DECLARATIN Of War has appeared enough times this summer to give him a logical chance of winning any Group One race, but it was still something of a surprise yesterday to see him turn over Al Kazeem and Toronado in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York.
Since causing a semi-upset in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, Aidan O’Brien’s colt was defeated by Al Kazeem in the Eclipse and Toronado in the Sussex Stakes and even managed to fit in another placed effort in the Prix Jacques le Marois some 11 days ago.
O’Brien justifiably waxed lyrical about Declaration Of War’s remarkable make-up, while connections of the vanquished pair were left scratching their heads after their respective third- and sixth-placed finishes.
Eventual runner-up Trading Leather took the field along with James Doyle and 11-8 favourite Al Kazeem poised on his heels. Doyle tried to wind up the pace halfway down the home straight but his old ally for once failed to initiate a response and it became clear Joseph O’Brien and Declaration Of War (7-1) were moving best of the sextet. The game had been up for Toronado long before he had even encountered what would have been an unknown final couple of furlongs and Richard Hannon’s colt looked a husk of his usual self as jockey Richard Hughes eased him home.
Trading Leather, the Irish Derby winner and King George runner-up, was the epitome of belligerence on the rail and threatened to get back ahead once passed before the distance, but he could not quite regain enough momentum to shackle Declaration Of War and was beaten by a length and a quarter.
“He has such an unbelievable constitution, this horse. We’ve never had one like him,” said O’Brien. “Every day at home he’s getting better and better, which is amazing. He looks like a horse getting ready to have his first run. He’s had all these races but he never goes backwards. He’s in full work all the time at home.”
Looking ahead, O’Brien said: “He could go to Leopardstown for the Irish Champion Stakes. The Breeders’ Cup Classic is always a dream and he’s very like Giant’s Causeway [winner at York and Leopardstown in 2000 before running second in America].”
Joseph O’Brien said: “I’m not sure if it was as much of a surprise to us as it was to a lot of people. A mile and a quarter on hard ground suits him lovely.”
Of Trading Leather, trainer Jim Bolger said: “It was an excellent run and he’ll now go for the Irish Champion Stakes.”
Al Kazeem was a further length and a half adrift and his trainer Roger Charlton said: “James never felt happy at any stage. He wanted to press Trading Leather more and he couldn’t do it.”
Today’s big race at York is the Darley Yorkshire Oaks and O’Brien reports Venus De Milo to be in top form. The Duke Of Marmalade filly won on her debut at Fairyhouse in June before following up in Listed company at Naas two weeks later.
O’Brien then threw her in at the deep end for the Irish Oaks at the Curragh and while she lost her unbeaten record, she finished with a real rattle to take second place behind Chicquita.
Venus De Milo returned to winning ways last time out in the Give Thanks Stakes at Cork when she made all the running. O’Brien said: “After the Curragh she thrived and really went the right way. We kept her in full work and have been happy with her since.”
Another three-year-old tackling her elders is the Ralph Beckett-trained Secret Gesture, who finished second in the Oaks at Epsom and the German equivalent. She will be ridden by Jamie Spencer today.