In the last five years alone the winner’s circle of the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes at York has been visited by Sea The Stars, Rip Van Winkle, Twice Over, Frankel, and Declaration of War. At more than $1.3 million dollars on the conversion scale, it is no wonder that the prestigious 1 1/4 mile-plus race attracts top horses as a rule. 2014 should be no exception. What Wednesday’s field lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Topping the field will be the Epsom and Irish Derby winner Australia, as he takes on older horses for the first time in his career.
The regal result of a Galileo and Ouija Board mating, the colt that Aidan O'Brien claims is the best horse he has ever trained, is living up to his impeccable breeding. In early June, and after a tough defeat in the one mile 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, he claimed victory in the Epsom Derby in only his fifth lifetime start. Three weeks later, Australia cantered down The Curragh lane to win the Irish Derby for back-to-back classic wins. Since that easy victory on June 28, the talented champion-to-be got some time off to come back strong for a fall campaign. It’s still summer, but his push to prove himself the King of all Europe begins tomorrow with his most difficult challenge to date.
Beating up on three-year-olds has proven to be something that Australia could handle. Now he must handle the real pros of the sport in the International, while cutting back to a distance that his trainer feels will be right up his alley. If he is not up to the challenge, or he is not completely geared up after the two-month break, those with the best chance to beat him will be the older pair of Sheikh Hamdan's Mukhadram, and the Michael Stoute trained Telescope.
American race fans will recognize the five-year-old Mukhadram as the runner-up in the world’s richest race this spring. Since that lucrative second place finish in the Dubai World Cup, the son of Shamardal was a smart two-length winner over a strong field in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown in early July. Most recently the William Haggas trainee stretched out for the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, where he ran well to finish behind the star filly Taghrooda, while just missing second in a photo with Telescope. The cutback in distance to the not quite 1 15/16 miles of the International, should suit Mukhadram well. He was a Group 2 winner over the same trip in his last visit to York last summer.
Another tough older horse looking to stop the favored three-year-old in his expensive tracks will be Telescope. Long considered a future star, the four-year-old son of Galileo gave his backers a big lift with a dismantling of his competition in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes. The seven-length romp in front of the Royal Ascot crowd was so impressive that he was heavily backed against the loaded King George VI and Queen Elizabeth field. While he could not handle the filly on that day, he did best Mukhadram for place money.
Not all of Australia’s competition in the International are older, though, and in fact, each of the other three entrants are also three. The Grey Gatsby may not be the most consistent sort, but on his best, he is proven to be a threat to anyone. The son of Mastercraftsman has thrown in some bad ones, but a victory in the Group 2 Dante Stakes in May over the same course and distance as the International, and then a three-length Group 1 win in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) in June, point out his ability on his best days.
The rest of the field is made up of the improving Arod, who was fourth in the Epsom Derby, and before that, second to The Grey Gatsby in the Dante Stakes. Most recently, the lightly raced son of Teofilo gained some confidence by romping over a small field at Leicester. Australia’s stablemate Kingfisher, who finished second to him in the Irish Derby, rounds out the field.