Revenge may indeed be a dish best served cold but, even so, the International Stakes at York is shaping up as hot stuff. Harbinger – who emerged as one of the season's superstars with his 11-length romp in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes last month – will put his new-found reputation to the test on the Knavesmire, ground allowing. Two of his chief rivals will be Byword and Twice Over, who carry the Khaled Abdullah colours of Derby hero Workforce, highest-profile among those vanquished at Ascot.
Byword and Twice Over are not only top-level winners in their own rights but are also specialists over the 10-furlong distance, whereas Harbinger has been competing this year over a minimum of a mile-and-a-half. In the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot four-year-old Byword, trained in France by Andre Fabre, came out half-a-length in front of five-year-old Twice Over, who then landed the Eclipse Stakes.
"Both are intended runners at York," Abdullah's racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe confirmed yesterday. "They are top-notch horses and we'd hope they could be good enough to beat Harbinger. We would not be running in the race if we did not think that was a possibility."
Kudos apart, the Saudi Arabian prince will be keen to make Tuesday week's prize his seventh Group 1 of the season, given it is sponsored by his Juddmonte breeding operation. Of his two contenders, the younger Byword is the higher-rated and least exposed. "I think he will have – and will need to have – improvement in him," Grimthorpe added.
Harbinger, trained by Sir Michael Stoute for one of the Highclere Racing syndicates, will need to be supplemented a week today, at a cost of £50,000 for the International. Although he has been introduced as even-money favourite, with Ballydoyle challenger Rip Van Winkle second-choice followed by the Abdullah duo, too-firm underfoot conditions would rule him out. "He's in great form and the plan is very much to run," Highclere spokesman Harry Herbert said, "but the ground must be right."
The Dansili four-year-old has made giant strides, figuratively and literally, this season since minor surgery to correct a breathing problem has allowed him to fulfil his innate athletic talent, with a four-from-four record culminating in his King George tour de force. A victory over the shorter middle distance is perceived as one that would enhance his value as a potential stallion but only two of the seven horses who have essayed the Ascot-York Group 1 double have succeeded: Duke Of Marmalade two years ago and Troy in 1979. The most notable failure was Brigadier Gerard, who suffered the sole defeat of his career when overturned by Roberto 38 years ago.
Thorough physical examinations produced no obvious reason for the lacklustre display at Ascot of Workforce and the seven-length Epsom winner is still on a softly-softly regime in Newmarket, with nothing yet pencilled in his diary. "He's been checked with a fine-tooth comb," Grimthorpe said, "and nothing significant has been revealed, so we're just going to have to let him tell us when he's ready to go back to the races. Realistically, the one remaining race for him in Europe is the Arc but we're not going to put a programme on him."
There remains the possibility that Workforce will stay in training next year and the same applies to another whose three-year-old career is now on hold, Derby favourite and fourth Jan Vermeer, whose trainer, Aidan O'Brien, held his hands up over the colt's unfulfilled season. "He's on the easy list," he said. "It all went a bit pear-shaped on him; he was a long time starting, then it was a bit quick to the Derby. I didn't do a good job on him and we might stop and start again as a four-year-old."
At a hearing yesterday at the British Horseracing Authority's London headquarters, O'Brien and one of his senior staff, Pat Keating, faced charges arising from events following Cape Blanco's Dante Stakes victory at York in May. The two men admitted breaching the rules by both refusing to have the colt, who had aggravated an injury in running, trotted in front of the racecourse vets and then not attending a subsequent enquiry.
But O'Brien denied he had brought racing into disrepute as a result of either charge. After legal submissions, the panel decided to pursue the enquiry and adjourned the hearing until a date yet to be set.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Mufti (4.20 Newcastle) Not given a hard time after meeting trouble in running on his first outing for his current trainer and will improve for that experience and today's step up in trip.
Star Twilight (8.20 Yarmouth) Made a most encouraging start to her second season with a close third to a horse who has won five times since. Remains unexposed after a light career.
One to watch
Speedily-bred Codemaster (H Candy) A green second on his debut, looks a young sprinter with a future.
Where the money's going
Irish raider Dirar, a winner on the Flat at Ayr in June and third in last week's Galway Hurdle, is as short as 10-1 (with Ladbrokes) for the Ebor Handicap.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Sharp Eclipse (3.20 Newcastle)