Top trio out to pip Rip Van Winkle at York
Ante-post favourite Rip Van Winkle heads Aidan O'Brien's quartet of runners during this afternoon's opening session of York's famous Ebor meeting as Irish-bred £50,000 supplementary entry Dick Turpin also goes up in distance for the £650,000 Juddmonte International.
A year ago compatriot Sea The Stars, which had previously outpaced Rip Van Winkle for the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, continued on his Group 1-winning spree as the odds-on hotpot for the Juddmonte promotion to the delight of a huge York crowd.
This nine-runner contest has been sponsored since 1989 by renowned owner-breeder Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms operation, but remarkably the Saudi Arabian-born prince has never seen his famous colours carried to victory in the International.
That scenario could change dramatically this time should either lone French challenger Byword or Henry Cecil's stable star Twice Over, the principals in Royal Ascot's Prince of Wales' Stakes in June, step up on their best form in what promises to be a fascinating affair.
This proven pair, as well as Dick Turpin, are the only horses supported to any great degree in the ante-post market to cope with Rip Van Winkle, whose sterling effort when narrowly defeated by Canford Cliffs over the Goodwood mile suggested Johnny Murtagh's mount is back in rude health.
The form is in the book to justify Murtagh's mount maintaining favouritism to the off over his eight rivals and joining Fame And Glory as Ballydoyle's prime candidates for the remaining middle-distance races at home and abroad in the coming months.
Mind you it won't be easy for the Irish raider as Byword has plenty of tactical pace, as Andre Fabre's charge showed when Maxime Guyon got first run on Twice Over at Ascot, and Dick Turpin which would relish any ease underfoot is something of an unknown quantity at this trip.
Murtagh incidentally has been installed as 11/8 favourite to take the leading rider accolade this week in York ahead of Dick Turpin's pilot Richard Hughes (5/2) by Paddy Power, so the Irish champion needs to make the most of today's opportunities if he's to come up trumps.
Earlier on, his fluent Naas scorer Lake Ontario tackles a tougher assignment in the Acomb Stakes with each-way claims at best before linking up with Irish Derby runner-up Midas Touch which is accompanied by Joshua Tree for the Great Voltigeur Stakes.
A traditional trial for the English St Leger, this Group 2 race sees Midas Touch and Mark Johnston's Monterosso attempting to concede 3lb to their eight opponents headed by Godolphin's Rewilding.