Japan facing definitive test in Juddmonte International
Beating an in-form Crystal Ocean would be a big milestone for O’Brien’s three-year-old
Aidan O’Brien: victory for either Japan or Circus Maximus would represent a record-equalling sixth win overall in the race for champions trainer Aidan O’Brien. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho
Should either Japan or Circus Maximus become the 10th Irish-trained winner of Wednesday’s Juddmonte International at York it could also mean putting their stamp on a divisional championship.
Europe’s 2019 classic generation has largely been underwhelming with a trio of relatively uninspired Derby winners and the crop’s status further reduced by Too Darn Hot’s retirement earlier this month.
In particular no outstanding middle-distance colt has emerged. Instead it is the outstanding older mare Enable who has captured the public imagination this summer with her appearance in Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks eagerly anticipated.
Aidan O’Brien’s six Group One-winning three-year-olds so far this year includes two Derby winners (Anthony Van Dyck and Sovereign) and a Newmarket Guineas hero in Magna Grecia.
There’s the prospect too of Ten Sovereigns proving himself an outstanding sprinter in Friday’s Nunthorpe on day three of York’s famous Ebor festival.
However there remains a widespread belief that if Ballydoyle does possess a potential champion middle distance three-year-old then it’s probably Japan.
The colt that started off this year with a fourth in the Dante, progressed to a third in the Derby, and enjoyed a Royal Ascot rout before securing a top-flight success in the Grand Prix de Paris, now faces his ultimate test back on the Knavesmire at the start of the Ebor festival.
On Wednesday his potential comes up against the proven real deal in Crystal Ocean, the world’s current highest-rated racehorse, who has half a stone in hand of his eight rivals on official figures.
The five-year-old helped serve up a King George epic against Enable last month and his Royal Ascot victory in the Prince Of Wales’s suggests the drop in trip should be no problem.
Pitched against him are a trio of three-year-olds with the fluid nature of that category reflected in how Circus Maximus beat King Of Comedy in the St James’s Palace in June yet it is the latter who has been shortest of them all in ante-post betting.
A total of 16 three-year-olds have beaten their elders in the International’s 47 year history including the very first edition when Roberto stunned Brigadier Gerard in their 1972 clash.
Taking Crystal Ocean’s scalp mightn’t be as intimidating a task as that but the older star represents a conclusive test of whether or not Japan’s considerable reputation is substantial or illusory.
The bare form of his Longchamp win last month is hardly outstanding and initial reaction to it among bookmakers was to make Japan favourite for the Leger.
His presence alone in a race that is regularly among the top-rated races in the world, and which features a roll-of-honour like few others, suggests O’Brien believes he has a different sort of talent on his hands.
With Ryan Moore on Japan, Donnacha O’Brien is on board Circus Maximus and gets the chance to try and emulate his brother, Joseph. who rode both Australia and Declaration Of War to Juddmonte glory.
The fact this colt lines up too looks significant considering Too Darn Hot’s injury appears to leave the mile division open. Circus Maximus also has a neck in hand of King Of Comedy on St James’s Palace form and bridging that gap also requires faith in the greater potential of Frankie Dettori’s mount.
In potential terms though Japan looks the really intriguing contender. Beating an in-form Crystal Ocean is a tough proposition. But if he manages it then the prize for the O’Brien star is likely to be establishing himself at the top of his generation.
Victory for either Irish runner will be a record-equalling sixth win overall in the race for Aidan O’Brien. Earlier however the Irishman will aim for a first Acomb Stakes win for 19 years with Harpocrates. The two year old is joined in the Group Three by Joseph O’Brine’s Naas winner Vitalogy.
Constantinople and Norway fly the Ballydoyle flag in the Group Two Great Voltiguer where John Gosden’s Leger contender Logician defends an unbeaten record.
On the domestic front four days at Killarney begin on Wednesday with a mixed card featuring a €50,000 handicap hurdle that sees Conron line up for Jessica Harrington.
After cheek-pieces and a visor failed to see Insane Bolt get his head in front on his last two starts, maybe blinkers can finally do the trick for Johnny Murtagh’s runner in a mile handicap.