By Andy Stephens
The richest race ever run at York, which forms part of the QIPCO British Champions Series, has attracted a final field of seven. Five of those have won at least one race at Group One level, while the other pair have already run with distinction at the highest level.
Barney Roy is the general 11-4 favourite, with Churchill a best-priced 3-1 with 32Red. Ulysses is also a general 3-1 chance. The prices reflect the trio's previous battles, which suggest they are closely matched.
Churchill beat Barney Roy by a length in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May, only for the latter to turn the tables when successful in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. Then, last month, Ulysses and Barney Roy had a tremendous tussle in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, with the former prevailing by a nose.
Doyle said of Barney Roy’s latest effort: “He ran a fantastic race but my worry beforehand - him being an inexperienced horse on that track - was probably about right. Sandown is a very tough track, especially against older horses. York will be much more to his liking and you will see a better performance from him.”
Hannon is in full agreement. “He hit a few of the undulations at Newmarket and Sandown,” he said. “I think York will suit him immensely because it’s flat and will give him plenty of time for him to get going with his long stride.”
The East Everleigh-based handler regards the Excelebration colt as “probably the best I’ve trained” and admires his attitude. “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 said. “He always makes it look like he’s struggling but the quicker they go, the quicker he goes. He keeps finding.”
The last St James’s Palace winner to triumph in the Juddmonte International was the mighty Frankel, although his memorable seven-length success at York in 2012 came the following season after his victory over a mile at the Royal Meeting.
Ulysses, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, followed up his win in the Eclipse by chasing home the brilliant Enable over an extra two furlongs in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. Before those efforts, he had finished a close third in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
Stoute is seeking a record sixth success in the Juddmonte International, having previously landed it with Shardari (1986), Ezzoud (1993 and 1994), Singspiel (1997) and Notnowcato (2006).
“He ran a hell of a race on ground he didn’t really like in the King George,” Jim Crowley, his jockey, said. “Enable is a mile and a half horse who loves cut in the ground, whereas my horse obviously does stay a mile and a half but is better on a faster surface and he was giving her a stone that day. Hopefully we will be back on quick ground, plus ten furlongs and the track should play to his strengths.”
Asked if he was worried the Ascot effort may have left a mark, the champion jockey said: “I didn’t think he had too tougher a race and he’s trained by a genius.”
Churchill was the champion two-year-old of last year and began where he left off with triumphs in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and Irish equivalent, only to finish a subdued fourth in the St James’s Palace Stakes.
He had been an intended runner in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood this month but was a late withdrawal after a deluge of rain transformed ground conditions. The Galileo colt will be having his first run beyond a mile but Aidan O’Brien is confident the trip will be within his compass.
O’Brien, who in common with Stoute has saddled the winner of the Juddmonte International on five occasions, is also represented by Cliffs Of Moher, the Investec Derby runner-up, who was subsequently fourth in the Eclipse after suffering trouble in running.
Decorated Knight, a dual Group 1 winner this year, split Highland Reel and Ulysses in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. The five-year-old, another son of Galileo, was a below-par sixth in the Eclipse last time but was one of the chief sufferers in a bruising renewal.
“The Eclipse was rough, very rough, and he didn’t have much chance,” Roger Charlton, his trainer, said. “He’s taking on the best that are around, but he’s had a nice break and is in good form. I wouldn’t say he’s the forgotten horse but Barney Roy, Ulysses and Churchill are a bit more headline.”
My Dream Boat, winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, also boasts winning form at the highest level, while Tattersalls Musidora Stakes winner Shutter Speed, who will be equipped with a tongue tie, has been beaten only once in four starts - when a close fourth in the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines at Chantilly on her latest start.