York showdown is a huge test for ‘the best horse in the world’

Crystal Ocean winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. Photo: focusonracing.com

Crystal Ocean, the highest-rated racehorse in the world according to official rankings, is a strong favourite to confirm his exalted status in a star-studded renewal of  the Juddmonte International, the feature event on Wednesday’s opening-day card at York’s celebrated Ebor meeting.

The £1 million highlight is the first of three G1s at the four-day meeting to be part of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In Challenge’, followed by Thursday’s Darley Yorkshire Oaks – set to feature superstar racemare Enable – and the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday.

The Juddmonte International carries a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on November 2, and there is no shortage of previous winners who have gone on to try their luck in America’s most prestigious race on dirt after scoring on the racecourse also known as the ‘Knavesmire’ – a name dating back to medieval times, deriving from the Anglo-Saxon ‘knave’, meaning a man of low standing, and ‘mire’, meaning a swampy pasture for cattle.

Last year’s Juddmonte victor, Roaring Lion, clearly did not appreciate the alien surface when last of 14 at Churchill Downs, but 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.

Crystal Ocean has already earned a guaranteed place in the Breeders’ Cup Turf by virtue of his decisive victory in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.

A son of Sea The Stars, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained 5-year-old heads the Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings with a mark of 127, despite his narrow defeat after going eyeball-to-eyeball with Enable in last month’s memorable edition of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Since he was giving weight to Enable and was beaten only a neck, Crystal Ocean comes out the better horse. James Doyle, who rode at Ascot, retains the ride for Wednesday’s contest.

“He must have a cracking chance as he's quite versatile as regards trip,” the jockey told the Racing Post. “Any further rain won’t worry him as he won on the soft at Royal Ascot.”

Chief rivals are headed by a phalanx of 3-year-olds, among them King Of Comedy, who represents the all-conquering Enable team of trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori. The Kingman colt steps up to the Juddmonte distance of a mile and two and a half furlongs after being edged out by York rival Circus Maximus over a mile in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“We feel this is his trip and since Royal Ascot this has been the plan,” commented Gosden.

Circus Maximus, for his part, also steps up in trip after a good second to now-retired Too Darn Hot in the Sussex Stakes. However, the market has shown clear preference for his Aidan O’Brien-trained stablemate, Japan, close third in the Epsom Derby before scoring decisively at Royal Ascot and in French G1 company.

Stepping up in trip is top miler Lord Glitters (David O’Meara/Danny Tudhope), whose victory in the Queen Anne Stakes earned him a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, while Elarqam (Mark Johnston/Jim Crowley) carries the Sheikh Hamdan colours after being supplemented last week for £75,000 following a clear career-best last time out in the G2 Sky Bet York Stakes over course and distance.

Title-chasing rider Oisin Murphy, who partnered Deirdre to a notable European success for Japan in the Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, is hoping to repeat the dose with another G1 triumph for the racing-mad nation on 2017 Japan Cup winner Cheval Grand (Yasuo Tomomichi). However, the 7-year-old fast-ground lover seems unlikely to get his favoured underfoot conditions.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of 86 stakes races whose winners receive automatic fees-paid entries to designated races at the two-day event at Santa Anita on November 1-2. As part of the benefits from the Challenge series, Breeders’ Cup will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America.

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