Following their epic duel in the July 27 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot, the streaking Enable and Crystal Ocean are going their separate ways at this week’s Ebor Festival at York. Crystal Ocean reverts to about 10 1/2 furlongs for Wednesday’s Juddmonte International (G1), while Enable sticks to her 1 1/2-mile wheelhouse in Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks (G1).
The Juddmonte International now serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) rather than the Turf (G1), although it’s questionable whether any of the principals mull a switch to dirt. Crystal Ocean had secured his free berth to the Turf in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot, capping a three-race winning skein. The Sir Michael Stoute trainee ran a mighty race in defeat in the King George, where he pressed Enable valiantly before succumbing by a neck. James Doyle retains the mount.
The clear favorite in an Enable-free zone on Wednesday, Crystal Ocean will meet eight rivals including three sophomores who are next in the antepost market.
John Gosden, in the midst of a glittering season, relies on the progressive King of Comedy. Still green when bolting up in the Heron S. at Sandown, the Kingman colt flew late and just missed to Circus Maximus in the St James’s Palace (G1) in his latest. King of Comedy now has the benefit of Frankie Dettori at the helm for the rematch, his first start beyond a mile and versus elders.
Japan is attracting a bit more support than his Aidan O’Brien stablemate Circus Maximus, thanks to Ryan Moore in the saddle, but he does face a question shortening up in trip. His fourth in the course-and-distance Dante (G2) shouldn’t be held against him since that was purely a tightener for the Derby (G1). A half-length third at Epsom next time, the Galileo blueblood moved forward to conquer the King Edward VII (G2) and Grand Prix de Paris (G1). Now Ballydoyle’s top 1 1/2-mile three-year-old tries sharper opposition over a sharper trip.
Circus Maximus, in contrast, might find this his ideal distance. Successful in the about 10 1/2-furlong Dee S. at Chester in his sophomore bow, the son of Galileo and high-class miler Duntle didn’t see out the Derby trip when a creditable sixth. Circus Maximus showed his class to prevail in the St James’s Palace on the stark cutback to a mile, and he beat all but Too Darn Hot in the Sussex (G1) at Glorious Goodwood. Donnacha O’Brien reunites with him for the first time since his maiden score.
The three-year-olds carry 125 pounds, seven fewer than the older horses. Among those intriguing at a price is Elarqam, in the form of his life at the moment for the prolific Mark Johnston. The son of Frankel and Attraction didn’t emulate their classic success last season but has captured three of his last four, most recently the York (G2) at this trip. Crystal Ocean’s stablemate Regal Reality, a subpar fourth to Elarqam in that soft-ground event, is better judged on his rallying third to Enable in the Eclipse (G1) two back.
Queen Anne (G1) hero Lord Glitters has course form, having won the Strensall (G3) during the Ebor Festival last summer. The David O’Meara charge arrives via the same route, following a fifth in the Sussex, only now he stretches out farther. Fellow York aficionado Thundering Blue, third in this race last year at odds of 50-1, hopes that a return to the Knavesmire will spark a return to his best form.
Japanese shipper Cheval Grand looks for better ground than he encountered in the King George, when he was sixth to Enable and Crystal Ocean. Given the stamina he’s shown at home as the 2017 Japan Cup (G1) winner and thrice-placer in the Tenno Sho Spring (G1) over two metric miles, Cheval Grand might get outpaced in this spot. On the plus side, compatriot Deirdre bounced back from a Royal Ascot disappointment to upset the Nassau (G1) with the same rider aboard – Oisin Murphy – only this is a lot deeper than the Nassau.
Enable is using Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks as her stepping stone to a three-peat bid in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). As a Juddmonte homebred, she might have been pitched into the International as the sponsor’s flagbearer, but Gosden preferred to keep her at the Arc distance of 1 1/2 miles. It goes without saying that she’s the heavy odds-on favorite to recapture the title she first earned in 2017, and extend her winning streak to 12 against a short field.
O’Brien has supplied a plot twist to what would otherwise have been a formality by supplementing Magical. As the valiant runner-up to Enable in both the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf and the Eclipse last out, she is the plausible upset candidate. The one scruple is that Magical was given a break since Sandown, considering how busy she’d been early in the season, and this looms as a warm-up for the Irish Champion (G1). That said, the master of Ballydoyle might well have something up his sleeve. If Enable regresses from a hard race in the King George, and Magical is at her peak, we could see quite a battle.
Gosden has two more engaged along with Enable, but we won’t know until Tuesday’s final declarations if both will line up. Anapurna, freshened since her gutsy victory in the Oaks (G1) at Epsom May 31, might swerve the superstar and head for the Prix Vermeille (G1) instead. Lah Ti Dar has promised more than delivered at times, but her most significant stakes wins have come at York, and she exits a near-miss third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1).
Oaks fourth Manuela de Vega was last seen second to the imposing Enbihaar in the Lillie Langtry (G2) at Glorious Goodwood, where O’Brien’s South Sea Pearl was third. Stoute’s Group 3 winner Sun Maiden, third to Lah Ti Dar in both last year’s Galtres and the May 16 Middleton (G2), stretches out off a fourth in the Nassau.
While the Yorkshire Oaks is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), it would take a surprising winner to use that ticket.
The third Breeders’ Cup Challenge race of the Ebor Festival is Friday’s Nunthorpe (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Turf Sprint (G1). O’Brien’s dazzling July Cup (G1) winner Ten Sovereigns turns back in trip to take on five-furlong supremo Battaash, coming off a three-peat in Glorious Goodwood’s King George (G2).
Not to be overlooked is Mabs Cross, who lost a photo heartbreaker in last year’s Nunthorpe. She exits a fourth to Blue Point and Battaash in the King’s Stand, splitting smart sophomores Soldier’s Call and Fairyland. Although both Soldier’s Call and Fairyland have something to find on the top two, note that they have York experience. Fairyland took the Lowther (G2) despite not being fully fit from last summer’s infamous Ballydoyle virus, and Soldier’s Call was a fine third off the layoff, and under top weight, to Garrus in the course-and-distance Westow back in May.
Earlier on Friday in the marathon Lonsdale Cup (G2), Gosden’s Stradivarius is all the rage to defend his title and collect the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million for the second year. The son of Sea the Stars pocketed the inaugural £1 million bonus last season by sweeping the Yorkshire Cup (G2), Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot, Goodwood Cup (G1) and the Lonsdale Cup. After adding the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) for good measure in October, he’s continued his triumphal march through the same series of Cup races. Dee Ex Bee, runner-up to the champion at both Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood this summer, bravely tries him again, while Dermot Weld’s up-and-comer Falcon Eight poses a fresh challenge.
Post time for the featured events on the first three days of the festival is 10:35 a.m. (EDT) – Wednesday’s Juddmonte International, Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks, and Friday’s Nunthorpe. Tune in at 9:25 Friday to watch Stradivarius. With no Group 1 action on Saturday’s finale, the Ebor Handicap takes pride of place at 10:40 a.m.