For once, hype can take a back seat at the three-day meeting at York, England which starts Tuesday. With the first four horses in the betting trained in Ireland, Italy, Japan, and England, the Juddmonte International (Eng-I) is a race that really does live up to its name.
The Aidan O?Brien-trained Ace is forecast as the favorite -- and is expected to be prominent from an early stage as he drops back from 12 furlongs to 10 -- but most of the interest in the build up has been, and will be, focused on the Japanese champion Zenno Rob Roy.
Around 40 journalists from his native country have descended on York to follow the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) winner's every move. The race will be shown live in Japan and Nobutaka Tada, racing manager to the 5-year-old's owner Mrs Kumiko Oosako, said: "The following he has at home is huge, because he is such a champion."
The son of Sunday Silence has been based in Newmarket in the build up to the race with trainer Geoff Wragg and connections have been happy with his progress. "Everything has gone well since he arrived and he seems to like Newmarket," Tada said. "People keep telling me it is a substandard International, but it is a group I and they are never easy. If he's well, we expect him to run a good race. He's a straightforward ride."
Last autumn, Zenno Rob Roy earned legendary status for himself and French jockey Olivier Peslier when winning the Japanese 'Triple Crown' -- the Tenno Sho and Japan Cup, at Tokyo, and the Arima Kinen, at Nakayama.
Trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, 11 times champion in Japan, has targeted York's showpiece for some time. Zenno Rob Roy finished third in his prep race at Hanshin, in late June, and has been stabled with Wragg since July 20. At York, he will be ridden for the first time by Yutaka Take, a jockey who is even more of a hero in Japan than the horse.
Additional flavor to the race is provided by the Italian-trained Electrocutionist, who will be ridden by the in form Mick Kinane. Electrocutionist warmed up for this race with a victory in the Gran Premio di Milano (Ity-I) and his trainer Valfredo Valiani believes the son of Red Ransom
had improved from three to four.
The home challenge is spearheaded by the 5-year-old Norse Dancer, a narrow second in this race last year to Sulamani. Although highly consistent – he was second last time out to Azamour in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I) -- Norse Dancer is bidding for his first group I success in 18 attempts.
Although this year's Ebor meeting has taken a back seat due to the fact that York staged the Royal meeting in June, it is the stage for some top-class racing. Wednesday's highlight is the Aston Upthorpe Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I) in which Epsom Oaks winner Eswarah takes on Playful Act, a group I winning juvenile last season who was second last time out to Shawanda in the Irish Oaks (Ire-I).