YORK’S four day Ebor meeting gets underway on the Knavesmire this afternoon with the feature being the Juddmonte International Stakes (3.35pm).
Plenty are already labelling last month’s titanic duel between Enable and CRYSTAL OCEAN in the King George at Ascot as the race of the century and it looked likely this afternoon’s Group One contest would be the fitting venue for a possible rematch.
Sadly, Enable’s connections have opted to run her in tomorrow’s Yorkshire Oaks instead as she prepares for a tilt at a record third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Her absence leaves the door open for Crystal Ocean to land the second Group One of his career and cement his position as the world’s highest rated racehorse.
The five-year-old son of Sea The Stars has been a model of consistency throughout his 16-race career to date and has yet to finish out of the frame in all of those starts.
He followed a comprehensive reappearance win over this 10 furlong trip at Sandown with a cosy success over further at Newbury.
However, his win in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and agonising defeat behind Enable last time are by far the best pieces of form on offer here, so it would be a major surprise if he wasn’t to gain compensation at 6/5 with Coral.
I suppose if there is one niggling concern it would be over how hard a race he had last time, but he has had over three weeks to recover from those exertions and seems to take his racing well.
Older horses have held the upper hand in this contest in recent years despite the fact that the three-year-olds receive a healthy 7lbs weight allowance.
The score currently stands at 16-4 to the seniors over the last two decades, and the younger generation were well and truly put in their place behind Enable and Crystal Ocean in the King George.
Looking at the market and the next three places in the betting are all three-year- olds.
King Of Comedy steps up to this trip for the first time having been a good second to Circus Maximus in the St James’s Palace at Royal Ascot.
He shaped like he was crying out for this sort of distance and there isn’t a jockey riding better than his pilot Frankie Dettori.
At just 7/2 with Ladbrokes, though, he is a little short for my liking for one that still has a bit to prove.
Of the younger generation, I prefer the chances of JAPAN who steps back to this trip for the first time since being well beaten in the Dante Stakes here in May.
The betting told us that he was undercooked that day, but he has since finished third in the Investec Derby when stepped up in trip and followed that with victories at Royal Ascot and Longchamp.
His latest win came at Group One level in the Grand Prix de Paris and there is every chance he can improve again.
Whether he wants the step back down in trip remains open to debate but, he unlike King Of Comedy, he definitely stays and is a bigger price at around 5/1.
Stamina is also a concern for Lord Glitters who would be a danger to all if seeing out this new distance.
My final pick has to be one of the other older horses and it was a close call between Elarqam and REGAL REALITY.
The former brings all important course form to the table and connections have supplemented him for this prize.
Yet, I have to side with Crystal Ocean’s stablemate Regal Reality who could easily hit the frame at 25/1.
He was clearly unsuited by the bad ground when finishing behind Elarqam here last time and is better judged on his good third to Enable on a sound surface in the Coral-Eclipse.
BILL ESDAILE’S JUDDMONTE INTERNATIONAL 1-2-3
1 CRYSTAL OCEAN
3 REGAL REALITY