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James Doyle has acclaimed Poet’s Word’s “as tough a horse as I’ve ever ridden” ahead of the five-year-old taking on a glittering cast in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York on Wednesday.
The Group One showpiece, run over an extended mile and a quarter, has attracted a final field of eight. Seven of them have already won at least once at the highest level and between them they have won more than £15 million in prize money.
Poet’s Word seeks to give Sir Michael Stoute a seventh victory in the feature and if successful would become only the second horse, after Duke of Marmalade in 2008, to win the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, QIPCO-sponsored King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Juddmonte International in the same season.
Doyle guided the five-year-old to his victories at Ascot and is relishing resuming the partnership. “He’s a worthy favourite coming off the back of successive Group 1 wins in tough races and, as you can imagine, I’m excited about riding him in the top race of week,” he said.
Watch James Willoughby and Nick Lightfoot analyse Poet’s Word's King George win at Ascot.
“He’s as tough a horse as I’ve ever ridden – he doesn’t shirk the issue. He really put his head and neck down in the King George and stretched all the way to the line. He was very brave.”
Asked if that hard race may have left a mark, he said: “It shouldn’t affect him. I don’t think he lost much weight, from what I’m hearing, and all the vibes from the stable are very positive. He’s a big, robust horse who is blossoming. He’s different class to ride - he relaxes well and is push-button. He does whatever you ask.”
Regarding dropping back in distance, the 30-year-old added: “He’s versatile and showed a good kick in the Prince of Wales’s. He’s got plenty of other good form over a mile and quarter, too, such as when beaten a neck in the Irish Champion Stakes.”
John Gosden has not declared Cracksman for the QIPCO British Champions Series contest because of the drying ground but is double-handed in his quest to win the race for a first time, via Roaring Lion and Without Parole.
The latter, winner of the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, steps up in distance after subsequently surrendering his unbeaten record in the Qatar Sussex Stakes, while Roaring Lion attempts to follow-up his victory in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, when he beat Saxon Warrior by a neck, having also won the Betfred Dante Stakes in convincing style at York earlier in the campaign.
Watch David Cleary and Richard Hoiles pick apart the Coral-Eclipse
“It’s going to be one of the hottest races of the year,” said Oisin Murphy, the regular rider of Roaring Lion. “Poet’s Word deserves to be favourite. He’s the second best horse in world on Longines World Rankings and he’s obviously the benchmark, although he had to tough it out in the King George.
“The weight for age is kind and Roaring Lion is really well in himself. He’s been working well and John’s very happy with him, so I’m excited. He’s a gorgeous horse, a joy to sit on, and obviously an exceptional animal. On ratings and everything his win in the Coral-Eclipse would have been a career best, but I think he has more to give.
“He seemed to relish the track and trip in the Dante. York’s a lovely place and William Derby does a great job there. It’s one of the finest tracks in the country. I’ve had a lot of luck at Doncaster and York, and they are probably my two favourite tracks.”
Saeed Bin Suroor has enjoyed four International triumphs and will be represented by Thunder Snow and Benbatl. Thunder Snow will be having his first outing since romping home in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan in March, while Benbatl won the Group 1 Dubai Turf at the same meeting plus the Group 1 Grosser Dallmayr Preis-Bayerisches Zuchtrennen at Munich last month.
Murphy, 22, rode both in recent workouts and is full of respect for the pair of them, especially Benbatl, who he has ridden on numerous occasion. “They are two unbelievable horses and you shouldn’t ignore Benbatl. He’s in great order,” he said. Jim Crowley has come in for the ride on Benbatl and will be hoping to repeat his International success of 12 months ago, when he guided Ulysses to victory.
Aidan O’Brien is chasing a record-equalling sixth International success and is this time represented by Saxon Warrior, the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas winner.
Joseph O’Brien, son of Aidan, guided Declaration Of War and Australia to their International wins and has since made a dazzling start to his training career. He will be represented by Latrobe, who was having only his fifth start when landing the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh last month.
Thundering Blue, trained by David Menuisier, has been supplemented by owner Clive Washbourn for £75,000, boosting prize money for the race that already stood at £1 million. The grey had an official rating of just 86 this time last year but has progressed ever since, putting up a career best to scoop the Group 2 Sky Bet Stakes at York last month.