Donn's Articles » The Irish at York

The Irish at York

The form book told you that Declaration Of War had no chance of winning the Juddmonte International at York on Wednesday afternoon. Two lengths behind Al Kazeem in the Eclipse, three lengths behind Toronado in the Sussex Stakes, it made sense that those two giants dominated the Juddmonte headlines and the betting on Wednesday morning, and that the Ballydoyle colt wandered in the wilderness at a largely anonymous 14/1.

But there was a significance to the War Front colt’s presence in Wednesday’s line-up. The Juddmonte is a race that Aidan O’Brien loves to target. In the previous five renewals of the race, he had fielded two winners, one second and three thirds. Also, of the four heavyweights that made up the trainer’s original entry in the 2013 renewal, it was significant that Declaration Of War was chosen as the sole Ballydoyle representative in front of Camelot, Kingsbarns and Ruler Of The World.

There were performance angles also. The ground was a little easier than ideal at Goodwood for the Sussex Stakes, and Declaration Of War may not have been fully at ease on the idiosyncratic track. Rider Joseph O’Brien had said after the Eclipse that he hadn’t been happy, that Al Kazeem just got away from him a little at the top of the home straight, and that he just didn’t have the real estate to reel him back in.

Joseph sat closer to Al Kazeem on Wednesday. No more than two lengths behind Roger Charlton’s horse with three furlongs to run, he unleashed his horse’s trademark turn of foot from the two-furlong pole. That took him to the front, and enabled him keep on all the way to the line, seeing out the 10-furlong trip well and leaving the impression that it could well be his optimum.

The general feeling after the race was that it didn’t live up to expectations as a contest. There was an air of deflation because we didn’t get the toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball duel between the two market leaders that the paying public had grown to expect, spoiled, as they had been – expectations raised – after Toronado and Dawn Approach had provided that very spectacle at Goodwood.

There is no question that Toronado under-performed, but there is no reason to believe that Al Kazeem was that far below par, if he was at all. There is a chance that his fourth Group 1 tilt on fast ground in less than three months was just too much for him, there is a chance that he was just a little flat, but there is also a chance that Declaration Of War put up a career-best performance.

Trained and campaigned by Jean-Claude Rouget in France as a juvenile, expectations of the now four-year-old colt have been sky high ever since he arrived at Ballydoyle last season. He is a big horse with a big frame to fill, and there is a chance that he is only just growing into his potential now, improving with age and with experience. He could be improving still, and that is a hugely exciting prospect.

Trading Leather kept on gallantly to re-capture the runner-up spot from Al Kazeem. Jim Bolger’s colt remains an under-rated horse, possibly because he still lives in the shadow of his stable companion Dawn Approach, possibly because his record in Britain is now four losses and just one win. But he is an Irish Derby winner who finished second in the fastest King George ever run, and he was competing over a trip that was almost certainly short of his optimum on Wednesday.

His next intended engagement is reportedly in the Irish Champion Stakes in two weeks, but he could yet be a live one for the Arc de Triomphe, as long as the ground doesn’t come up too soft at Longchamp in early October.

An Irish-trained 1-2 was massive. The Juddmonte International is one of just four Group 1 middle-distance races on the British racing calendar in which the generations can clash, and it is the feature and most valuable race by far of York’s Ebor meeting. If yesterday’s Betfred Ebor is the meeting’s eponymous headline act for the masses, then the International is the jewel in its crown for the purists.

There were other Irish performances of note at the meeting. Had the ball hopped just a little differently, Aidan O’Brien could have had a Klondike. Foundry ran a cracker to chase home Telescope in the Great Voltigeur Stakes on his seasonal debut, Venus De Milo finished second to The Fugue in the Yorkshire Oaks, Say was beaten a neck in the Galtres Stakes.

The Tony Martin-trained Dark Crusader won the Melrose Handicap yesterday, the Willie Mullins-trained Simenon went down by just a head in the Lonsdale Cup on Friday, and David Wachman’s horse Hot Bed was a fast-finishing third in the big handicap on Thursday. Also, you have to think that, if they hadn’t had the 20mm of rain that they had early on Friday morning, the Eddie Lynam-trained Sole Power would have gone even closer than he did in the Nunthorpe.

The Irish influence on the Ebor meeting is just the continuation of a thread that has run from the last National Hunt season into the current Flat season. March seems like a long time ago now, but it was at this year’s Cheltenham Festival that, for the first time ever, there were more Irish-trained winners than there were British-trained winners.

We are just beyond half-term now in the 2013 Flat season, and Irish horses are flourishing. They won just about every Derby trial that was run in Britain or Ireland, then proceeded to provide the winner, the third and the fourth in the Derby itself. Dawn Approach won the 2000 Guineas, then went on to win the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. Significantly, Jim Bolger’s horse was one of eight Irish-trained winners at the Royal meeting.

Some of the top Irish fillies’ races, the Irish 1000 Guineas, the Irish Oaks and the Pretty Polly Stakes, have been exported, but Irish horses continue to plunder foreign prizes, and the successful raids are not restricted to the powerhouses of Ballydoyle and Coolcullen.

David Wachman won the Duke of Cambridge Stakes with Duntle, Eddie Lynam won the Palace House Stakes and the King’s Stand Stakes with Sole Power, Joanna Morgan won the Britannia Handicap with Roca Tumu. Tommy Stack, Ger Lyons and Patrick Prendergast have all had black-type winners in Britain this term, Pat Shanahan has had winners at Chester and Hamilton, while on Friday, the afore-mentioned Tony Martin sent Quick Jack to Newmarket to land a Class 4 handicap.

It is only August, there are some big prizes up for decision between now and the day on which they hand out the trophies, but as half-term reports go, this one is highly encouraging.

© The Sunday Times, 25th August 2013