Medicean fits role of International banker

York Ebor Meeting: Stoute four-year-old, unbeaten this season, can hold off a powerful challenge from Ireland in main race as curtain is raised on Knavesmire's three-day festival
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The Independent Online

He looks an unlikely character to be representing an operation bent on world domination, but when the scholarly and bespectacled figure of Aidan O'Brien arrives on the Knavesmire this afternoon he will be a figure of dread to his rivals.

The Irish trainer takes no race, never mind a three-day competition, lightly, but the Ebor meeting seems to be a particular focal point. In 1999, O'Brien won the Nunthorpe with Stravinsky and the Gimcrack with Mull Of Kintyre, while last year the Acomb Stakes was spirited away by Hemingway and Giant's Causeway's run of glory continued in the International Stakes.

O'Brien is sailing away with the Irish trainers' championship and though he has only nine winners in Britain he has amassed prize money close to £2m, thanks largely to Galileo. It is a sum which means he is almost £200,000 clear of Sir Michael Stoute as he attempts to become the first Irishman since Vincent O'Brien in 1977 to take the trainers' title in Britain.

If Black Minnaloushe wins the International today he will be almost there. It is, however, a considerable if, because while the son of Storm Cat is following the same route as Giant's Causeway, he is doing so without similar outstanding distinction. It is a peculiarity of the horse that he has to be treated like an end-of-shift miner, seeing daylight only at the very end of his working day. It will be a dangerous game once again for Michael Kinane.

Sakhee, last year's Derby second, represents Godolphin and has been accorded some favour on the back of his recent successful return. But the colt has had knee surgery and has yet to prove he retains the ability of his Classic campaign.

That leaves us with a horse who is getting better with maturity, both mentally and physically. Medicean (next best 3.10) is unbeaten this season and has the measure of these in all known departments.

Ballydoyle is represented in the opening Acomb Stakes by Toreador (2.00), who appears the outstanding runner in a sub-standard Listed race. Stoute's Comfy is both the danger and one for the forecast.

Persian Punch is becoming something of a folk hero of the turf and bids to add another chapter to the growing legend in the Group Three Lonsdale Stakes. But not only has he got to run over a considerable amount of White Rose county this afternoon, he has also got to run against it. Paul Cole's Yorkshire will be a menace from the outset, and their duel for the lead will have a huge bearing on the race as a whole.

"I think Jimmy Fortune will be trying to burn off Persian Punch – it will be interesting and may the best horse win," Cole said yesterday.

"He broke down quite a long way out in the Melbourne Cup in 1998 and he was still beaten only a length – that is how brave he is. This is a better race than the two he has won this season but I am sure he will run very well."

Persian Punch's rider, Richard Quinn, has already visualised the challenge. "He's handled it before when they've come at him," the jockey said yesterday. "He's a very straightforward horse and I can't see any problems for him at all." The confidence is well placed. Persian Punch (2.35) should win.

In the Great Voltigeur, Storming Home has the form but also a Group Two penalty. There to take advantage are Beekeeper, who has been bought as a gift for his second son by Sheikh Mohammed, and Demophilos (3.45), who went close in the Gordon Stakes.

In the Knavesmire Stakes, Mick Easterby has three runners and he has probably not even told himself which one the money is going down on. An educated guess is SPORTING GESTURE (nap 4.15), who is going for his fourth win inside a month yet is still on a lower handicap mark than when successful last year.

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