Still no proper crowds, just owners with runners allowed at Britain’s racecourses – an absence sure to be strongly felt this week as York’s hugely popular Ebor Festival promises four days of top-class action starting on Wednesday with a star-studded clash for the Juddmonte International.
The first of three Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge contests at York this week, the 1m2f highlight remains the only turf race to offer a guaranteed place in the Classic.
Owing to the economic imperatives of coronavirus, the purse for 2020 is heavily reduced to £275,000 from last year’s £1 million. Not that a diminished purse seems to have affected a glittering cast list, however, featuring six runners with 13 G1 victories between them and headed by Ghaiyyath, who floored the great Enable last time at Sandown in the Coral-Eclipse.
With quarantine restrictions meaning Frankie Dettori is staying in France after riding at Deauville over the weekend, James Doyle retains his association with Royal Ascot scorer Lord North.
The Juddmonte International is also part of the British Champions Series, while new this year is a A$1m bonus for any horse winning both the York feature and the Cox Plate, Australia’s premier weight-for-age contest at Moonee Valley in Melbourne on October 24.
Juddmonte International: a bit of context
History: Introduced in 1972 as the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup before tobacco sponsorship was outlawed in Britain. Backed by Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte operation for more than three decades, the 1m2f feature has been responsible for a plethora of memorable contests, right back to the first edition, when Brigadier Gerard suffered his only career defeat at the hands of Derby winner Roberto. Frankel raced beyond a mile for the first time when winning in 2012.
Star turn: Sea The Stars (2009) – The Juddmonte International was the fourth leg of his perfect six-from-six 3-year-old campaign also featuring a pair of Classics, the Coral-Eclipse, Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc. Jockey Mick Kinane cheekily outwitted Ballydoyle’s mob-handed opposition by following Mastercraftsman through a narrowing gap left by the latter’s pacemakers at York, where Sea The Stars won by a length in track-record time.
Most wins (trainer): Sir Michael Stoute (6): Shardari (1986), Ezzoud (1993, 1994), Singspiel (1997), Notnowcato (2006), Ulysses (2017)
Aidan O’Brien (6): Giant's Causeway (2000), Duke of Marmalade (2008), Rip Van Winkle (2010), Declaration Of War (2013), Australia (2014), Japan (2019)
Most wins (jockey): Lester Piggott (5) Dahlia (1974, 1975), Hawaiian Sound (1978), Commanche Run (1985), Rodrigo de Triano (1992)
Frankie Dettori (5): Halling (1996), Singspiel (1997), Sakhee (2001), Sulamani (2004), Authorized (2007)
Breeders’ Cup Challenge
The winner of the Juddmonte International will receive an automatic fees-paid berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on November 7. A minimum travel allowance of $40,000 will also be provided for all starters based outside North America.
Already qualified (4): Mozu Ascot (February Stakes, Tokyo), Tom’s D’Etat (Stephen Foster, Churchill Downs), Authentic (Haskell, Monmouth Park), Improbable (Whitney, Saratoga).
Breeders’ Cup past performance
The most recent Juddmonte victor to compete on dirt in the Classic was Roaring Lion, who clearly did not appreciate the alien surface when last of 14 at Churchill Downs in 2018.
However, others have performed with enormous credit, headed by Giant’s Causeway and Sakhee, both beaten by the tough-as-teak Tiznow in epic Classic finishes in 2000 and 2001. Declaration Of War, who scored at York in 2013, was beaten in a photo finish by Mucho Macho Man at Santa Anita six years ago; further back, Ezzoud (twice) and Halling were both unplaced in the Classic after winning the Juddmonte.
Top contenders for 2020
Ghaiyyath (Charlie Appleby/William Buick) – formidable front-runner produced highest-rated performance in the world this year when comfortably holding Enable in Coral-Eclipse for an official mark of 127; beat good field in Coronation Cup on previous outing and looks worthy favourite.
Lord North (John Gosden/James Doyle) – rising star has emerged this term from handicap ranks, having won Cambridgeshire in 2019 before taking move into Group company in his stride; impressive in Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot on most recent outing, coming from off pace to trounce decent G1 rivals such as Addeybb, Barney Roy and Japan.
Magical (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore) - outstanding racemare is powerful stable’s sole representative from myriad entries; looks better than ever this year in pair of G1 victories in Ireland, taking career total to six at top level, including back-to-back victories on last two British Champions Day.
Kameko (Andrew Balding/Oisin Murphy) — 2000 Guineas hero will run over ten furlongs for first time, having failed to stay in Derby then meeting trouble in running back at a mile in Sussex Stakes; 3-year-old gets 7lb from older colts under weight-for-age system.
What they say
- Charlie Appleby (trainer of Ghaiyyath): “His preparation has gone well to date. He looks great and is giving us all the right signs. He’s a horse we’ve had to handle with care, but on where he stands now and what he’s achieved to date, he’d definitely be the best middle-distance horse I’ve ever handled.”
- John Gosden (trainer of Lord North): “He’s been in great form since Royal Ascot and we’ve been very happy with him. It’s an extremely smart race and a good-quality field. It will be interesting to see a couple of the good 3-year-olds come into it, which always makes it a lot more fascinating, but we’re happy with him.”
- Andrew Balding (trainer of Kameko): “We’ve got him in great form. He’s got to prove himself at a mile-and-a-quarter, but we think the track will suit him better than Goodwood. The trip is obviously a slight question mark but, given the way he’s finished his races, you would have to think it will suit him. As long as he stays, he has got the class to run a big race.”
- Jason Watson (rider of Aspetar): “Like a fine wine, he seems to be maturing and getting better with age. He’s much more relaxed and professional and has a mighty turn of foot for a horse who stays so well. I think that’s our main weapon and what sets him apart. The track obviously suits him and I think we’ve earned our place in the race.”