With the ground on the Knavesmire currently good to firm, good in places, trainer Aidan O’Brien is happy to return to England with the dual Guineas-winning Gleneagles.
O’Brien, who has won the Juddmonte International for the last two years, also saddles Cougar Mountain, who claimed a Group Three at the Curragh last Thursday.
Standing in Gleneagles’ way, of course, is Golden Horn, the outstanding unbeaten colt who was a late absentee from the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last month due to unsuitable ground.
There appears no such concerns at York, however, as John Gosden’s inmate attempts to add to his considerable gains in the Epsom Derby and the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.
Dick Doughtywylie was supplemented last week as a pacemaker for the Anthony Oppenheimer-owned three-year-old and has also been declared.
Many consider the Group One at York a two-horse race, but Roger Charlton is convinced Time Test, runaway winner of the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot, can ruffle a few feathers in the silks of Khalid Abdullah, whose Juddmonte operation sponsor the race.
The Grey Gatsby finished second to the O’Brien-trained Australia in the race 12 months ago and will try again for North Yorkshire trainer Kevin Ryan.
Ryan’s inmate turned in a smashing effort in the Coral-Eclipse, but he was still three and a half lengths away from Golden Horn at the line.
Australian colt Criterion adds further spice for trainer David Hayes, while David Elsworth’s Arabian Queen completes the eight-strong field.
Joseph O’Brien must slim down within the next few days after he was confirmed to ride Gleneagles at 8st 12lb.
Seamie Heffernan will partner stablemate Cougar Mountain.
Meanwhile there’s a mixed card at Sligo this evening, where Shadagann has a good chance to get off the mark over jumps, in the Kilcawley Construction Sligo Maiden Hurdle. Mick Halford’s horse is a useful sort on the flat, and recorded his most recent victory in that sphere back in June, when winning a valuable handicap at the Curragh. Not beaten too far behind Clondaw Warrior at Galway on his most recent outing, he returns to hurdling this time and has an opportunity to stamp his class on proceedings.
The five-year-old had three quick runs over hurdles earlier this year, and showed promise on each occasion, particularly when a beaten favourite behind Mr Boss Man on the most recent of them. He has improved 11lbs on the flat since then, and could yet make into a decent sort in this sphere. It’s significant connections are keen to go back over jumps, and it can reap reward tonight. He gets the nod ahead of Crystal Earth, who seldom runs a bad race, but is a touch frustrating for her supporters. It’ll be very hard to keep her out of the frame.
The other obvious contender is Runyon Rattler, who ran a remarkable race in defeat behind Jesmond Lodge last time, considering he lost 100 yards at the start. He looked a much-improved sort on his previous outing, when winning a bumper by a huge margin, and could yet be anything.
Haqeeba can take the opening race for Dermot Weld. The filly was fifth behind Auld Enemy, on her debut, at Navan, and then improved to finish fourth behind Vitello in a Fairyhouse race which has worked out well.
The winner hasn’t been seen since, but very highly regarded runner-up Now Or Never was most impressive at Galway, third-placed Flirt is a solid 76-rated filly, sixth-placed Rathbride Raven went on to beat Gossip Central, who runs here, in a maiden at this track, while eight-placed Bobailin since won a nursery (subsequently disqualified) off 81.
All of that gives us a good idea where we stand with Haqeeba, and that’s not taking into account the potential for improvement. With a favourable draw here, a visor applied for the first time, and no concern regarding a little cut in the ground, she looks assured of a big run. She is preferred to Jingle Jangle, who was seven lengths behind Leafy Shade on the second of her two starts. This is certainly less demanding, and she can reach the frame.