Juddmonte International Stakes: Rip Van Winkle bides his time
Rip Van Winkle has always been on tip-toes, with those notoriously tender feet, even at the sort of heights he regained here yesterday.
It is almost fitting, then, that his success in the Juddmonte International Stakes was hardly a preening exhibition of brilliance. He arrived only just in time to trample over the remnants of Twice Over and Byword, who had been pummelling each other for much of the straight. But shiny shoes in barracks drill will only get you so far, once you reach the trenches. And Rip Van Winkle, now winner of three Group One prizes, has unquestionably earned his stripes.
In his first season, he immediately disclosed unusual talent on the Ballydoyle gallops, but also offered Aidan O'Brien the first ominous evidence that he would not be easy to train. Last year he was duly still feeling his way in the Classics and then had to find a way round the apparently ubiquitous Sea The Stars. One way or another, he ended up serving an exacting tour of duty and yesterday represented due vindication for a change of strategy by O'Brien and his patrons.
Rip Van Winkle did not resurface until Royal Ascot, where he seemed to lay only shallow foundations for the rest of the campaign. But he built up nicely against Canford Cliffs at Goodwood last month and those two runs together toughened him up sufficiently to step back up to ten furlongs — over which distance he last year set Sea The Stars the most searching challenge of his career.
This more patient approach to his deployment was matched in the race itself by Johnny Murtagh.
Though an undemanding gallop might have favoured those nearer the pace, Murtagh allowed Maxime Guyon to strike for home early on Byword — rather too early, perhaps — and Tom Queally must have thought that his fierce ride on Twice Over had won the spoils as the line approached.
But Rip Van Winkle, after initially hanging fire, had now found his range and there was something inexorable about the way he ran down the Abdulla pair. Though he only got there in the final strides, he won by half a length, more or less easing up.
Byword was spent, another three-quarters of a length away, but remained well clear of Cavalryman and then Dick Turpin, who failed to settle over the longer trip.
“Aidan had a plan this year with this horse, that he was going to take it slow,” Murtagh explained.
“There's a lot of big races coming up at the end of the year, and we want to have him fresh and well. I think he'll improve again from today, he was still a bit rusty.”