YORK // It is a mark of what a great race Wednesday’s International Stakes promises to be that Joseph O’Brien is prepared to waste down to make the weight to ride Gleneagles.
Gleneagles was declared for the Group 1 contest alongside fellow Classic winner Golden Horn yesterday, with Dubai Turf and Prince Of Wales’s Stakes runner-up The Grey Gatsby also in the line-up.
Time Test, who ran a sensationally fast time when winning the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, is also in the eight-runner field, while Criterion, a triple Group 1 winner in Australia for trainer David Hayes, has all but been forgotten by the racecourse marketing team in a build-up that has dubbed the contest as, “the race of the season”.
O’Brien’s tall frame has not permitted him to ride at below 57 kilograms in the past year, but with Ryan Moore still out injured the 22-year-old jockey will try to shed the weight to make the 56kg that three-year-old colts carry in the British Champions Series race.
With the sun poking its head out in England yesterday, the going on the historic Knavesmire is good to firm, good in places, which is an ideal surface for Gleneagles to try to stretch out for the first time over an extended 2,000 metres.
Gleneagles won the English 2,000 Guineas on good to firm ground and then won the Irish equivalent on good to yielding, the softest surface he has raced on.
Although Golden Horn was scratched just hours before the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last month after a deluge, the going at York is tailor made for him.
The International is run for record prize money this year at £850,000 (Dh4.9m), which forms the cornerstone of a bumper £3.8m in purses across the four days of the meeting.
The increased prize money appears to have worked, too.
Criterion is largely racing in Europe in an attempt to secure a placed effort at Group 1 level so that his fee at stud rises when he returns to Australia.
Wesley Ward has picked up on the increased purses, too, and brings two horses from America.
As a juvenile Acapulco receives almost 10.5kg from her elders in the Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday, when she will become the first horse from the North American continent since 1993 to run at the northern English outpost.
The following day Finnegan, who has been training just as well as his stablemate on the grass at Keeneland, will take his chance in the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes. Both the Nunthorpe and the Gimcrack will be run this year for record prize money and, while York have worked hard at attracting international horses in the past few seasons, they have also assisted international racing.
The International, Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks and the Nunthorpe are all Breeders’ Cup “win and you are in” races, for the Turf, Filly & Mare Turf and Turf Sprint respectively.
The International and the Yorkshire Oaks also set up huge bonuses for the winner should they elect to race in Japan in December.
Generous travel allowances are available for the horses and the best-dressed racegoer announced on Thursday will win a short break for two to the Marriott Hotel in Dubai for the Dubai World Cup.
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