All eyes will be on the Knavesmire today, as York’s Ebor Meeting begins, with the Juddmonte International a thrilling centrepiece.
A magnificent seven take to the field, with Ballydoyle’s finest clashing head-on with the best from Godolphin. Throw into the mix a Stoute stalwart and a Juddmonte ‘flying filly’ and we have the prospect of a sizzling showpiece.
The first two home in the 2000 Guineas head the market, closely followed by the Coral-Eclipse winner, and the Epsom Derby runner-up. This is a truly high-class renewal, and for once the weather Gods have been kind, hopefully ensuring all seven reach the start-line.
Upsets are very rare, and in the past 20 years only Arabian Queen has managed a shock victory at odds exceeding 10/1. Chances are that we have five realistic contenders for today’s prestigious prize, though Decorated Knight and My Dream Boat are by no means a pair of nags.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this renewal is just who takes on the responsibility of setting the pace. Cliffs Of Moher may be sent to the front under Seamie Heffernan, though he’s unlikely to be making it a test of stamina with stablemate Churchill attempting the trip for the first time. Frankie Dettori is renowned for getting the fractions right, and if the pace is not to his liking, expect him to take matters into his own hands onboard John Gosden’s filly Shutter Speed.
I fancy James Doyle will be rowing away on Barney Roy from some distance out. The long straight at York should prove ideal for the Godolphin colt, allowing him time to get into top gear. Expect Ulysses and Churchill to be played as late as possible.
Confidence appears high among the principals, with Aidan O’Brien saying this week: “You can put a line through his (Churchill) run at Royal Ascot and we've been looking forward to this day for a while. His running style suggests he'll have no problem over a mile and a quarter and he has certainly not been wilting at the end of his races over a mile. He's not soft and that toughness he shows at the end of his races will be a big asset over this trip. He's very relaxed in his races too and I'm looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”
Heffernan was also upbeat about his chances on the supposed second-string, Epsom Derby runner-up, Cliffs Of Moher, when saying: “He looks great and has been working very well. He showed a lot of pace as a two-year-old and I think the trip will suit him. He was trained for the Derby and was only collared very late in that. He has lots of pace and we know he stays. He's a great ride to get. I've no doubt Churchill will stay the trip too and they're two very, very nice colts.”
Richard Hannon believes Barney Roy is probably the best he’s trained, and can’t wait for the challenge, saying: “He hit a few of the undulations at Newmarket and Sandown. I think York will suit him immensely because it’s flat and will give him plenty of time to get going with his long stride. I’d love it if he was the type to go and win by four lengths but he’s not that sort of guy. He always makes it look like he’s struggling but the quicker they go, the quicker he goes. He keeps finding.”
The concern for Barney fans is undoubtedly the pace angle. If the race is run at a crawl and left to a sprint finish, Hannon’s fella could be caught on the hop. There’s every chance that we could see Doyle forcing the issue from a fair distance out, with Churchill, Cliffs Of Moher and Ulysses all travelling up strongly. It’ll then be a case of whether any can force their way past him, in a bruising battle to the line.
Churchill has had a decent break since his disappointing run at Royal Ascot behind Barney in the St James’s Palace Stakes. He’d certainly finished strongly when winning the English and Irish Guineas, and if back to his best looks likely to see-out this extended trip. It’s no surprise to see Moore choose him over the Derby runner-up, though it’s far from certain he’ll finish ahead of his stablemate. We’re stepping into the unknown with this fella, and there’s enough doubts surrounding O’Brien’s star to look elsewhere for the selection.
Cliffs Of Moher had problems in running when fourth in the Eclipse, but he was alongside Barney Roy a couple of furlongs out, and looked to be outpaced by the Godolphin colt and eventual winner Ulysses. A clearer path and possibly a stronger pace may suit Ballydoyle’s second-string, and it does appear that there’s plenty of stable confidence. Nevertheless, I’d be surprised if he manages to turn the tables on his Coral-Eclipse adversaries.
Ulysses continues to surprise me and I’m sure many others. Sir Michael Stoute does this year after year, and the four-year-old backed up the Sandown success with a cracking run behind Enable on unsuitable ground in the King George. He’ll travel much better on a sounder surface at York, and will again be delivered as late as possible by the outstanding Jim Crowley. The way Barney came back at him in the Eclipse hints that a protracted battle will not be in his favour, and that will surely be an issue for Crowley as he tries to ‘hold-on’ to his fella for as long as possible. I’ve underestimated Ulysses throughout this campaign, but he certainly won me over with his performance last time at Ascot. I fancy he and Barney may well go hoof-to-hoof once again.
The Juddmonte filly may well prove the surprise package, especially under the ‘canny’ handling of Frankie Dettori. She won the Musidora over course and distance, and then ran respectably in the French Oaks, when fading slightly late-on. She has plenty of speed, and if allowed to dictate, Dettori could have the boys in trouble when deciding to quicken from the front. She has a victory over Enable to her name, and is therefore impossible to discount. I just fancy that despite my concern over the pace of the race, she’ll be bullied out of it in the latter stages.
I’m siding with Barney, as I’ve thought all along that York would be his ideal track. Ulysses and a resurgent Churchill could prove the biggest dangers. This looks sure to be an absolute cracker.