Crystal Ocean will bid to confirm his status as the highest-rated horse in the world when he contests the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes at York on Wednesday – the opening day of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained star ran a mighty race in defeat in last month's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
The five-year-old will be joined in the showdown on the Knavesmire by stable-mate Regal Reality. The pair form part of a nine-strong field that includes Circus Maximus and Japan, two Group 1 winners from Aidan O'Brien's powerful Ballydoyle operation.
2017 Japan Cup winner Cheval Grand offers an international flavor to a race that is part of the QIPCO British Champions Series, as well as a “Win and You're In” for the Breeders' Cup Classic. There are also two Yorkshire-trained runners in Lord Glitters and Elarqam – winner of the recent Sky Bet York Stakes over Wednesday's course and distance, an extended mile and a quarter.
Thundering Blue, third in the 2018 renewal of the Juddmonte International Stakes, and St James's Palace Stakes runner-up, King of Comedy, complete the field.
Newmarket-based trainer Stoute said: “It's a tough race. We go there with two nice horses…they've prepared well and we hope for the best.”
Crystal Ocean more than played his part in making the King George an unforgettable race. It's only three and a half weeks since Crystal Ocean's thrilling head-to-head duel with the outstanding mare Enable but Stoute added: “Obviously we're happy with him or we wouldn't have sent him.”
Stoute is keen to see Regal Reality back on ground that's more to the colt's liking. He was third to Enable in the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes at Sandown but found underfoot conditions too soft when well beaten in the Sky Bet York Stakes at the end of July.
Stoute said: “He ran very well in the Eclipse – it was a good, solid run actually. The ground was too soft for him last time. The surface will be more suitable (at York) and we'll learn more about him.”
No trainer has a better record in the Juddmonte International than Stoute, who has won it on six previous occasions. Shardari (1986), Ezzoud (1993, 1994), Singspiel (1997), Notnowcato (2006), Ulysses (2017) have all been successful.
As for other running plans this week at York, Stoute has classy stayer Mekong in the Sky Bet Ebor Handicap and said: “He has been confirmed in the Ebor but we will wait and see what conditions are like. We'll see what the ground is going to be like because we don't want it too quick for him.”
Three-year-old filly Vivionn will tackle Listed company for the first time in Thursday's British EBF and Sir Henry Cecil Galtres Stakes. The daughter of Dubawi was narrowly beaten in a Goodwood handicap three weeks ago.
Stoute said: “We'll take our chance in the Galtres, upping her in class but we have to have a stab at some black type. The Galtres is always a tough race – a lot of people are after the same thing!”
Derevo is entered in the mile and a half Sky Bet Handicap on Friday but Stoute added: “He is not certain to get in.”
The Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival runs from this Wednesday, August 21 until Saturday, August 24 inclusively.
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