Doyle, and Cross Counter, the mount of William Buick.
Defending champion Nakeeta and ante-post favourite Stratum are among the confirmations for Saturday’s Sky Bet Ebor at York.
Nakeeta finished a meritorious fifth in the Melbourne Cup after his Knavesmire triumph and trainer Iain Jardine admits he took it easy on his stable star at the beginning of the year to help him recover from those exertions.
After a good showing behind Stratum at Newbury, though, Jardine believes Nakeeta is primed to put up a stern defence of his crown. “It was a great run,” he said.
“He’s taken a bit of time to come to himself this year having been away in Australia, but I’ve not pushed him, I’ve just let him come to himself.
“He’s a horse that comes right at this time of year so we’re excited.”
Stratum is one of a clutch of possibles for Willie Mullins, Ireland’s champion National Hunt trainer.