Ebor Festival preview: Juddmonte International and beyond
As Vance Hanson rightly notes in his latest blog, Wednesday's Juddmonte International (G1) is a race to savor, guaranteeing a dynamic opening day of York's Ebor Festival.
When I first agitated for a Golden Horn vs. Gleneagles showdown, I thought that there was a realistic chance of its actually happening. But as with so much in racing, hopes can be dashed, and an anticipated match-up may not materialize.
Well, now we've got it: be sure to tune in at 10:40 a.m. (EDT) Wednesday.
I'm rooting for Golden Horn because I'd love to see the unbeaten sequence continue. The John Gosden trainee was a most emphatic winner of the Dante (G2) at this same track and about 10 1/2-furlong trip prior to his devastating victory in the Epsom Derby (G1). The runner-up in both, stablemate Jack Hobbs, went to flatter him with a five-length tour de force in the Irish Derby (G1). In the meantime, Golden Horn repelled a stiff challenge from the older The Grey Gatsby en route to pulling 3 1/2 lengths clear in the Eclipse (G1). While Golden Horn set his own pace that day in a small field, he has stablemate Dick Doughtywylie to do the job this time.
Gleneagles faces a distance question, but this son of Galileo is a "nephew" of Giant's Causeway, and trainer Aidan O'Brien has said that Gleneagles reminds him of the "Iron Horse." Judging by the way he conquered two mile classics -- Newmarket's 2000 Guineas (G1) and the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) -- and the St James's Palace (G1) over Royal Ascot's round mile course, he gives the vibe of a horse who can go a bit further.
But it's not strictly a two-horse race. The Grey Gatsby takes another crack at Golden Horn. Based in North Yorkshire with Kevin Ryan, The Grey Gatsby has yet to finish out of the top two in his previous appearances at York. Last year on the "Knavesmire," he won the Dante and finished second to Australia in this race.
A fascinating newcomer to the Group 1 battles is Time Test, in the silks of race sponsor Juddmonte. Like Golden Horn and Gleneagles, he gets the eight-pound weight concession from his elders. The Roger Charlton trainee is two-for-two at 1 1/4 miles, including a terrific win in Royal Ascot's Tercentenary (G3) that was as impressive on the clock as it was visually.
Australian star Criterion would benefit if the ground rides much softer than expected. O'Brien's second string, Cougar Mountain, wheels back quickly off a score in the Desmond (G3) last week. He's got something to find on form at this trip, having been fourth behind Golden Horn and "Gatsby" in the Eclipse. But he was a staying-on third to Solow earlier this summer in the Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot. Rounding out the field is the sophomore filly Arabian Queen, who exits a third to Legatissimo and Beverly D. (G1) runner Wedding Vow in the Nassau (G1) at Glorious Goodwood.
As mouthwatering as the Juddmonte is, the rest of the Ebor Festival is not to be missed either. Deriving from the ancient Romans' name for the city, Eboracum, the Ebor is the heritage handicap anchoring the grand finale on Saturday. Here are the highlights of the four-day meeting:
9:30 a.m. (all times EDT): the Acomb (G3), a seven-furlong test for juveniles, could have implications for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
10:05 a.m.: the Great Voltigeur (G2), a stepping stone to the St Leger (G1), features Epsom and Irish Derby placegetter Storm the Stars, Balios, and the O'Brien trio of Giovanni Canaletto, Aloft and Bondi Beach.
10:40 a.m.: the Juddmonte International.
9:30 a.m.: the Lowther (G2) could be the two-year-old fillies' race of the season so far, with Mark Johnston's exciting maiden romper Lumiere versus proven Group winners Illuminate, Besharah, and Most Beautiful.
10:40 a.m.: the Yorkshire Oaks (G1) serves up a rematch of the respective top three from the Irish Oaks (G1) -- Covert Love, Jack Naylor, and Curvy. Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) queen Pleascach and fellow sophomores Sea Calisi, Lady of Dubai, and the O'Brien duo of Outstanding (third to Lady Eli at Belmont) and Easter are also among the contenders, along with their elders Madame Chiang, Lustrous, and Miss Marjurie.
11:20 a.m.: the Galtres is a listed stakes for fillies and mares over the same 1 1/2-mile trip as the Yorkshire Oaks, so there are a couple of cross-nominations among the 27 still remaining in this race.
9:30 a.m.: the Lonsdale Cup (G2) figures to have a bearing on the Melbourne Cup (G1) picture. The about 16 1/2-furlong battle has attracted a phalanx of notable stayers, led by Ascot Gold Cup (G1) winner Trip to Paris, who was most recently third to the re-opposing Big Orange and Quest for More in the Goodwood Cup (G2).
10:05 a.m.: the seven-furlong City of York promises to be contentious, with 34 engaged at this writing, including Gosden's Richard Pankhurst, who hasn't raced since breaking his maiden in the 2014 Chesham at Royal Ascot.
10:40 a.m.: the Nunthorpe (G1) could witness history, as the Wesley Ward-trained Acapulco tries to become the first juvenile filly to beat older males in this five-furlong dash since Lyric Fantasy in 1992. In the past 22 years, the only other juvenile to win was the colt Kingsgate Native (2007). Acapulco gets in with a lightweight 110 pounds, a pull of 27 pounds from defending Nunthorpe champ Sole Power and the rest of the older male brigade, such as Muthmir, Pearl Secret, Goldream, Take Cover, and Stepper Point. Even the best of the older distaffers, Mecca's Angel (who's praying for rain), will concede her 24 pounds.
9 a.m.: the nearly nine-furlong Strensall (G3) has 25 contenders in the mix, among them Mahsoob, who was unbeaten until finding the Princess of Wales's (G2) beyond him last time out.
9:35 a.m.: the Melrose is a handicap for promising three-year-old stayers over 1 3/4 miles.
10:10 a.m.: the Gimcrack (G2) should assemble a fine group of juveniles. Richmond (G2) and July (G2) hero Shalaa, Coventry (G2) victor Buratino, Molecomb (G3) winner Kachy, and the O'Brien pair of Washington DC and Painted Cliffs are all eligible, along with Finnegan, a Ward trainee who had to scratch out of the Coventry with colic and a fever.
10:45 a.m.: the Ebor market is currently headed by the O'Brien-trained sophomore Fields of Athenry, a front-running winner of the Challenge and the Ballyroan (G3) at Leopardstown in his last pair. A total of 65 are still in the 1 3/4-mile event.
11:20 a.m.: the five-furlong Roses S. is for speedy juveniles. While it's too soon to know the exact composition of the field, with other options on tap this week, one talented type who could be set for this is Kurland.
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