Juddmonte International: triple grudge match with Breeders’ Cup Turf ticket on line

August 22nd, 2017

To give a racing twist to Richard III’s famous line, this week at York really does make for a “glorious summer.” Now all we need is enough sun to keep the ground in good shape.

The Ebor Festival features three Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” events – Wednesday’s Juddmonte International (G1) for the Turf (G1), the Yorkshire Oaks (G1) for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1) on Thursday, and the Nunthorpe (G1) for the Turf Sprint (G1) on Friday.

Further enhancing these already significant races, all three are drawing superstars. Lady Aurelia is set for a fascinating clash in the five-furlong Nunthorpe, while early Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) favorite Enable looms large in the Yorkshire Oaks, and it all starts with a sensational renewal of the Juddmonte pitting Barney Roy and Churchill versus the older Ulysses.

The Juddmonte can be billed as a triple grudge match. Dual Guineas hero Churchill is seeking revenge on Barney Roy, who turned the tables on him in the St James’s Palace (G1). Barney Roy, for his part, is spoiling to reverse form with Ulysses, who just nipped him in the Eclipse (G1) (pictured). That marked Barney Roy’s first try beyond a mile, so the highly regarded Godolphin colt is eligible to be cannier in the rematch. Churchill, on the other hand, will be stretching out for the first time in the about 10 1/2-furlong test. As a son of Galileo, the Aidan O’Brien colt has a solid chance of staying the trip, much like stablemate Winter handled the step up in the Nassau (G1).

O’Brien has another live contender in Cliffs of Moher, who never had a fair shot at Ulysses or Barney Roy in the Eclipse after being badly hampered early. A handy winner of the Dee S. going about this distance at Chester, Cliffs of Moher was just mugged by the 40-1 Wings of Eagles in the Derby (G1) at Epsom. Although clearly capable at 1 1/2 miles, he may regard the Juddmonte trip his ideal. Thus it’s a major clue that Ryan Moore deserts him in favor of Churchill, despite the latter venturing into terra incognita. Seamie Hefferman gets the plum pick-up mount aboard Cliffs of Moher.

At this writing, I just hope the ground doesn’t undercut the Juddmonte storyline. York has experienced an unusual amount of rainfall throughout August. The Knavesmire was “good” over the weekend, and firming up at Monday’s report, but there could be showers in the area leading up to the opener.

Churchill was a late scratch from the Sussex (G1) due to a biblical deluge at Glorious Goodwood -- shades of Gleneagles, who missed the 2015 Sussex, Juddmonte, and Irish Champion (G1) on account of rain-softened going. Although Churchill has gotten away with slow ground over shorter, he won’t want any complications for this stamina check. Cliffs of Moher, in contrast, handled yielding ground just fine in his Leopardstown maiden romp, and may be the best value if the Knavesmire absorbs more moisture by Wednesday.

The rapidly progressive Barney Roy, untried on anything worse than good, should be ground-adaptable if taking after sire Excelebration. After his near-miss in the Eclipse, he is emerging as a possible Arc contender – who would have thought that before the Guineas? Trainer Richard Hannon has mentioned Champions Day as his end-of-season target, and taking in both Chantilly and Ascot is doable with a 20-day gap between the fixtures. If those plans hold, though, it’s questionable whether another turnaround for the Breeders’ Cup would be in the cards.

Ulysses definitely has the Breeders’ Cup on his agenda, so the Niarchos Family homebred would be sure to take up the “Win & You’re In” ticket to Del Mar. Sir Michael Stoute tried the still-raw sophomore in last year’s Turf at Santa Anita, where he was a useful fourth to Highland Reel, Flintshire, and Found, and he’s peaking now at four. Ulysses backed up his Eclipse victory with an excellent second to Enable, on unsuitably soft ground, in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1).

The Eclipse received further validation when fifth-placer Eminent came back to dominate the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2) on the front end over fellow Eclipse also-ran Salouen. And Taj Mahal, Cliffs of Moher’s rabbit in the Eclipse, finished an admirable second to Oscar Performance in the Secretariat (G1). Granted, both of those were restricted to three-year-olds, but it’s still worthwhile to see the form holding up.

Aside from the sophomore colts Churchill, Barney Roy, and Cliffs of Moher, who all receive seven pounds from Ulysses and the other older horses, three-year-old filly Shutter Speed gets a 10-pound weight concession. The John Gosden pupil opted for the Juddmonte after rain ruled her out of this past Saturday’s Prix de la Nonette (G2), and she’d scratched from Glorious Goodwood’s Nassau for the same reason. Shutter Speed would need to do better than her fourth in the French Oaks (G1) to trouble the boys here, but on the plus side, she adds a tongue tie and returns to the course and distance of her signature win in the Musidora (G3). Shutter Speed also beat stablemate Enable in their mutual reappearance at Newbury, but that’s a lifetime ago by this point. Yet there is one other significant angle to note – as a Juddmonte homebred, the Dansili filly represents the race sponsor.

Decorated Knight scored his Group 1 breakthrough in a clever piece of spotting in the Jebel Hatta (G1) at Meydan, and added the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) despite concerns about the yielding going. After a second to Highland Reel in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot, outfinishing Ulysses, Decorated Knight was only sixth in the Eclipse. You can probably forgive that since he was solidly bumped in the stretch, but he still looks marginally below Ulysses at his best. My Dream Boat’s chances are dependent upon rain, as indicated by his still-inscrutable upset of Found in the 2016 Prince of Wales’s. The cutback in trip following a trio of losses at 1 1/2 miles, and the addition of a visor, could also help.


Also on Wednesday, Gosden’s Cracksman is heavily favored to earn his first stakes victory in the 1 1/2-mile Great Voltigeur (G2). A narrow third as the favorite in the Derby at Epsom, he nearly ran down Capri from farther back in the Irish Derby (G1). The still-progressing son of Frankel won’t meet Capri, who’s missing York due to an unsatisfactory scope, and stands to put it all together here.

Although Cracksman is not using the Great Voltigeur as a stepping stone to the St Leger (G1), others are eligible for the final British classic at Doncaster. Even without Capri, O’Brien still has a formidable trio of Venice Beach, Douglas Macarthur, and Spanish Steps. Venice Beach has logically lured Moore thanks to his Chester Vase (G3) win, over Derby upsetter Wings of Eagles, and Grand Prix de Paris (G1) third.

Frankel actually has more runners in the Great Voltigeur than O’Brien does. Besides Cracksman, his other sons in the line-up are Count Octave, runner-up to eventual Goodwood Cup (G1) winner Stradivarius in Royal Ascot’s Queen’s Vase (G2); Juddmonte’s Mirage Dancer, entitled to benefit over the added ground; and Godolphin’s Atty Persse on a retrieval mission after bombing at Newmarket. Rounding out a terrific field is Khalidi, second to ill-fated Permian and to the impressive Crystal Ocean in his last pair for Gosden, and since transferred to trainer Clive Cox.

Ulysses edging Barney Roy courtesy of Coolmore via Twitter

Continued in Part II on the Yorkshire Oaks...

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