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Japan starts season off following the ‘St Nic’ route

Aidan O’Brien has high hopes Japan can follow in the footsteps of St Nicholas Abbey, having got his career back on track with victory in the tote+ Pays You More At tote.co.uk Ormonde Stakes.

‘St Nic’s’ best days seemed behind him when he arrived at Chester in 2011 as a four-year-old, having missed the Derby – for which he was favourite – and been well beaten on his return from a lengthy lay off.

He blitzed his rivals that day, though, and never looked back. He won the Coronation Cup on his next outing and added the Breeders’ Cup Turf, another two Coronation Cups and the Sheema Classic to his CV. So should Japan emulate that haul, then O’Brien will be happy.

Japan landed the Grand Prix de Paris and Juddmonte International as a three-year-old, but went winless last season, so a confidence-boosting win over Ascot Gold Cup hopeful Trueshan, who emerged with plenty of credit, was just what the doctor ordered.

“We were delighted. Last year we started him in a very competitive race (Prince of Wales’s), and it just didn’t work out through the year – but obviously nothing was straightforward last year, and his season went into reverse afterwards,” said O’Brien.

“We used this race with St Nic before, and he got into a good place afterwards – so we’re hoping this horse might do the same.

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“Obviously he’s in the Coronation, and that is kind of what we had one eye if everything went well. He ran well in a Derby there (third). It was all about confidence today and getting him started.”

Japan has previously mixed his races over 10 and 12 furlongs – yet despite this victory over almost a mile and three-quarters, he will not be experimenting with Cup races.

“He definitely wouldn’t be running over anything further than today, we’d be going back in trip rather than forwards,” said O’Brien.

“The plan was the Coronation, and then we’ll see. We’ve others to think about as well, and he’s got very good form over a mile and a quarter, but we’ll go over a mile and a half with him next.”

Ryan Moore was on board and insisted he had never doubted Japan’s class.

“He’s a beautiful horse who we’ve always held in high regard, and he’s won a Juddmonte,” he said.

“Hopefully that will give him a bit of confidence. He didn’t really enjoy that dead ground. He’s a lovely looking horse with a great mind and hopefully he can go on from here.

“The Coronation Cup is an option – he ran well in the Derby there, and this should set him up for the bigger races later in the year. I’d expect him to come on from this as well. He’s got some class – I’ve always had a very high opinion of this horse.”

The rider added: “The ground is just sticky enough for him, and the trip probably stretches him, but he has loads of class and it’s good that he’s come back with a win.”

Giving Japan a real race – and a weight concession of 5lb to the 13-8 favourite – was Trueshan, and Alan King was understandably delighted with his Champions Day hero, who will now head for the Ascot Gold Cup.

The Barbury Castle trainer said: “I’m absolutely thrilled with him and I’ve just spoken to (jockey) Hollie (Doyle), and she feels the same.

“It’s great to get him out and get him started, and I think he’s run a terrific race. I’m very pleased.

“He’s a wee bit slow out (of the stalls), and you just have to roust him a little bit, but Hollie got him into a lovely position – and all in all it was a terrific run.

“That (Gold Cup) will be his next stop if the ground is right. We’ll just have to see what the weather does in June.”

Japan prevails from Trueshan in Ormonde Stakes

Japan stamped his class on the tote+ Pays You More At tote.co.uk Ormonde Stakes at Chester.

A narrowly-beaten third in the 2019 Derby at Epsom, the Galileo colt went on to win the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp and the Juddmonte International at York, before finishing fifth on his final start of the year in the Arc.

Japan might have failed to add to his tally last season, but was still placed in the Eclipse and the King George, so it was no surprise to see Aidan O’Brien’s charge go off as the clear favourite as he had his sights lowered to Group Three company but up in trip for his seasonal reappearance.

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Always travelling strongly in the hands of Ryan Moore, the 13-8 chance tracked Alan King’s Long Distance Cup winner Trueshan – who was giving 5lb to the winner – into the straight, before displaying a superior change of gear to run him down and ultimately prevail by three-quarters of a length.

Moore said: “”He’s a beautiful horse who we’ve always held in high regard and he’s won a Juddmonte. Hopefully that will give him a bit of confidence, he didn’t really enjoy that dead ground. He’s a lovely looking horse with a great mind and hopefully he can go on from here.

“The Coronation Cup is an option, he ran well in the Derby there and this should set him up for the bigger races later in the year. I’d expect him to come on from this as well. He’s got some class – I’ve always had a very high opinion of this horse.”

