The defining moment of a champion, a step up in trip that has been long overdue. On Wednesday, Sir Henry Cecil's exceptional four year old colt, Frankel, bids to further enhance his reputation in his inaugural attempt at the ten furlongs trip in his sponsor's race, the Juddmonte International. The highlight of the opening day of York's four day mid-season festival, the unbeaten Frankel will once again be partnered by Tom Queally in his long awaited step up in trip in which eight rivals stand in his way of yet another enthralling victory.
Towed once again by his work colleague, Bullet Train looks to ensure a familiar pace for his 'commander in chief' in a race which will see the world's horse racing audience entirely captivated for a period of one hundred and fourty seconds. Frankel is also joined by the defending champion and stable mate, Twice Over. Victory in the 2011 Juddmonte International saw Prince Khalid Abdulla finally gain victory in the race he has sponsored since 1989. A four-time Group 1 winner, Twice Over provided jockey Ian Mongan with his finest hour in this race last year and comes into this race off the back of a third-placed finish in the Coral-Eclipse behind Nathaniel. With Mongan on Twice Over yet again, Eddie Ahern comes in for the ride on Bullet Train. A forgotten man of the British racing circuit at times, Ahern has been in scintillating form himself this season with a double of victories at Newmarket further ensuring that his name isn't forgotten just yet. Already responsible for five rivals previously propelled towards Frankel in an attempt to dethrone the people's champion, Aidan O'Brien is again responsible for the main challenger to Frankel's throne at York. A four-time Group 1 winner, St Nicholas Abbey enters this race arguably as the toughest rival Frankel is yet to face with victories in the Breeders Cup Turf and Epsom Coronation Cup his most notable victories in a stop-start career. A champion in his two year old season, the winter of 2009 held the prospect of St Nicholas Abbey returning from his winter break as an incredible exciting prospect, yet unlike Frankel St Nicholas Abbey was unable to capitalise on that debut season form when running out a well beaten favourite in the 2010 English 2000 Guineas. It was a full year before St Nicholas Abbey returned to the racetrack after that performance but performances in 2011 and in 2012, so far, have proved right the Coolmore operation to be patient with their son of Montjeu. St Nicholas Abbey is an intriguing for Frankel to face on his first step up in trip. Somewhat of an underachiever when faced with a right-handed race track, St Nicholas Abbey has an exceptional record when facing the proposition of racing left-handed. In six races left handed, St Nicholas Abbey has been beaten by one horse and one, Cirrus des Aigles in the Dubai Sheema Classic of 2012, in a race which many believe the five year old son of Montjeu was caught out by the exaggerated waiting tactics of his nineteen year old pilot, Joseph O'Brien.
O'Brien has experienced both praise and criticism from the racing media and public alike for his decisions aboard St Nicholas Abbey, yet few can take away the superb association he holds with the colt when driving home left handed. Scintillating in victory at Epsom, O'Brien managed to push his star horse home for a four length domination despite dropping his whip when clear and in-front towards the final stages of the Coronation Cup. Similarly, O'Brien was faultless in the Breeders Cup Turf of 2011, in which he made history by becoming one half of the first father-son combination to win a Breeders Cup race. Criticism was strong following the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last time, in which O'Brien anchored his charge a significant distance away from the front of the pack in a manouvere which many believe cost St Nicholas Abbey the race. Anchored a good ten lengths off the field, St Nicholas Abbey was eventually defeated by an ever-diminishing length-and-a-half.
On Wednesday, Aidan O'Brien enters both Robin Hood and Windsor Palace seemingly in an attempt to ensure a tag-team pacemaking effect to ensure the hottest pace possible to pick away at any chinks in Frankel's armour over this extended distance. A pace that should play into the hands of a mile-and-a-half proven performer such as St Nicholas Abbey, there are no concerns from the Juddmonte camp who quite clearly announced that Frankel will not be ridden any differently on Wednesday. To them, and to the many onlookers, he has already proved his is ready for a step up in trip such is the manner of his gallop out at the end of his races.
To the minority, Frankel has failed to achieve the epitome of his capabilities and to those few voices a defeat of St Nicholas Abbey on a solitary occasion may prove fruitless. However, to the majority, the people that have followed and been amazed by the capabilities of the Galileo colt, victory over St Nicholas Abbey will mark a defining moment and a further compliment to his ever expanding resume.
Planteur, Sri Putra and Godolphin's progressive Sussex Stakes second-placed finisher, Farhh, complete the field.
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)