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Picture : Mostahdaf (left) and Paddington are the two chief protagonists in the small but quality field for tomorrow (Wednesday’s) Gr 1 Juddmonte International at York (Sporting Life).

John Ingles (Sporting Life)

Juddmonte International preview: Quality rather than quantity

John Ingles previews a small but select field for the Juddmonte International that is headed by Paddington bidding for his fifth consecutive Group 1 victory.
How many horses does it take to make a memorable race? The question is prompted by a four-runner field for the Juddmonte International which has even left York’s head of marketing and sponsorship James Brennan expressing some disappointment that more runners haven’t been declared for a race which three years ago was awarded the title of Longines World’s Best Horse Race of 2020.
That accolade was based on the average rating of the first four home that year, namely Ghaiyyath, Magical, Lord North and Kameko, all of them Group 1 winners. How many runners were there in that year’s race? Five – just one more than this year.
A famous match
Crowds have been flocking to the Knavesmire for centuries to see some of the best horses taking each other on, regardless of the size of the field. There’s a reminder of that in the name of the race which precedes the Juddmonte International. The Great Voltigeur is named after the Derby and St Leger winner of 1850 who was the loser in the most celebrated match race in racing history which took place at York in May of the following year when he was beaten by older rival The Flying Dutchman, another Derby and St Leger winner, whom Voltigeur had defeated in another two-horse race for the Doncaster Cup the year before.
This clash between the Yorkshire-trained pair is reported to have attracted a crowd of more than 100,000 to the Knavesmire which was apparently the largest gathering since it staged the hanging of an infamous murderer during the previous century. Thankfully, tastes in public entertainment have changed since then, though the desire to see top horses in competition lives on and is something the Juddmonte International has been able to provide on a regular basis, ever since Derby winner Roberto inflicted the only defeat in the brilliant career of Brigadier Gerard in the inaugural running in 1972.
More recently, the likes of Sea The Stars, Frankel and, last year, Baaeed, are other outstanding horses to have added their names to the list of winners. Sea The Stars in 2009 was the most recent Juddmonte International winner to face only three rivals, though his victory over Mastercraftsman was itself a virtual match given that the other two runners were mere pacemakers for the Aidan O’Brien-trained runner-up.
Sea The Stars went unbeaten in six Group 1 races that year, going one better than the 2000 Juddmonte International winner Giant’s Causeway who won five consecutive top-level contests during his three-year-old season for O’Brien, winning the St James’s Palace, Eclipse and Sussex Stakes prior to York and going on to win the Irish Champion Stakes afterwards.
O’Brien’s contender this year, Paddington, is thriving on a very similar campaign, though having also won the Irish 2000 Guineas prior to the St James’s Palace, Eclipse and Sussex, he has the opportunity to complete his Group 1 five-timer at York.
Paddington didn’t have to be at his best for his latest win in the mud at Goodwood but Sandown the time before was a better illustration of how good he really is. The Eclipse also proved that he stays a mile and a quarter, and that he’s got the attributes to deal with the potential pitfalls of a small field. In fact, anyone who needs a recent reminder of how entertaining a four-runner race can be should look at the Eclipse again as Paddington came out on top in a thriller against high-class older rival Emily Upjohn.
That filly’s handlers John and Thady Gosden again field Paddington’s chief opponent, though this time they’re taking him on with the five-year-old Mostahdaf. This time last year, when Baaeed won the Juddmonte International, he would have been considered an unlikely potential second successive winner of the race for owners Shadwell, but his clear-cut victory against some notable rivals in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot last time revealed the son of Frankel to be a high-class horse.
A super spare ride for Frankie
With Mostahdaf’s regular rider Jim Crowley serving a suspension, Frankie Dettori has the unexpected opportunity to become the most successful jockey outright in the history of the Juddmonte International. He currently shares that position with the late Lester Piggott, having gained the first of his five wins on Halling in 1996.
On the other hand, victory for Paddington would make O’Brien the leading trainer in the race’s history. His most recent winner, Japan in 2019, put him level with Sir Michael Stoute on six wins; Stoute lost his contender for this year’s race when 2022 Derby winner Desert Crown sustained a season-ending injury at the weekend.
But the Gosdens have a second string to their bow with the four-year-old filly Nashwa, she too by Frankel. Last year’s Prix de Diane and Nassau Stakes winner made a slow start to the current season but looked better than ever when dropped back to a mile at Newmarket and running away with last month’s Falmouth Stakes. She had excuses when failing in her bid to win the Nassau again last time and, with conditions on the firm side, her turn of foot if things get tactical could prove a big asset.
This looks a tough task for the other runner The Foxes, winner of the Dante Stakes over course and distance in May, but only 3 lb covers the other three runners on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings suggesting that Paddington’s bid for an eighth win in a row is no formality.
Perhaps the last word should go to the introduction to Timeform’s report on that 2020 Juddmonte International won by Ghaiyyath mentioned earlier:
‘Year on year, the Juddmonte International is a case of quality over quantity, not needing many runners to serve up something thrilling.’
Let’s hope that holds true again this year.