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CHURCHILL READY FOR £1 MILLION JUDDMONTEINTERNATIONAL AT YORK

TRAINER Aidan O’Brien will ask his dual 2000 Guineas hero, Churchill, to tackle an extended mile and a quarter for the first time tomorrow when the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival gets underway at York.

Churchill is one of seven declared runners for what’s set to be an outstanding renewal of the Group one Juddmonte International Stakes. The Galileo colt started his season with a fine victory in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and followed up with success in the Irish version of the mile Classic at The Curragh.

But he suffered defeat in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot before being pulled out of the Sussex Stakes after sustained rainfall changed the ground at Glorious Goodwood earlier this month.

O’Brien said: “It wasn’t ideal – we had him over there and it was just one of the freak weather things, I suppose. But he seems to have been well since.

“He hasn’t done an awful lot because it’s not long ago and he was fit going to Goodwood. Obviously, we would have preferred if we had a run – but that’s the way it is.

“We’ve always thought that a mile and a quarter would be within his compass. Everything seems well with him since Goodwood, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Churchill will be joined in the first ever £1million renewal of the prestigious contest by stable-mate, Cliffs Of Moher who met trouble in running early on in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown where he finished fourth behind Ulysses and Barney Roy – both of whom he re-opposes on the Knavesmire.

O’Brien added: “He suffered very bad interference in Sandown and I suppose he was lucky, really, not to fall. But he has been well since and we have been happy with his work.”

Earlier in the afternoon, O’Brien’s Ballydoyle team will be triple-handed in the Betway Great Voltigeur Stakes. Venice Beach, Spanish Steps and Douglas Macarthur have all been declared for the mile and a half Group 2.

Venice Beach was only beaten a length in the Grand Prix de Paris, a race in which an inexperienced Spanish Steps didn’t fire. But the latter came out and nicely won the Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown almost two weeks ago. Douglas Macarthur won the Derrinstown Derby Trial in the spring before two creditable runs in the English and Irish Derbies.

O’Brien assessed: “Both Venice Beach and Spanish Steps went to Paris. Venice Beach ran a great race – Spanish Steps was a little bit green, a little bit babyish but came forward great from it and won very nicely at Leopardstown, beating Johannes Vermeer.

“Venice Beach has been in good form since France and we think – and hope – the track will suit him well. He is in good order as well. We think he is a horse who will progress through the whole year and look forward to him next year.

“We’re looking forward to seeing Douglas Macarthur run. We think he gets a mile and a half well – and might even get further. But he is in very good form and we’re very happy with him. He had a break after his last run and is just ready to start back again.”

In the first of twelve Pattern races over the Festival, the Group 3 Tattersalls Acomb Stakes, O’Brien will saddle promising two-year-old prospect Fleet Review over the seven furlong trip;

He said: “Fleet Review has had three runs and won the last twice – two six-furlong races at The Curragh, a maiden and a winners’ race.

 

“We always thought that he might get further than six. He is a forward-going horse. We think it’s a good time and a good track to just start going a little bit further and have another look at him.”

Thursday will see fellow O’Brien juvenile, Actress, who has been declared for the Group 2 Sky Bet Lowther. She has already shown her class with a third-place effort in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes on August 13.

O’Brien said: “She has been progressing with every run. Obviously we’re going back a little bit early with her but she’s in good form. She came out of her last race well and we’re hoping she runs well.”

Alluringly, declared for the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks, will face middle-distance heroine, Enable, for the third time this season. O’Brien’s charge enjoyed a confidence booster when landing a Listed race over an extended nine furlongs at Gowran Park but is now stepped back up in trip.

O’Brien confirmed: “We’re going to give her another go over a mile and a half. She won in Gowran very nicely. That was only a few days ago but she seems to have come out of it well.”

The trainer also outlined that US Navy Flag is looking like the stable’s runner in Saturday’s Al Basti Equiworld Gimcrack Stakes.

Ballydoyle’s plans are still being finalised for Saturday’s £285,000 Betfred Ebor.

 

ULYSSES HEADS STOUTE’S CRACK TEAM FOR THE EBOR FESTIVAL AT YORK

SIR Michael Stoute will bring a team brimming with talent to York for the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, which runs for four days from next Wednesday.

The Newmarket trainer has a superb record at the famous meeting, winning no less than 16 Group 1s on the Knavesmire. He has also triumphed three times in the prestigious handicap that gives the Festival its name – the Betfred Ebor.

On the first day, Stoute will bring Ulysses for the eagerly-anticipated clash of the big guns in the £1million Juddmonte International. Fellow stars Churchill and Barney Roy are also set to line up in the extended mile and a quarter contest, ranked as the best race in Britain on its three year IFHA average, but Ulysses beat the latter by a nose in a thrilling renewal of Coral Eclipse in July.

Stoute’s charge was subsequently beaten by the race sponsor’s outstanding filly, Enable, in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, over a mile and a half.

“We are planning to go,” said Stoute, confirming his intentions to run Ulysses in the Juddmonte International. “He is taking his racing very well and we’re pleased with what we see.”

