Australia showed just why he wakes up Aidan O’Brien at four o’clock every morning with “my heart thumping” when sauntering to victory in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York.
The Ballydoyle trainer has had countless top-class Flat horses through his hands over the past 20 years, but this, he has long insisted, is the best of the lot, so good that he was able to dispose of some very decent opposition here in fairly dismissive fashion, despite being some way short of his physical peak.
As Australia swept to the front approaching the last furlong, the locally trained The Grey Gatsby, winner of the Dante Stakes and Prix du Jockey Club, followed him through, but though plugging on valiantly was very much second best, a fact acknowledged by his trainer, Kevin Ryan, who saluted a “fantastic” winner.
O’Brien, when asked whether Australia had lived up to all of his lofty expectations, he replied “yes” without hesitation. “He is everything. He has won top races over a mile and a half, but he has the speed for shorter trips. And the thing about today was that, after his summer break, he was 15 to 20 kilos overweight and only really ready for a racecourse gallop. That’s where he was at. But we reasoned that this prestigious race and big prize-money was much more enticing than a racecourse gallop. And if he had been beaten today it would have been my fault, not his.”
Australia is now more likely to run in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown next month, again over 10 furlongs, than step back up to a mile and a half in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, where the bar would be raised higher still against such as John Gosden’s brilliant filly Taghrooda, who should not break sweat in Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks.
Phil Smith, the British Horseracing Authority’s head of handicapping, assesses Australia’s latest performance as worth a rating in the mid-120s, still more than a stone behind Frankel, who won the International Stakes in 2012.
Kingston Hill, runner-up to Australia in the Derby, was withdrawn from the St Leger, the Great Voltigeur Stakes because of the fast ground. Roger Varian, his trainer, said: “Doncaster is the main event so we might go there even if it’s quick. And if he doesn’t go for the Leger, we can go the Arc route. Don’t worry, his day will come.”
In Kingston Hill’s absence, Postponed continued his upward curve with another decisive victory, but is not in the final Classic and is unlikely to be supplemented.
For information regarding the QIPCO British Champions Series visit: britishchampionsseries.com