Declaration wins fresh battle in war of attrition
O'Brien compares York International victor to his old warhorse Giant's Causeway for toughness
Wednesday 21 August 2013
There is a tendency for the top-class modern thoroughbred to be campaigned rather sparingly, targets identified with a sniper's precision. How refreshing, then, for more of a rat-a-tat approach to prove just as effective occasionally. The Juddmonte International Stakes was Declaration Of War's sixth elite foray since mid-May and the reward for his admirable work rate was to put a second Group One prize on his CV and earn comparison with another hard man from his Ballydoyle stable, Giant's Causeway.
The fact that both horses won the £750,000 York showpiece on their seventh outing of the season – Giant's Causeway back in 2000 – must be an indication that such bursts of fire from their trainer, Aidan O'Brien, are not entirely random. Between winning the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot and today's victory, Declaration Of War had actually been beaten three times, including by two of today's rivals, Al Kazeem and Toronado, and had run just 10 days previously in France. But stepping back up to the plate is what the big streetfighter does best.
"He's got an unbelievable constitution," said O'Brien. "You rarely get one like him. He's had all these races but he never goes backwards in his condition. He's in full work all the time at home, but then he has to be. He's not lost a kilo all year; he's got such a great physique he has to be kept busy. It's almost hard to believe he is still improving, but everyone who rides him and minds him had been so positive."
The son of War Front, a 7-1 shot, bettered fellow Irish raider Trading Leather by a length and a quarter with the 11-8 favourite Al Kazeem another length and a half third. Trading Leather, stepping back to 10 furlongs after his Irish Derby victory and a fine second in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, set increasingly demanding fractions into the long Knavesmire straight and, though he rallied to retake Al Kazeem inside the final furlong, could not deal with Declaration Of War.
"I'm not sure this was such a surprise to us as it was to other people," said winning rider Joseph O'Brien, the trainer's son. "A mile and a quarter on fast ground suits him well. He travelled lovely, relaxed great and toughed it out all the way to the line."
Al Kazeem, attempting to become the first to add the International to victories in the Prince Of Wales's and Eclipse Stakes, was undone by ground faster than ideal. The five-year-old overtook Trading Leather at will approaching the final furlong but would not allow himself to commit fully on the firm underfoot conditions. "He was just looking after himself a bit," said his trainer, Roger Charlton. "And while you hope you can get away with it, if you run a horse on firm ground when he prefers it softer, that is what sometimes happens."
The anticlimax of the contest was the performance of high-class miler Toronado, billed as Al Kazeem's most feared rival. The three-year-old, stepping up to 10 furlongs for the first time, had a proper off-day, finishing an eased-down last of six, never a threat at any stage.
Declaration of War, who races for his American breeder Joseph Allen and the Coolmore partners, may turn out again next month in the Irish Champion Stakes for a rematch with Trading Leather and, if ground allows, Al Kazeem. But his prime target will be the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on dirt, a race in which the more brilliant Giant's Causeway put up his best performance, even though he lost by inches a memorable battle with Tiznow. "This one is a lot like the Giant," added O'Brien. "He's a big, powerful horse, a strong traveller and unbelievably hardy."
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