(Published July 30, 2018) – One of the world’s great races, the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes run over a mile-and-a-quarter at York’s prestigious Ebor Festival in late-August, is open to three year-olds and upwards and as much as any race in the sport is one to truly set the pulse racing. A glance back at the role call of winners of this superb contest demonstrates the quality of the horses that have achieved success in this race since its inception in 1972; Roberto, Dahlia, and Troy in the 1970’s; Commanche Run, Shardari, and Triptych in the ‘80’s; Ezzoud, Halling and Singspiel in the ‘90’s; and since the turn of the millenium Giant’s Causeway, Authorized, Sea The Stars, Frankel, Australia, and Postponed, among others.
Aidan O’Brien has won the Juddmonte International four times since 2008 (most recently with Australia in 2014), but Sir Michael Stoute is the winningmost trainer having landed the spoils six times, beginning with Shardari in 1986, and he was successful again last year with the brave Ulysses.
Will Poet’s Have The Last Word?
Forty-one horses hold entries in the £1,000,000 August 22 contest that begins four outstanding days on the Knavesmire in North Yorkshire. This year’s renewal has attracted strong candidates from the Classic generation represented by the likes of Roaring Lion, Saxon Warrior and Without Parole, and the older horses, headed by Poet’s Word, Cracksman, Enable, Benbatl, and Rhododendron.
Poet’s Word is the hot horse this season among the older brigade, his wins in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and in last weekend’s thrilling King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, suggesting that on current form he could be the best middle-distance performer in the world.
When Sir Michael Stoute’s five-year-old stormed away from Cracksman to cause a big shock at Royal Ascot some questioned the merit of the form as John Gosden’s star was clearly not at his very best on the fast ground. But the pair were a long way clear of the third, and after showing guts and determination to reel in stable companion Crystal Ocean over an extra two furlongs back at the Berkshire track in the ‘King George’, no-one is suggesting Poet’s Word doesn’t deserve his place at the head of the ante-post market for the York feature. He is currently a top priced 3/1 shot with Sky Bet and a good deal shorter with many other firms.
Effective on both quick ground and in soft conditions, versatile with regard to the trip, and seemingly getting better as he gets older, Poet’s Word will be a very tough nut to crack – but is he value?
Cracksman Looks A Cracking Bet
CRACKSMAN, won last season’s Champion Stakes at Ascot betaing POet’s Word by no less than seven lengths, and started this season well winning the Prix Ganay and Coronation Cup before losing out to Poet’s Word at Royal Ascot. He was due to take on his old rival again in the ‘King George’ but was a late non-runner due to the unsuitably quick ground. While he won his first two starts this campaign, he wasn’t impressive at Epsom in the Coronation Cup where he only just managed to catch the valiant Salouen, a horse who went into that race rated 20lb inferior. It later transpired that he had smashed his head into the frame of the starting stalls just beofre the ‘off’ and reportedly ran that race ’half drunk’.
Following his loss at Ascot his official mark was revised down from 130 to 125, the handicapper suggesting that he may have reached his peak last term, but it’s too early to write off this high-class colt who, if he gets his ground, could prove a massive danger to them all. Remember, he was 2/5 when losing to Poet’s Word at Royal Ascot when he clearly wasn’t 100%, so the 8/1 on offer with Bet365 looks too big, and if he does go to York and is on his game, those odds could prove over-generous, especially if you can get on each-way.
Cracksman’s superb stable companion Enable (6/1 with 888Sport), winner of last season’s English, Irish, and Yorkshire Oaks, the ‘King George’, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, hasn’t been seen this term due to niggling setbacks and it’s far from certain she’ll make it to the start for Juddmonte International Stakes. It would be a tough baptism of fire if she does begin her campaign here, especially as she has done all her winning at 12 furlongs, and this 10 furlong test against the creme de la creme at the distance might prove beyond her first time out.
Lion And Warrior May Do Battle Again
The great hopes for the three-year-old generation are Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior. Roaring Lion (10/3 with Betfair) finally fulfilled the promise he had shown as a juvenile when outpointing Saxon Warrior in a fine race for the Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in early-July over a similar 10 furlong trip to the Juddmonte International. It was sweet revenge for John Gosden’s colt who has lost out narrowly to Aidan O’Brien’s star in last year’s Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, finished fifth behind the same horse in Qipco 2000 Guineas in May, and then got his head in front of the Irish star when they were third and fourth respectively in the Investec Derby at Epsom in June. There might be not be much between the pair once again.
Saxon Warrior (5/1 with BetStars) was spoken of as a possible Triple Crown winner going into this season, and his tremendously impressive win at Newmarket in the Qipco 2000 Guineas on seasonal debut augured well for the future. But he appeared not to truly see out the mile-and-a-half at Epsom when only fourth, and again looked less effective at that trip when third to shock winner Latrobe in the Irish equivalent. It is to his great credit that the son of Deep Impact ran so well in the Eclipse, only seven days after a hard race at the Curragh, and the 10 furlong trip looked to suit him well.
There’ll be around seven weeks between the Eclipse and the big York race, enough time for the Ballydoyle-based star to recover his energy, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him reverse the form with Roaring Lion.
Best Of The Rest
Depending on what happens at Glorious Goodwood in the Sussex Stakes over a mile, the unbeaten Without Parole (14/1 with Sky Bet) could go on to step up in trip at York and would be a fascinating contender. Like Enable, Cracksman, and Roaring Lion, he is trained by John Gosden who has an embarrassment of riches in the middle-distance category this term. It’s for precisely that reason that connections may decide to stick to the mile with the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes winner, or possibly wait until the Irish Champion Stakes or Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot in October to attempt a step up in trip.
Godolphin could be represented by Benbatl and Thunder Snow. Benbatl (12/1 with Betfred) bounced back from a bitterly disappointing effort in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot to land a Group 1 success in Germany this weekend, but that looked a weak race for the grade and on balance Saeed Bin Suroor’s talented horse doesn’t quite look up to the required standard. His official mark of 123 appears somewhat flattering. Thunder Snow (14/1 with Sky Bet), the surprise runaway Dubai World Cup winner on dirt, hasn’t run since that win in late-March and on his previous European form may also find this a tough task.
As well as Saxon Warrior, Aidan O’Brien has the likes of Rhododendron, Gustav Klimt, Hunting Horn, Forever Together, Magical, and Cliffs of Moher among others entered for the Juddmonte International, but with the exception of the high-class Rhododendron (16/1 with William Hill) for differing reasons they don’t look good enough. Rhododendron, due to run at Glorious Goodwood, would be interesting if she were to perform well there as on her day she is a very smart performer.
Of the remainder, Crystal Ocean (12/1 with Paddy Power), beaten a neck by stable companion Poet’s Word at Ascot, has always looked a better horse at a mile-and-a-half, and while a good display dropped back in trip cannot be ruled out, he seems more likely to stick to longer races with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe appealing as his main target this autumn.
ADVICE: CRACKSMAN (8/1 each-way with Bet365)
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.