As for the decision to drop back from 12 to 10 furlongs, he added: “He’s competent at both trips. He loves top of the ground but he goes on any. You’ve only got to look at the King George and you’ve got your evidence there.

“I think it will be a high-quality race – it’s very interesting. We’ve had some great races for the International in the past and we’ll probably have a great one this time.”

On the same afternoon, the Newmarket-based trainer will saddle Mirage Dancer in the Betway Great Voltigeur. Stoute has won the mile and a half Group 2 race on seven previous occasions, the latest being in 2013 when Telescope struck.

Mirage Dancer is a lightly-raced son of Frankel who has shaped with bags of promise in both of his runs at three. His last start saw him beaten just over a length into third place in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

Stoute said: “We’re just leaving nice gaps between his races. He is progressive. We like the horse and he keeps improving. This would be as far as he would ever want to go.”

No trainer has more than Stoute’s tally of nine Darley Yorkshire Oaks victories – although Matthew Dawson also won the race nine times in the 19th century. Next Thursday he plans to be double-handed in the £350,000 Group 1 with Queen’s Trust and Abingdon, tasked with taking on Enable.

Queen’s Trust, a Breeders’ Cup champion from last autumn, has run better this year than a glance at her bare form may suggest. Abingdon has shown up particularly well when competing on fast ground, notably when winning a Listed race at Pontefract by 10 lengths in June.

Stoute said: “Queens Trust hasn’t had the rub of the green this year. In the Prince of Wales’s, she got badly interfered with and was really coming home. Then the ground was too soft for her in the Nassau. But she is in good shape – she’ll run a big one.

“Abingdon is solid. She’s won at the track – the Galtres last year – she has been running well this year and I hope she’ll be in the frame. I’ll be happy with that. Loves top of the ground – good is no problem. But with her, she doesn’t want it softer than good.”

On the same afternoon, the British EBF and Sir Henry Cecil Galtres Stakes is the next scheduled assignment for Mori. The beautifully-bred Frankel filly is out of Midday, so her pedigree has York Group One winners on both sides, was only pipped by a neck in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Stoute said: “The plan is for Mori to go to the Galtres. The Ribblesdale was the best race she has run to date. She is progressive and we are very happy with her.”

The last of Stoute’s victories in the Ebor was provided by Clerkenwell in 1996. Since then, though, he finished second in 2010 with Rosika, who is the dam of his intended challenger, Dubka, on Saturday 26 August.

Dubka showed that she is very much made of the right stuff when beaten just a neck over a mile and six-furlongs – the Ebor distance – in a Group 3 at the Goodwood Qatar Festival earlier this month.

Stoute, who plans to run only her in the race, said: “She’s tough, stays well. I would think that run at Goodwood was the best that she has produced so far. The dam nearly won the Ebor so let’s hope she can win it.”

GOSDEN CONFIRMS ENABLE ON COURSE FOR DARLEY YORKSHIRE OAKS

MIDDLE-distance heroine, Enable, heads up the entry for the Darley Yorkshire Oaks – the £350,000 feature race of Ladies Day, next Thursday at York.

Enable represents trainer John Gosden, who has three of the nine entries for the mile-and-a-half Group 1 contest for fillies aged three and upwards.

Enable, owned and bred by Prince Khalid Abdullah, has lit up the summer with a series of brilliant performances. She won the Investec Oaks by five lengths and followed up by triumphing in the Darley Irish Oaks – again by an emphatic margin.

To many eyes, she topped even those excellent displays with a four-and-a-half length victory when taking on the older colts, in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last month. Now it’s next stop York for the fabulous filly by Nathaniel.

Gosden said today: “Enable is happy and well. We always wanted to go to this race. It was meant to be Irish Oaks to Yorkshire Oaks. She took the Irish Oaks so much in her stride that then the King George came into play. This was part of the original plan and hopefully we’ll be there.”

In recent years, Gosden’s Clarehaven Stables has housed stars such as Golden Horn and Taghrooda, both of whom came to feature races at the York showpiece. Now Enable is the latest yard flag-bearer to give pleasure to the Gosden team and target the Knavesmire. The Newmarket-based trainer added: “When you are lucky enough to have a Golden Horn in the yard or a filly of Enable’s ilk – like Taghrooda – it’s a great buzz. But of course with it comes added pressures – never forget that.”

Another Gosden-trained horse that will be the subject of great interest at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival is Cracksman, who is set to contest the Group 2 Betway Great Voltigeur on the opening day of the meeting, next Wednesday.

The son of Frankel has run in two Derbies – at Epsom and The Curragh – on his last two starts, finishing third and second respectively. Gosden assessed: “We’d be hoping to run Cracksman in the Great Voltigeur. A mile and a half, fresh ground on the Wednesday – he’s in good order. It looks a Voltigeur of great depth.”

Gosden also indicated that Shutter Speed is in line for a tilt at the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes, which takes place thirty-five minutes later on Wednesday. The Tattersalls Musidora Stakes winner over course and distance in May was subsequently fourth in the Group 1 Prix de Diane at Chantilly so eyes a share of the £1 million prize fund.

The Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival runs from Wednesday 23 August to Saturday 26 August inclusive.