JOCKEY Oisin Murphy hopes winning course form will play to the strengths of Roaring Lion in next week’s £1m Juddmonte International at York.
The John Gosden-trained grey was a classy winner of the Dante Stakes on the Knavesmire in May before finishing third to Masar in the Epsom Derby after just failing to see out the mile-and-a-half trip. However, Sheikh Fahad’s colt confirmed his class when winning the Group One Coral-Eclipse at Sandown over 10 furlongs in a thrilling finish from perennial rival Saxon Warrior.
Both could reoppose at York in a week’s time in an eagerly anticipated 10-furlong race in which Poet’s Word – Sir Michael Stoute’s champion – looks the horse to beat.
Murphy, 22, is enjoying a career-best season – he’s already equalled last year’s tally of 127 winners – and he gave a positive update after Roaring Lion’s racecourse gallop at Newmarket.
“Rab (Havlin) rode him on Saturday, just in an exercise gallop, and he was really pleased. He said the horse is in super order,” said the jockey, who remains impressed by the horse’s new found maturity and calmness. “He gave me a super ride in the Dante and the track seems to suit a horse like him, so hopefully he stays healthy and we go there with a chance.
“He’s a big, raw horse but he was also a very good two-year-old, so how much he’s going to improve this year, we don’t know. He’s won a Group One now and is very exciting, I’m just lucky to get the leg up on him.”
Murphy’s Eclipse win on Roaring Lion was his first victory at the highest level for Sheikh Fahad’s Qatar Racing operation and this was quickly followed by veteran miler Lightning Spear, previously placed in six Group One races, landing the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in the same colours.
“The circumstances worked really well at Goodwood. It’s a cliché, but he really did deserve to win a Group One,” added the rider.
“The Lockinge hurt a bit (when beaten a short head), but I didn’t think I’d won crossing the line so I didn’t have the emotion of thinking I’d won and then lost it, but no one wants to get beat a nose anywhere.
“David Simcock has mentioned the Prix de la Foret, which I won on Aclaim last year, and maybe after that the Breeders’ Cup Mile.”
Yet, while Murphy is now a global rider of repute following a string of international successes in the past year, he – and Roaring Lion – will have to be at their very beat to beat Poet’s Word who continues to please connections.
Though Poet’s Word will, as the older horse, have to concede weight to his rivals, he provided Sir Michael Stoute with a record 76th Royal Ascot this June when powering clear of Cracksman in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes over 10 furlongs.
Under a determined James Doyle, Poet’s Word then overhauled stablemate Crystal Ocean late on to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes over a mile and a half back at the Berkshire track.
“Poet’s Word worked very well on Sunday morning,” said Bruce Raymond, racing manager to owner Saeed Suhail. “He worked on the all-weather, which he has done most of his work on. He just had a nice breeze and that was good. Michael was very happy with him. A mile and a quarter, a mile and a half – it’s the same for him.”
Stoute won the Juddmonte International with Ulysses last season and also claimed the race with Notnowcato (2006), Singspiel (1997), Ezzoud (1993 and 1994) and Shardari (1986).
Big races at York like the Ebor and John Smith’s Cup are set to feature 22 runners in future – two more than at present.
The course has just imported a new set of stalls from Adelaide which are currently undergoing trials before they come into use at some stage after next week’s Ebor festival.
Former champion jockey Paul Hanagan said: “From our perspective this trial went very well. The new stalls were really well padded, the gates at the rear are splayed allowing easier entry and the whole structure seemed quieter and sturdier with less rattle.”