Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean was ranked the world’s best horse on official ratings prior to today’s Juddmonte International at York but he had to settle for second place in the end when narrowly denied in a thrilling fashion by the Aidan O’Brien trained three year old Japan.
A strong field turned out for the event, which has a glittering roll of honour. In addition to the pair already mentioned, Circus Maximus and King Of Comedy, who finished first and second in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, turned out as did Elarqam, the regally bred Mark Johnston trained colt (by Frankel out of 1,000 Guineas winner Attraction). Elarqam was notable as he had to be supplemented. Johnston is well known for being a shrewd operator so plenty took notice and he was well backed.
Crystal Ocean went off the even money favourite, he had drifted earlier in the day but there was strong late support for him in the betting market, with King Of Comedy second best at $5 and Japan next at $6 with Ladbrokes.
Once the race was underway Circus Maximus went into the lead, determined to ensure a solid pace for stablemate Japan. Crystal Ocean, who stays really well, was a close second and it was clear that jockey James Doyle was not going to allow a false pace to develop. Elarqam raced in third with Japan fourth.
The positions remained unchanged for much of the race and they’d turned for home and were approaching the three furlong marker when Doyle pressed the accelerator on Crystal Ocean, who responded well and took the lead two out. At this point the others looked to be under a bit of pressure and as Crystal Ocean asserted the even money was looking good.
However, Japan, with Ryan Moore aboard, had taken a bit of time to find his stride but once he did so he began to peg back the leader and by the time they reached the furlong pole we had a real race on our hands. Inside the final furlong Japan just edged in front but the ultra-game Crystal Ocean fought back and with 50 yards to go he’d just nudged his nose ahead. But the younger horse, who’d proved his staying credentials when winning over a mile and a half on his last two starts, had one more thrust left and just got his head in front again on the line. Elarqam ran on well to take third, repaying the supplementary fee with interest for connections.
O’Brien was quick to correct those who’d written off this year’s three year old generation as a poor lot saying, “the three year olds are better than anyone thinks.” He was quick to add that Japan had improved throughout the season, “Every month he gets better,” and added that “we didn’t want to bottom him today, that’s why we came back to a mile and a quarter.”
When asked for the colt’s next target he said the Irish Champion Stakes and Arc were both options, while a tilt at either the Breeders Cup Turf or Classic were also possibilities but that they’d wait to see how he came out of today’s race before making any decisions.
It was O’Brien’s sixth win in the race and was a fifth winner for the superstar sire Galileo.