Early entries are in for the big races at York’s Ebor Festival, with the £1million Juddmonte International Stakes shaping up to be an absolutely stonking race.
Enable of course heads the market, but despite being owned by the sponsor of the race she is far more likely to run in the mile-and-a-half Yorkshire Oaks, for fillies and mares only, simply as it is seen as a better prep for her before she heads of to attempt to land an unprecedented third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
The wonderfully consistent Crystal Ocean, rated 127 and never out of the first three in 16 career starts, looks set to line-up for Sir Michael Stoute and as runner-up to Enable in the King George having conceded weight, he rates as the likely winner at this stage although it’s possible York could catch him out.
Despite having mile entries and having almost caught Circus Maximus on the line in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, John Gosden has confirmed that King Of Comedy is likely to head towards the 1m2f Champion Stakes in the autumn and will take in this race en route.
The son of Kingman is an obvious improver and having been on the go since early in the spring, his trainer has done the right thing in giving him a rest since Ascot. He will be a better horse now, has been freshened up and will appreciate this step up in trip, particularly on a flat track.
Aidan O’Brien naturally has a number of darts to throw at the board, the Coolmore team being able to choose between the likes of Magical, Circus Maximus, Anthony Van Dyck and Hermosa but it’s a horse from much closer to York and who isn’t even among the current entries that really catches the eye.
Middleham trainer Mark Johnston has always believed that his Elarqam, once a leading hope for the 2000 Guineas, is a Group 1 horse and he may be given the chance to prove it having bounded clear and put up a top-class performance over this course and distance in the Group 2 York Stakes last time out.
Connections of the horse, by Frankel out of Attraction, will need to stump up £75,000 to enter him at the supplementary stage but that seems likely now as Group 1’s over this distance are what Johnston and his team are targeting between now and the end of the season.
Having won the Autumn Stakes in fine style as a juvenile, Elarqam did well to finish fourth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on his first start of last season before going off favourite for the Irish equivalent. Having been injured in that race he could finish no better than sixth, with further disappointments coming at York and Salisbury before he was put away for the year.
Hamdan Al Maktoum’s star returned this season with a good fourth at Newmarket behind subsequent Group 1 winners Zabeel Prince and Mustashry before running third to soft ground specialist Addeybb at Royal Ascot.
A Listed win at Sandown followed before Elarqam finally showed the quality many of us always knew he had as he hacked-up in the Group 2 York Stakes, beating Addeybb on his favoured surface by a widening 3¼ lengths. It would unwise, it seems, to rule out further improvement from the four-year-old.