Churchill facing a stamina test in Juddmonte International

O’Brien’s dual-Guineas winner races beyond a mile for the first time in York feature

The human Churchill was a singular figure and his equine namesake could turn York’s finest race into being all about him too on Wednesday.

Of course the Juddmonte International has a history of slapping down such presumption. It is 45 years since its first incarnation was supposedly all about the great Brigadier Gerard only for Roberto to produce one of racing's great shocks.

And there are plenty of other valid angles to this renewal such as Godolphin's Barney Roy taking on Coolmore or the tussle between Aidan O'Brien and Sir Michael Stoute to become the great race's most successful trainer.

There’s the clash of the generation element and the sponsor’s filly Shutter Speed taking on the boys. There’s even a hint in some betting trends that Churchill’s stable companion, the Derby runner-up, Cliffs Of Moher, could wind up being the shrewd Ballydoyle bet.


Nevertheless the suspicion is that it’s Churchill’s first attempt beyond a mile which trumps every other element for fascination.

This is Ballydoyle’s undisputed star colt of 2017, a champion juvenile and a dual-Guineas hero who would arrive on the Knavesmire with the hype machine at full throttle had he not failed to fire at Royal Ascot in June.

As it is he now has simultaneously something to prove while retaining a reputation that includes even the famously taciturn Ryan Moore labelling him "brilliant" which lends him billing nothing else in the seven-runner field can really match.

Barney Roy won that St James’s Palace Stakes and subsequently found only Ulysses too good in the Eclipse. But it’s hard to forget the authority Churchill showed in beating him in the Newmarket Guineas.

The test

Decorated Knight and My Dream Boat are other proven Group One winners that rate more admirable than exciting in the anticipation stakes. Shutter Speed is intriguing though since her Musidora win and Spring defeat of Enable is impressive.

However five years after Frankel memorably stepped past a mile for the first time in this race, Churchill puts his stamina to the test in what is traditionally one of the world’s top rated events.

Australia in 2014 was the last of O’Brien’s five winners – the same haul as Stoute – and all of them were proven at the trip before going to York.

In that regard Cliffs Of Moher is proven as well. He was mugged on the line in the Derby by his 40-1 stable companion Wings Of Eagles and carved up soon after the Eclipse start due to his own pacemaker.

With Churchill’s stud credentials established, a top-notch win for Cliffs Of Moher would be no commercial disaster for their owners. But there’s also plenty invested in Churchill proving himself the real deal, both at this trip and against older horses.

O’Brien throws three at Cracksman in the preceding Great Voltigeur and Fleet Review takes his chance on the Ebor festival’s opening day. Later in the week Alluringly and Washington DC are also set to take up Group One options.

Should Churchill provide the champion trainer with his 15th top-flight victory of the year however it’s safe to assume the colt will have no competition for centre stage.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column