Ulysses gave weight and a beating to the young pretenders, as he landed the prestigious Juddmonte International at York.
Jim Crowley delivered the four-year-old to perfection, sinking the duelling three-year-olds of Churchill and Barney Roy. The pair had finished first and second in the Guineas, and again were locked in battle from the two-furlong pole. But Ulysses was travelling powerfully in-behind, with Crowley waiting until well inside the final furlong before asking for maximum effort. Sir Michael Stoute’s colt forged ahead as the line approached, to win impressively by two lengths. Churchill got the better of Barney by a neck to take the runner-up spot.
It was the cracker everyone had hoped for and there looked to be no hard-luck stories. The weather had done its utmost to disrupt proceedings, with a deluge of biblical proportions during the morning. Ground conditions went from the firm side of good to the soft side in no time at all, but thankfully rain abated around midday, and no serious damage was done.
Ulysses has now won two of the last four Group One’s that he has contested, and Crowley is certainly getting to grips with producing the colt at just the right moment. He’d found it difficult to creep up on Enable at Ascot in the King George, though she looks to be an exceptional filly. Nevertheless, this was without doubt the best performance by both jockey and horse, and bodes well for the remainder of the campaign, with the Champion Stakes at Ascot a likely target.
Stoute was clearly thrilled with the win, saying: “It all just went so smoothly and there was never a blip. I think it was his best performance to date. He's become a very professional athlete now. York is a different track to Sandown, it's so level, and I never had any worries the way he was travelling. I think it's time to give him a break and work backwards from the Breeders' Cup Turf. The owners are keen to go for that. We'll go home and work it out.”
Crowley is clearly enjoying his relationship with the horse, and said of the winner: “He seems to like being ridden with confidence. He is improving and today is the best feel I have got off him. I always had plenty of horse. Today he relaxed so nicely and he just lobbed round. He got there quite soon, and I just had to nurse him along to make sure he got there. These are the races when you are champion you want to be winning.”
Aidan O’Brien spoke of the Irish Champion Stakes as a possible target for Churchill, though again mentioned decent ground as a necessity. Richard Hannon was also at pains to mention ground conditions when reflecting on Barney’s performance, saying: “We might run him over 10 furlongs again, but a lot will depend on the ground. If it comes up soft we could go back to a mile with him. But we are certainly not ruling it out.”
Earlier in the day, we were treated to a sparkling performance from John Gosden’s Cracksman. Placed in both the English and Irish Derby’s, he romped home in the Great Voltigeur, though the quality of the opposition was somewhat questionable. Nevertheless, his trainer spoke in glowing terms after the success, though plans are more long-term, and do not include a crack at the St Leger.
Gosden said of the winner: “He was only a shell of a horse earlier in the season. We've spaced his races deliberately, whether he runs again I'll discuss with the owner. He won't go for the Leger. We've never thought of going that route. The main focus is next year. Ascot (Champion Stakes) and the Arc are the only two possibilities this year. And they are only possibilities, not probabilities. We'll see which way we want to go.”
Today sees another middle-distance star take to the track, with Enable going for the Group One Yorkshire Oaks. Only five take her on, and though by no means testing, the ground has probably gone against both Nezwaah and Queen’s Trust. June and July saw a trio of Group One victories, and assuming those excursions have not left a mark, she should be banker material. She’ll have earned a break after this, and then be freshened up for a date at Chantilly in October.
Let’s hope she puts in a stunning performance in front of an excitable and appreciative Yorkshire crowd.