The rider added: “The ground is just sticky enough for him and the trip probably stretches him, but he has loads of class and it’s good that he’s come back with a win.”

King was understandably delighted with his Champions Day hero Trueshan, who will now head for the Ascot Gold Cup.

The Barbury Castle trainer said: “I’m absolutely thrilled with him and I’ve just spoken to Hollie and she feels the same.

“It’s great to get him out and get him started and I think he’s run a terrific race. I’m very pleased.

“He’s a wee bit slow out (of the stalls) and you just have to roust him a little bit, but Hollie got him into a lovely position and all in all it was a terrific run.

“That (Gold Cup) will be his next stop if the ground is right. We’ll just have to see what the weather does in June.”

Champions Day hero Trueshan clashes with Japan at Chester

Alan King expects his Qipco British Champions Day hero Trueshan to improve for the run when he makes his seasonal reappearance in the tote+ Pays You More At tote.co.uk Ormonde Stakes at Chester on Thursday.

The French-bred gelding won three of his five starts last season, rounding off his campaign with victory in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October – the first leg of a double on the high-profile card for record-breaking rider Hollie Doyle.

With Doyle once again in the saddle, Trueshan makes his belated return to action over an extended mile and five furlongs on the Roodee.

King said: “We’ve been waiting on a bit of softer ground. We didn’t want to start him off in the Sagaro (at Ascot) or the Further Flight (at Nottingham) because it was too firm.

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“The trip is probably short enough for him and you know what Chester is like, but it’s all about getting a run into him and getting him started really.”

The Barbury Castle handler hopes the Group Three contest will act as a stepping-stone to a potential tilt at the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

He added: “The Gold Cup is the plan, ground permitting. If we get a scorching June then we won’t be running, but that would be the target and this race fits in time-wise.

“I had him in the Yorkshire Cup next week, but I didn’t want to wait for that and then the ground dried up again. We sort of said that wherever we got the first decent ground he would take his chance, so that’s what we’re doing.

“He’s in good order, but I think he’ll come on for it.”

Japan (near side) winning the 2019 Juddmonte International
Japan (near side) winning the 2019 Juddmonte International (Nigel French/PA)

High on the list of dangers to Trueshan is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Japan, who has his sights lowered following eight consecutive outings in Group One company.

Japan struck gold twice at the highest level in 2019, in the Grand Prix de Paris and the Juddmonte International – and while he failed to get his head in front last season, he was placed in the Eclipse at Sandown and the King George at Ascot.

Jockey Ryan Moore told Betfair: “Ideally, we probably could have done without all the recent rain, but he finished fourth in a deep ground Arc a couple of years ago and is pretty versatile, and hopefully his Group One class will see him through.

“It’s a good race, with the likes of Trueshan in here, but my horse is unpenalised for his Group One wins back in 2019 and his third in the Eclipse last year makes him the one beat form-wise

“This is the longest trip he has faced, but the way in which he has finished off his races over a mile and a half when at his best suggests it should not be an issue. It’ll take a very good one to beat him if he is on his A-game.”

Conditions appear to have come right for the Andrew Balding-trained Morando, who won the latest renewal in 2019 and returns to defend his crown, while Roger Charlton saddles his veteran stayer Withhold.

Euchen Glen (Jim Goldie), Kipps (Hughie Morrison), Sextant (Keith Dalgleish) and Sonnyboyliston (Murtagh) complete the field.

Ontario heads for Dee Stakes

Aidan O’Brien will rely on Ontario to provide him with a ninth victory in the tote+ Biggest Dividends At tote.co.uk Dee Stakes at Chester.

Magician (2013), Cliffs Of Moher (2017) and most recently Circus Maximus (2019) are among the previous Ballydoyle residents to win Thursday’s recognised Derby trial on the Roodee.

While Ontario has so far found victories hard to come by – striking just once from eight starts – he brings some solid form to the table, having been placed four times at Stakes level.

The Galileo colt was last seen finishing third in the Free Handicap at Newmarket three weeks ago – one place behind Charlie Appleby’s Naval Crown, who ran a fine race when fourth in the 2000 Guineas last weekend.

Appleby also has a leading contender for this Listed contest in Yibir, who is fitted with cheek pieces for the first time after his close-up third in the Sandown Classic Trial.

Sir Michael Stoute, who trained Kris Kin to win the Dee Stakes and the Derby in 2003, is represented by Maximal – expected to improve from his comeback second at Newbury last month.

Earlswood (Johnny Murtagh), El Drama (Roger Varian), Foxes Tales (Andrew Balding) and Luther Cee (Henry Spiller) complete the field.

