Japan and Circus Maximus give Aidan O’Brien a strong hand as he goes in search of a record-equalling sixth victory in the Juddmonte International at York.
It is 19 years since the Ballydoyle maestro first landed Wednesday’s Group One prize with the mighty Giant’s Causeway (2000) – and he has since added to his tally with Duke Of Marmalade (2008), Rip Van Winkle (2010), Declaration Of War (2013) and Australia (2014).
This year’s two contenders have both done well since running in the Investec Derby, in which Japan finished third and Circus Maximus sixth.
Japan has subsequently landed the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Grand Prix de Paris at ParisLongchamp, while Circus Maximus successfully dropped back to a mile in the St James’s Palace Stakes before pushing Too Darn Hot all the way in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.
O’Brien said: “We’ve been happy with Japan since France, and he seems to be in good form.
“We’re obviously bringing him back to a mile and a quarter – and we think the experience will do him good back at this trip.
“Circus Maximus is going up in trip and he ran a very good race at Goodwood last time.
“The stiff mile in Ascot suited him,and then he still ran very well on the easy mile at Goodwood. We always felt a mile and a quarter would suit him well.
“He seems to be in good form since he ran.”
The John Gosden-trained King Of Comedy looked every inch a top-class prospect in the making when winning the Heron Stakes at Sandown on his penultimate start – and did nothing to suggest otherwise when beaten a diminishing neck by Circus Maximus at the Royal meeting.
Connections are looking forward to seeing him step up to a mile and a quarter for the first time on the Knavesmire, but are well aware of the task ahead – with O’Brien’s pair and Sir Michael Stoute’s proven top-notcher Crystal Ocean among King Of Comedy’s rivals.
Hugo Lascelles, racing manager to owner-breeder Lady Bamford, said: “We’re looking forward to seeing (him) run, but it is a very big ask – we’re under no illusions about the task that is about to be undertaken.
“He was unlucky not to win at Royal Ascot, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. John Gosden has been very happy with him since and always felt he’d appreciate a step up to a mile and a quarter.
“He’s working well, but it is a very competitive race.”
An impressive course-and-distance success in last month’s York Stakes prompted connections of the Mark Johnston-trained Elarqam to stump up the required £75,000 to add him to the International field.
A son of Frankel out of the Middleham trainer’s former star mare Attraction, Elarqam has long been held in the highest regard – and Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, would love to see the colt break his Group One duck.
He said: “It’s obviously a very tough race, and you’ve got the best horse in the world in there (Crystal Ocean), but it’s time for our horse to step back up to the highest level now – having won a Group Two so convincingly last time over the course and distance.
“We’ll have no excuses with conditions. He’s won three of his last four races and he’s coming into it off the back of what was probably a career-best performance.
“I’m sure he won’t disgrace himself, and if he can finish in the first three we’ll be delighted.”
Stoute’s second string Regal Reality, Japanese raider Cheval Grand, David Menuisier’s outsider Thundering Blue and David O’Meara’s Lord Glitters complete the nine-strong field.
The latter won the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot in June before finishing fifth in the Sussex Stakes and will step back up in trip for another leg of the Qipco British Champions Series.
O’Meara said: “He won over a mile and a quarter in France early in his career – and he won the Strensall Stakes over nine furlongs at York last year, when he beat the subsequent Lockinge winner Mustashry. He also ran a blinder over that trip in the Dubai Turf, and has never been stopping at the end of his races.
“There’s not a lot else to be running him in at this time, and there’s fantastic prize money on offer – so why not have a go? We can always drop back in trip for the QEII (on Champions Day at Ascot on October 19) later in the year.
“We are under no illusions it’s a tough race, and he’s got quite a bit to find with the likes of Crystal Ocean.
“But he’s in great form, and the fact he’s won at York is another tick in his box.”