Paddington continues his journey to superstardom in a Juddmonte International Stakes which may be short on numbers, but is bristling with quality at York on Wednesday.
The Group One contest has been won by some of the real greats and this year sees Aidan O’Brien’s all-conquering three-year-old up against a thriving Royal Ascot winner, a Classic-winning filly who cannot be dismissed lightly and a course-and-distance scorer yet to reach his ceiling.
It has been a phenomenal rise to the top for Paddington, who was competing in handicap company at the beginning of the season but has progressed through the ranks to become a multiple Group One winner and one of the best colts in training.
Having extended his winning run to seven in the Sussex Stakes when showcasing his dominance over a mile, the son of Siyouni now faces his toughest cast at 10 furlongs as he bids to join other Ballydoyle giants on the Knavesmire roll of honour.
Should Paddington be victorious, he would gain an automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race O’Brien did not dismiss when speaking after the Sussex Stakes and in which he went so close with Giant’s Causeway, winner of the Juddmonte International in 2000.
“He’s an amazing horse really and all he’s done is progress with each race,” O’Brien said.
“There’s nothing much else I can say about him, every time we’ve asked him a question he keeps coming up with it.
“Everything has gone well with him since his last run. The ground is fine and we know he stays the trip.
“He went to the Coral-Eclipse for his first run over a mile and a quarter, so this is a little bit further on a flatter track.
“It will be interesting to see and we’ll take it race by race with him at the moment.”
Frankie Dettori is locked with Lester Piggott on five race victories and will get one final opportunity to become the leading rider as he deputises for the suspended Jim Crowley aboard John and Thady Gosden’s Mostahdaf.
The Italian last tasted success in the contest aboard his Derby hero Authorized in 2007, but it could prove worth the long wait as he links up with a Royal Ascot winner at the peak of his powers.
John Gosden said: “The plan has always been to come here after Royal Ascot. There’s no change in Plan A, it was always to give him the time.
“He benefited from time between Saudi Arabia and running in Dubai through to June and, again, we’ve taken a similar spacing with him. He’s fine.”
A return to a mile and a quarter saw Mostahdaf thrive in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes where he romped to an imperious four-length triumph over a stellar cast and he has optimum yardage once again as he bids to give owners Shadwell back-to-back wins in the race following Baaeed’s memorable success 12 months ago.
“If I’m honest I was a bit surprised to see him win quite like that, but I probably shouldn’t have been after the way he won in Saudi earlier this year. He was very impressive there and really quickened,” explained Angus Gold, racing manager for the owners.
“I thought he ran well in the Sheema Classic at Meydan too, where Equinox just killed him off the bend and he didn’t get home, but I was still surprised to see just how well he was travelling against a proper Group One field at Royal Ascot, and just how well he quickened.
“I’d probably underestimated him, and it was great to see.”
He added ahead of the Qipco British Champions Series showpiece: “Frankie has had a sit on the horse. It was nothing testing, but he seemed very happy and John and his team were happy too.”
Mostahdaf is joined in the select quartet by stablemate and last year’s Prix de Diane heroine Nashwa, who excelled in the Falmouth Stakes on her penultimate start and wasn’t disgraced when defending her Nassau Stakes at Goodwood most recently.
“The slow pace didn’t really suit her in the Nassau Stakes and the ground was not entirely to her liking,” said Gosden senior.
“But she’s a nice filly and it’s important to run in races of this nature.”
As usual, Hollie Doyle partners Nashwa, and she is full of hope.
“I’m always delighted to be getting back on Nashwa and I thought it was a solid run at Goodwood considering the slow pace and not very nice ground,” she said.
“They had an easy time on the front end and Nashwa moved up like the best filly in the race, but she’d possibly been further back than ideal on that ground, which probably blunted the turn of foot she showed in the Falmouth.
“She takes her races very well, and I’m hearing good reports from home through Teddy Grimthorpe (owner Imad Al Sagar’s racing manager).”
Andrew Balding’s Dante winner The Foxes completes the line-up with connections seeking an upset at a venue where he has proven form.
“The others may be proven at a higher level, but I do feel The Foxes is an improving horse and we haven’t seen the best of him yet,” said Alastair Donald, racing manager for owners King Power.
“It looks like he’ll get his preferred conditions of fast ground and we know he likes the course and distance. It might end up being a trappy race and, you never know, it’s worth being there.
“I think if there was a slow pace, which there might be, that would suit us as well, and you have to be excited about taking them on.”