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.