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By Anil Mukhi | 21 Aug 2018 |

Anil Mukhi

The richest handicap in Great Britain, the time-honoured Ebor Handicap over 1 m., 5 f., 188 yds. (almost 2,800 metres) worth £500,000 is the feature of the 4-day York festival of racing. The event is popular with punters and bookmakers alike as nutritious odds are offered and vast sums are wagered. However for purists the most important contest is the 47th running of the Gr.1 International Stakes, sponsored since 1989 by Juddmonte Racing.

Set to be run on Wednesday, August 22nd at 3:35 p.m. local time (8:05 p.m. in India), the 10.5 furlongs race has been blessed with a compact field of 8 high quality participants, almost all of which have a chance to score. The tally between three-year-olds and their older rivals stands at 15-31, despite the younger lot being entitled to carry significant less weight (currently 7 lbs.). On this occasion, the two groups are evenly represented with four apiece.

Between them, the runners have annexed the 2000 Guineas, the Irish Derby, the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, the St. James’s Palace Stakes, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Dubai World Cup and the Grosser Dallmayr Preis-Bayerisches Zuchtrennen this year alone! That is a testament to the sheer class of the runners, whose combined earnings are in excess of £15,000,000.

Shortest-priced at the moment is Sir Michael Stoute’s Poet’s Dream (by Poet’s Voice). Much improved at the age of five, the robust sort will be partnered as before by James Doyle. For those who fancy favourites, odds of around 2 to 1 against will surely appeal. It will take a mighty effort on the part of the others to lower his fluttering flag. His rider exuded confidence when proclaiming that his mount, probably the best horse in Europe, was “as tough a horse as I’ve ever ridden”.

Next in demand is the John Gosden-trained grey Roaring Lion (by Kitten’s Joy) representing the Classic generation. He has been improving throughout the season, culminating in a game victory in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in July over essentially the identical trip. The 11 to 4 chance also has the advantage of a “course and distance” win at York in the Betfred Dante Stakes back in May. There is no change in the riding arrangements, with Oisin Murphy once again getting the call.

At Sandown, Roaring Lion faced a ferocious challenge from the Qipco 2000 Guineas hero, Saxon Warrior (by Deep Impact), who was a mere neck in arrears. Hailing from Ballydoyle Stables in Cashel, Ireland, the latter – the mount of Ryan Moore – will have to overcome whatever bug has been plaguing the yard of trainer Aidan O’Brien. It’s hard to believe but the stable’s win percentage this year in Great Britain has fallen to below 10% (vs. 29% for Charlie Appleby and 26% for John Gosden). Thus odds of 5 to 1 do not make a convincing case for a flutter.

Barring a disappointing show in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, Godolphin’s Benbatl (by Dubawi) has been enjoying a grand season in 2018. His failure at the Berkshire course may perhaps be laid at the door of the sharper trip – 8 fur. – on that occasion. Stepped up to 10 fur. at his most recent public appearance (in Germany) he seemed to relish the trip. Saeed bin Suroor’s ward sees a significant jockey change, with Jim Crowley taking over saddle duties. That has not been enough to shorten his price to single digits and he appeals as an “each-way” prospect at 14 to 1.

Also at around the same odds and sheltered in the same stable is Thunder Snow (by Helmet), making his first appearance since his Dubai World Cup victory. The change in surface and the lengthy absence do not inspire too much confidence in the Godolphin hope on this occasion and he may be seen in better light in the latter part of the year. The name of Christophe Soumillon has once again been pencilled in for the ride.

Few recent Irish Derby winners have been as lowly-rated as Latrobe (by Camelot), who surprised at the Curragh at the end of June. Moreover, he looks as if he might require at least 2400 m. – and prefer even further. Dropping back in distance and facing such strong opposition are negative factors but trainer Joseph O’Brien’s choice of race – as opposed to an easier alternate engagement in the Great Voltigeur Stakes – could be significant. The colt is, after all, lightly raced and could have shown improvement in private that the public is not privy to.

John Gosden is double-handed as he also starts Without Parole (by Frankel), who is re-united with Frankie Dettori. The much-touted colt was unceremoniously stripped of his unbeaten status last time out in the Qatar Sussex Stakes when no less than six rivals finished ahead of him. What’s more, he is trying a new trip and the Royal Ascot form with Gustav Klimt has not worked out well. That said, his trainer would not be trying him out unless there was reasonable expectation of a better show, though even that may not be adequate to topple all his opponents.

That brings us to Thundering Blue (by Exchange Rate), from the yard of David Menuisier. Owner Clive Washbourn has stumped up £75,000 to supplement the grey gelding but despite this hefty outlay the market has him priced at 33 to 1. Essentially he has been dismissed as a “no-hoper” – but he does have a course and distance win at York in the Gr.2 Sky Bet Stakes.

Another point of interest – there is a £1,000,000 bonus dangling in the sights of Stradivarius (by Sea The Stars) as John Gosden and Frankie Dettori have teamed up to ensure he has every chance of landing the hefty pot of gold specifically allocated to promote the production of quality stayers. The occasion is the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup Stakes (2 miles 56 yards) on Friday, August 24th and the four-year-old is eligible for it because of his previous successes this term in the Yorkshire Cup, Ascot Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup.