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Watson hoping for International glory with Aspetar

17 Aug 2020

A select but classy field will head to post for Wednesday's Juddmonte International

Jason Watson is hoping Aspetar’s potent turn of foot can help him upstage hot favourite Ghaiyyath in a fabulous renewal of the Juddmonte International at York on Wednesday.

The mile-and-a-quarter Group 1 contest, which forms part of the QIPCO British Champions Series, is the highlight on day one of the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival. A superb final field of six also includes Kameko, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner; runaway Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner Lord North plus six-time Group 1 winner Magical, who seeks to give her trainer, Aidan O’Brien, a record seventh success in the race.

Front-running Ghaiyyath, whose mark of 127 makes him one of the highest-rated horses in the world, heads the market after pillar-to-post victories in the Hurworth Bloodstock Coronation Cup at Newmarket and Coral-Eclipse at Sandown Park this season but Aspetar, who by contrast is usually held up off the pace, will also go to post in prime shape after an impressive success in the Sky Bet York Stakes last month.

Watson, 20, champion apprentice in 2018, will be riding in the £275,000 showpiece for the first time but has already gained plenty of big-race experience aboard the Roger Charlton-trained five-year-old in Britain, France, Germany and Hong Kong.

“He’s a special horse for me,” Watson said. “He’s taken me around the world and given me one of the biggest victories of my career so far when winning the Group 1 in Germany, and again the other day at York.

“He was very impressive last time and I’d say it was a career-best given the way he travelled into the race and finished it off against that calibre of the opposition. He keeps improving and I’m not sure that, even now, we know what he’s fully capable of. He never really lets us in and that’s what makes him so exciting.”

Ghaiyyath himself seems to relish attacking from the front but trainer Charlie Appleby says it is not imperative for him to lead. “We had a front-runner in Meydan [in the Dubai Millennium Stakes in February] thinking we’d be happy to take a lead but they just aren’t quick enough to be able to lead him,” he said.

“If something wants to go a gallop and we can sit in behind, we’d be just as happy. He’s got a long stride and it’s more a matter of letting him get into his own comfortable rhythm.”

Aidan O’Brien relies on outstanding mare Magical, whose six Group 1 triumphs include back-to-back victories on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot in October. Her connections toyed with retiring the daughter of Galileo at the end of last season but the decision to keep her in training has already been rewarded with two more wins at the highest level this term, most recently in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh.

The past two winners of QIPCO 2000 Guineas to win the Juddmonte International have been two greats of the turf in Sea The Stars (2009) and Frankel (2012). The latter memorably did so as a four-year-old on the penultimate start of his mesmerising career.

Kameko has the chance to emulate them, having not enjoyed the rub of the green when fourth in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on his latest start.

The colours of Qatar Racing, the owners of Kameko, were carried to victory by Roaring Lion two years ago and that colt’s trainer, John Gosden, is this time represented by Lord North. Winner of the Cambridgeshire at Newmarket last season, he took his form to a new level when pouncing from off the pace to thump his rivals in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes last time.

Rose Of Kildare, purchased for only €3,000 as a yearling, completes the line-up. She is dismissed as an outsider but has shown herself to be a tremendous buy, being a triple Group 3 winner.