What should have been an exciting countdown to Wednesday afternoon’s Juddmonte International, always the highlight of York’s four-day Ebor festival and this year billed, without exaggeration, as “the race of the season”, instead became another tiresome weather watch as rain, heavier than expected, eased the Knavesmire ground significantly.
Head-to-heads between 2,000 Guineas winners and Derby winners do not come around very often and the stated prerequisite for this rare treat was good, fast ground. Both Gleneagles and Golden Horn have been pulled out of major engagements this summer owing to unsuitable going, and the issue is doubly sensitive for the dual 2,000 Guineas hero now that he is stepping up from a mile to an extended 10 furlongs for the first time.
The rain was being measured in millimetres rather than centimetres and the forecasters were confident that York would see the back of the weather front by teatime, but the damage may have been done. Conditions, officially described as good (good to soft in places), should be OK for Golden Horn, but Gleneagles’ participation will not be assured until trainer Aidan O’Brien and his entourage take their pre-racing march around the track.
The inaugural running of this race, in 1972, was meant to bring together Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef, winners of the preceding year’s 2,000 Guineas and Derby respectively and by then established as two of racing’s all-time greats.
In the event, Mill Reef was pulled out with an injury, but the race still entered Turf folk lore: Brigadier Gerard was a supposed certainty, but on a scorching afternoon in front of a packed house suffered the only defeat of an 18-race career, run ragged by that year’s Derby winner, Roberto.
The race was specifically devised for days like those when Guineas and Derby winners of the same or different generations would take each other on over a compromise distance. In other sports these battles occur almost ad nauseam, but one of the main reasons Wednesday’s head-to-head is so thrilling is that it is so rare; it is 23 years since it last happened at York.
The connections of Golden Horn are, refreshingly, relishing the challenge. “Bring it on,” said trainer John Gosden when he first heard of the possibility. “It’s what racing is all about. It should happen more often.”
The Gleneagles camp has also been congratulated for what O’Brien calls a “sporting gesture”, although it might be said that the Coolmore owners’ partnership, running out of race options anyway as autumn approaches, have far more to gain than to lose.
If he wins, Coolmore can argue he is the best horse in the world and, with blue blood on both sides of his pedigree, would enhance his stud value even further.
But will he stay? Frankel managed the step up from a mile to win this three years ago, but of course Frankel was something else. There is encouragement enough in Gleneagles’ breeding as he is by the Derby winner Galileo out of a full-sister to Giant’s Causeway, whose five Group One victories in 2000 included this contest.
But tellingly, at no stage of Gleneagles career has O’Brien talked about him as anything other than a miler. This will be a proper stamina test, too, on altered ground and with Golden Horn’s stablemate, Dick Doughtywylie, supplemented to ensure a strong gallop, although a minor plus is the use of the inner extension of the home bend because of the change in the ground, which means a shortening of the course by 42 yards.
Golden Horn, unbeaten with five wins from five and clear on ratings, has the best credentials, but he has had a busy campaign, including a hard race to beat The Grey Gatsby in the Eclipse at Sandown last time, and he might just now be vulnerable – if not to Gleneagles, then to the fresher Time Test, who looked so good when trouncing decent opposition in the Group Three Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot that he is just 5-1 to beat the two Classic winners.
His trainer, Roger Charlton, is under no illusions about the task in hand, but is convinced the Dubawi colt will not be out of place in such exalted company. Time Test has a spectacular turn of foot, so jockey Pat Smullen will play his hand fast and late.
Golden Horn will, as his odds suggest, probably win but, with Time Test still to prove himself at the highest level and doubts surrounding Gleneagles, if there is any value left in the market, it perhaps lies with The Grey Gatsby each-way at 12-1. He was beaten fair and square by Golden Horn in the Eclipse, but still rated among the top five horses in the world on turf. Kevin Ryan’s four-year-old has yet to finish out of the first two in four starts at York, including when second to the Derby winner Australia in last year’s International.Reuse content