Jason Watson is hoping Aspetar’s potent turn of foot can help him upstage hot favourite Ghaiyyath in a fabulous renewal of the Juddmonte International at York on Wednesday 19th August.
The mile-and-a-quarter Group 1 contest, which forms part of the QIPCO British Champions Series, is the highlight on day one of the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival. A superb final field of six also includes Kameko, the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas winner; runaway Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner Lord North plus six-time Group 1 winner Magical, who seeks to give her trainer, Aidan O’Brien, a record seventh success in the race.
Front-running Ghaiyyath, whose mark of 127 makes him one of the highest-rated horses in the world, heads the market after pillar-to-post victories in the Hurworth Bloodstock Coronation Cup at Newmarket and Coral-Eclipse at Sandown Park this season but Aspetar, who by contrast is usually held up off the pace, will also go to post in prime shape after an impressive success in the Sky Bet York Stakes last month.
The past two winners of that Group 2 contest – Thundering Blue and Elarqam – have gone on to finish third in the Juddmonte International, while Twice Over did the double in 2011.
Watson, 20, champion apprentice in 2018, will be riding in the £275,000 showpiece for the first time but has already gained plenty of big-race experience aboard the Roger Charlton-trained five-year-old in Britain, France, Germany and Hong Kong.
“He’s a special horse for me,” Watson said. “He’s taken me around the world and given me one of the biggest victories of my career so far when winning the Group 1 in Germany, and again the other day at York.
“He was very impressive last time and I’d say it was a career-best given the way he travelled into the race and finished it off against that calibre of the opposition. He keeps improving and I’m not sure that, even now, we know what he’s fully capable of. He never really lets us in and that’s what makes him so exciting.
“In the past there have been races where he has over-raced a bit and not been the most straightforward but, like a fine wine, he seems to be maturing and getting better with age. He’s much more relaxed and professional and has a mighty turn of foot for a horse who stays so well. I think that’s our main weapon and what sets him apart. He’s using his speed more wisely and finishing more like a miler or even seven-furlong horse.
“The track obviously suits him and I think we’ve earned our place in the race. I’d like to think he will run a big race.”
Ghaiyyath has been observing social distancing in his races this term, dictating from the outset and not letting any rivals get near him. Watson is full of respect for the five-year-old but believes he faces a different test.
He said: “Ghaiyyath is a beast of a horse and very flamboyant in the way he runs. He’s going to be tough to beat but I think it’s one of the stiffest tasks that he’s faced in that he’s running against a few horses who probably have a bit more of a turn of foot than him. He’s going to make it a proper test and we will see what happens.”
The Juddmonte International was first run in 1972 when Roberto famously made all the running and punctured the unbeaten record of the brilliant Brigadier Gerard.
Ghaiyyath himself seems to relish attacking from the front but trainer Charlie Appleby says it is not imperative for him to lead. “We had a front-runner in Meydan [in the Dubai Millennium Stakes in February] thinking we’d be happy to take a lead but they just aren’t quick enough to be able to lead him,” he said. “As a three-year-old he also had a pacesetter [Stage Magic] in the Prix du Prince d’Orange and we sat in behind him, but he could only do it for so long.
“If something wants to go a gallop and we can sit in behind, we’d be just as happy. He’s got a long stride and it’s more a matter of letting him get into his own comfortable rhythm.”
Godolphin-owned challengers won the International Stakes four times between 1995 and 2004 but have since been out of luck. Appleby’s only previous runner in the race was Hawkbill, who trailed home eighth in the 2016 having also landed the Coral-Eclipse on his previous start.
O’Brien has landed the race a record-equalling six times via Giant’s Causeway (2000), Duke of Marmalade (2008), Rip Van Winkle (2010), Declaration Of War (2013), Australia (2014), Japan (2019).
This time, he relies on outstanding mare Magical, whose six Group 1 triumphs include back-to-back victories on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot in October. Her connections toyed with retiring the daughter of Galileo at the end of last season but the decision to keep her in training has already been rewarded with two more wins at the highest level this term, most recently in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh.
The past two winners of QIPCO 2000 Guineas to win the Juddmonte International have been two greats of the turf in Sea The Stars (2009) and Frankel (2012). The latter memorably did so as a four-year-old on the penultimate start of his mesmerising career.
Kameko has the chance to emulate them, having not enjoyed the rub of the green when fourth in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on his latest start. He also filled the same position in the Investec Derby. Andrew Balding has been happy with his preparation and is looking forward to running him over a mile and a quarter for the first time.
The colours of Qatar Racing, the owners of Kameko, were carried to victory by Roaring Lion two years ago and that colt’s trainer, John Gosden, is this time represented by Lord North. Winner of the Cambridgeshire at Newmarket last season, he took his form to a new level when pouncing from off the pace to thump his rivals in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes last time.
The last Cambridgeshire winner to develop into an International Stakes hero was the Gosden-trained Halling, who won in 1995 and 1996.
Rose Of Kildare, purchased for only €3,000 as a yearling, completes the line-up. She is dismissed as an outsider but has shown herself to be a tremendous buy, being a triple Group 3 winner. Another three-year-old filly, Arabian Queen, belied odds of 50/1 when getting the better of the odds-on Golden Horn in 2015.
Article: QIPCO British Champions Series. Photo: Ian Yates www.eyewhy.co.uk