Even without star 4-year-old Cracksman, who was withdrawn at the beginning of the week because of going concerns, tomorrow’s £1 million Juddmonte International surely boasts one of the strongest fields in any race worldwide this year - if not THE strongest.
Seven of the eight runners are Group 1 winners. And they’re not just any old Group 1s. They include the winners of the latest editions of the Dubai World Cup, the Dubai Turf, the Newmarket 2000 Guineas, the St James’s Palace Stakes, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the Coral-Eclipse, the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
And five of them are in the top 20 in the latest Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings.
For good measure, the other runner won a Group 2 last time and has been supplemented at a cost of £75,000.
Favourite is Poet’s Word, a 5-year-old who embodies trainer Sir Michael Stoute’s patient approach and is a best-priced 7/4 to continue his superb season and give his handler a second successive win in the race and seventh overall (his current total of six is already a record).
The International is part of the middle-distance category of the Qipco British Champions Series and serves as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge ‘Win and You're In’ qualifier for the Longines Turf at the World Championships at Churchill Downs on November 2-3.
The second-best horse in the world (behind Winx), according to the Longines rankings, is the race’s obvious benchmark after impressing with his speed and doughty strength when comfortably beating last year’s leading European 3-year old colt, Cracksman, in the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, then following it up a month later with victory in the King George ahead of stablemate Crystal Ocean.
While Stoute believes that everything has “fallen into place”, he is under no illusions that the bay will have to be at his very best tomorrow. What’s more, the 3-year olds will be receiving seven pounds from Poet’s Word and the two other older horses, Thunder Snow and the supplemented Thundering Blue.
However, his bullish jockey, James Doyle, remarked that the brilliant 5-year old is “as tough a horse as I’ve ever ridden” and a “worthy favourite” coming off the back of his successive G1 wins at Ascot.
“He doesn’t shirk the issue,” said Doyle. “He really put his head and neck down in the King George and stretched all the way to the line. He was very brave. 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. He’s versatile and showed a good kick in the Prince of Wales’s. He’s got plenty of other good form over a mile and quarter, too, such as when beaten a neck in the Irish Champion Stakes [by Decorated Knight last September].”
‘A gorgeous horse’
The race’s only major absentee is John Godsen’s Cracksman, who has so far failed to hit the same heights in 2018 after a brilliant end to his 3-year old season. He was not declared due to the lack of cut in the ground, which is described as good to firm, good in places.
Gosden is nevertheless double-handed in the race with second favourite Roaring Lion, a Kentucky-bred 3-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy, and St James’s Palace winner Without Parole, the mount of Frankie Dettori, who steps up to ten furlongs for the first time.
Oisin Murphy, Roaring Lion’s rider, believes that the weight for age could be “kind” for his 3-year old, who was third in the Epsom Derby and beat some of the elder generations in the Coral-Eclipse.
“He’s been working well and John’s very happy with him, so I’m excited. He’s a gorgeous horse, a joy to sit on, and obviously an exceptional animal,” said Murphy.
Saxon Warrior, who was just a neck behind Roaring Lion in the Eclipse and an impressive winner of this year’s 2000 Guineas, deserves consideration but Aidan O’Brien’s relatively disappointing results in the UK this year make this son of Deep Impact less of an eye-catching prospect. O’Brien is chasing a record-equalling sixth International success.
Godolphin will be represented by Dubai Turf hero Benbatl and Thunder Snow, who returns to turf in his first start since winning the Dubai World Cup in March. Saeed bin Suroor trains the pair and will be looking to add to his previous four Juddmonte International triumphs, while Benbatl’s jockey, Jim Crowley, hopes to repeat his success of 12 months ago, when he guided Ulysses to victory for Stoute.
The field is completed by the Irish Derby winner Latrobe, whose trainer Joseph O’Brien, son of Aidan, piloted Declaration Of War and Australia to their International wins in 2013 and 2014, and Thundering Blue, winner of the Sky Bet York Stakes over the same course and distance at the end of July.