The five-year-old, winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, returns to a mile and a quarter after just losing out to Enable in an epic duel for the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
The son of Sea The Stars is the general 6-5 favourite to add to his trainer Sir Michael Stoute’s record tally of six wins in the Knavesmire showpiece.
Stoute also runs Regal Reality, who was third to Enable in the Eclipse and fourth to Elarqam in the Group Two Sky Bet Stakes over this course and distance last month.
Elarqam, trained by Mark Johnston, bids for glory having been supplemented for the QIPCO British Champions Series contest at a cost of £75,000.
Aidan O’Brien is two-handed with Grand Prix de Paris victor Japan and Circus Maximus, runner-up to Too Darn Hot in the Sussex Stakes and earlier winner of the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. King Of Comedy, second that day, represents the formidable John Gosden stable.
Graham Cunningham and Tom Stanley discuss the Juddmonte International runners
Queen Anne Stakes winner Lord Glitters will be racing beyond nine furlongs in Britain for the first time but David O’Meara is encouraged about his stamina for several reasons.
O’Meara explained: “Harold Kirk was underbidder for Willie Mullins when we bought him [at the sales in France in 2017] and they clearly had hurdling in mind for him. It could be that we’ve been running him over the wrong trip all this time!
“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 [behind Almond Eye] over that trip in the Dubai Turf.
“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 QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on October 19] later in the year."
He added: “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. The Sussex Stakes wasn’t run at an overly strong pace last time and he needs an end-to-end gallop in his races. There should be enough pace on Wednesday.”
There is a second grey in the nine-runner line-up in the shape of Thundering Blue, with his trainer, David Menuisier, hopeful he will “remind everyone he’s a very good horse”. The two-time York winner performed with distinction in a similarly hot renewal of the Juddmonte International last year when a fast-finishing third behind Roaring Lion and Poet’s Word but has failed to make much impact in his three races this season.
Menuisier says there have been mitigating circumstances and believes new jockey Jason Watson, last year’s champion apprentice, will help bring out the best in him. The pair got to know each other in a recent racecourse gallop at Newmarket.
“I don’t like to make excuses but we knew Thundering Blue would need his first couple of races to find full fitness because he’s lazy at home and will only do what he wants to do. He knows the gallops by heart and doesn’t really exert himself,” the trainer said.
“He ran in the Grand Prix De Saint-Cloud last time and it was probably a mistake because it was a typical French race in that they went slow and in snatches. He likes a regular gallop when he can use his turn of foot, so I would draw a line through that.
“He’s more suited by Group 1 races against very strong opposition because they tend to go a fair clip and that’s when he can show his true colours. We know he loves York and he has never run a bad race there. The long straight gives him time to find his gears and he loves the challenge of passing horses one by one.”
Thundering Blue’s recent spin in Newmarket has also helped add an edge, Menuisier said: “I was very pleased with him, although it was more a case of a day out to help sharpen his brain than the work itself. He’s not an easy horse to ride because he’s very intelligent. You have to go his way and make him believe he is the boss.
“Jason [Watson] got to know him a little bit and I’m sure they will be a very good combination. Jason has nerves of steel and that’s what you want on these sort of horses. He knows to let him find his rhythm and then go his way.”.
Thundering Blue is in his fourth season of racing and Menuisier said: “He’s been a fantastic companion, a good friend. He owes us nothing and anything else he achieves will be a bonus. We got to York with no pressure and to cheer the horse. Whatever happens, we will be proud of him.
“I would give anything in the world for him to win a Group 1 because he so deserves it – he’s beaten so many Group 1 winners in his career. I’m not delusional, and it may not be on Wednesday, but I don’t think he’s lost any of his ability and hopefully he will remind everyone he’s a very good horse.”
International flavour is supplied by the Japanese runner Cheval Grand, who was not disgraced when sixth to Enable in the King George on unsuitably soft ground.
Enable was withdrawn, as expected, to wait for the Darley Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday.
The other two horses taken out at the 48-hour final declaration stage were the O’Brien-trained pair of Magical and Anthony Van Dyck.
Select any odd to add a bet