The O’Brien-trained Japan is one of eight runners declared for the Group Three tote+ Pays You More At tote.co.uk Ormonde Stakes.

The five-year-old has his sights lowered on his seasonal debut following eight consecutive outings in Group One company.

Japan struck gold twice at the highest level in 2019, in the Grand Prix de Paris and the Juddmonte International – and while he failed to get his head in front last season, he was placed in the Eclipse at Sandown and the King George at Ascot.

His Chester rivals include Alan King’s Trueshan, who makes his first competitive appearance since landing the Long Distance Cup on Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot in October.

Balding’s Morando defends his crown, having landed the last running of the Ormonde Stakes in 2019, while Roger Charlton saddles his veteran stayer Withhold.

Euchen Glen (Jim Goldie), Kipps (Hughie Morrison), Sextant (Keith Dalgleish) and Sonnyboyliston (Murtagh) are the other hopefuls.

Ghaiyyath geared up for Irish Champion challenge

Ghaiyyath bids to confirm his superiority over defending champion Magical in a fascinating rematch for the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday.

The Charlie Appleby-trained Ghaiyyath has arguably been the star of the season so far – completing a hat-trick of Group One wins with dominant displays in the Coronation Cup, the Coral-Eclipse and the Juddmonte International.

Aidan O’Brien’s Magical was three lengths in arrears when runner-up on the Knavesmire, but gets the chance to exact her revenge on home soil and become only the second dual winner of the Champion Stakes after former Ballydoyle ace Dylan Thomas (2006 and 2007).

Speaking on an Irish Champions Weekend preview, Appleby said: “Previously he has taken time to come back to himself after his races, but as a five-year-old this year he’s very much the finished article.

“His performances are always very big – he’s never easy on himself even when he’s winning. He puts those big figures out there and in the past it’s taken its toll, but thankfully this year he’s taken each race very well.”

The Newmarket handler is keen to get this weekend’s assignment out of the way before deciding whether to allow Ghaiyyath to bid for glory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe next month.

He added: “A decision on the Arc will be a wait and see. We purposefully took our time before deciding to definitely run in Ireland, we just took it day by day and we’ll regroup after it.”

William Buick and Ghaiyyath have formed a formidable partnership
William Buick and Ghaiyyath have formed a formidable partnership (David Davies/PA)
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Ghaiyyath’s regular partner William Buick is able to travel to Ireland for the ride following a recent change to Covid-19 protocols.

He said: “As far as I’m aware he’s in good shape.

“He’s running over the same trip he’s been running over the last twice in this country. It’s a good race for him.

“I don’t know whether the Arc is in the discussion or not. Let’s get this race out of the way and we’ll see.”

Magical won the Pretty Polly Stakes and the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh prior to chasing home Ghaiyyath at York – and O’Brien feels she is capable of raising her game.

He said: “She doesn’t owe anybody anything. She’s raced against the best. We feel we haven’t really seen the best of her yet.

“Someday when everything will fall right she’ll be at the height of her powers and we’ll see.

“She’s a serious, high-rated, incredibly genuine mare. We keep tweaking things as we go along to see if we can get another little bit from her to get her to show everybody what she shows us at home every day.

“I don’t thing we’ve seen her very best yet, but it could come one of these days.”

Ryan Moore has sided with Japan
Ryan Moore has sided with Japan (Nigel French/PA)

O’Brien also saddles Japan – who was not far behind Ghaiyyath when third in the Eclipse, but disappointed on his latest outing in the King George – as well as outsider Armory. Interestingly, Ryan Moore has sided with him over Magical, the mount of Seamie Heffernan.

Of Japan, O’Brien said: “He came back from Ascot with very sore soles in his feet. We don’t know if it was sole pressure from the shoes or if he stood on something, but both front feet were very sore.

“He was lame for a few days after. Then we took the shoes off completely and we rode him bare foot for 10 days and he came back 100 per cent sound and his action came back 100 per cent and he’s shod now.

“He’s in full work and has been taking it very happily. He’s travelling well in his work and everything seems good, so it was a legitimate excuse.

“We look forward to seeing him run now – we’re very happy with his work.”

Sottsass bids to provide leading French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget with a second win in the race following the 2016 triumph of Almanzor, with Jessica Harrington’s Leo De Fury completing the sextet.

Sottsass will be ridden by Colin Keane, who said: “I’d say it will be a brilliant race to watch.

“Obviously Ghaiyyath was impressive the last day, Magical is the queen, she never runs a bad race and our horse I’d say has been trained with an autumn campaign in mind so you might not have seen the best of him yet.”