Declan Rix

With the four-day York Ebor Festival upon us, Declan Rix looks forward to one of the week's highlights, the Juddmonte International Stakes.

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While some appear to continue downhearted about the 2018 Flat season, I remain enthusiastic that the best is still very much to come. This positive trail of thought will be kicked into action at this week’s Yorkshire Ebor Festival where owners, trainers, jockeys, stable staff, punters and racing fans will be treated to four days of top-class and competitive action at one of the world’s finest tracks.

The Knavesmire – and the always brilliant Autumn racing season - will hopefully remedy those that haven’t been brought to life by the current campaign. In fairness to those doom and gloom merchants, the absence or misfiring of Capri, Cracksman, Enable and Harry Angel could easily lead any man to a melancholy state. Saxon Warrior has been a huge disappointment since his scintillating 2000 Guineas success too, while the absences of Derby hero Masar and exciting juvenile Calyx for the remainder of the campaign are further drains on serotonin.

On the other hand, there is nothing grey, only her colour, about the world-class three-year-old filly Alpha Centauri, who has been exceptional since her Irish 1000 Guineas success. Furthermore, the brilliant speedball Battaash kickstarted his season proper in the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood and now looks Nunthorpe Stakes bound.

Poet's Word, who has improved significantly with another winter on his back for the Sir Michael Stoute team, has become an unlikely star of the Flat game, although, there is still a real sense of underappreciation about his talents. There were doubts about him last year being a genuine top-class performer, but in 2018, the son of Poet's Voice is now one of the best thoroughbreds in the world.

It’s easy to see why he is currently ante-post favourite for the Juddmonte International Stakes (10.5f) on Wednesday, August 22nd. What is a surprise however, is that the five-year-old isn’t clear favourite? The form of his Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (10f) victory over Cracksman and his King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes (12f) success over stablemate Crystal Ocean is comfortably better than anything his potential field have achieved, this season.  

Given all the evidence known, only the Cracksman we saw to the end of 2017 is good enough to beat the International favourite. John Gosden’s inmate’s form this season is significantly below his brilliant Champion Stakes success, however, but there is a school of thought that Cracksman could be an Autumn horse.

Not only would softer ground conditions aid his cause but racing later in the season may also bring out the best in him. In winning at last year’s Ebor Festival when taking the Great Voltigeur Stakes, where the long York straight really brought out the best in him, it started his upward curve of progress. Maybe this year it will play out the same?

The season’s three-year-olds look a mundane bunch as a whole, but Roaring Lion – unlike Saxon Warrior – looks to be progressive and is doing best to separate himself from an ordinary herd. The International will be a proper clash of the generations, which has probably failed to materialise in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown and the King George at Ascot. Roaring Lion – the Eclipse winner - will be the number one representative of his peers and while he shouldn’t be as close to Poet’s Word in the betting, he is going the right way, has course and distance form and will have freshness on his side compared to the market leader.

Roaring Lion wins the Eclipse
Can Roaring Lion continue to progress and win the Juddmonte?

An intriguing renewal will further be added to by the Godolphin pair of Benbatl and Thunder Snow. Both are admirable types for Saeed bin Suroor, but likely need to improve to win. The same must be said of Irish Derby winner Latrobe.

The three-year-old pair of Saxon Warrior and Without Parole may also run. The former looked to have the world at his feet after winning the 2000 Guineas but hasn’t gone on while the latter may come here on the back of a hugely disappointing effort in the Sussex Stakes.

As 11 horses stand their ground at the time of writing, on paper, we have a fantastic race in store. Eight individual Group 1 winners, holding 14 top-level races collectively, could go to post. I’m in no doubt that Poet’s Word, on this season’s form, is the horse to beat and should be shorter than 2/1 in the betting. 

York can be a funny track though, an equalizer, so it will be fascinating to see if the five-year-old can translate his Ascot form to the Knavesmire. If he can, I think he wins. After a gut-busting King George win, it will also be of interest if Sir Michael Stoute’s inmate can run to a similar level 25 days later? 

All shall be revealed on Wednesday by 15:40.

Declan Rix
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