'Cliffs' and Heffernan look the value in gripping International showdown
Ryan Moore rarely has a really tough choice in a Group One when riding for Aidan O'Brien but today amounts to an exception.
The Brighton native has the pick today on day one of York's Ebor meeting in the Juddmonte International Stakes between a pair that are hard to compare: Churchill, which won both the English and Irish Guineas but is not proven at ten furlongs; and Cliffs Of Moher, which was second in the Derby.
Churchill was due to run at Glorious Goodwood, only for the turf to turn into a mudbath. Cliffs Of Moher was hoping for a clear run in the Eclipse, when he was not beaten far despite being chopped off markedly mid-race at Sandown.
"Cliffs Of Moher and Churchill are both on target for the race but hopefully the rain stays away - they are forecasting up to 15mm," O'Brien told the Irish Independent.
"Cliffs Of Moher was lucky not to fall in the Eclipse, he suffered very bad interference; thankfully everything has gone well since.
"All going well, this should give us a clearer picture of where we are with both horses. With regard to the ten furlongs and Churchill, we always felt that it would be within his compass."
This cannot have been a straightforward choice for Moore, whose mount, Churchill, was last seen running a distinctly laboured race at Royal Ascot. Yet the feeling seems to be that he will put that behind him.
Interestingly, the money has been for the apparent Ballydoyle second-string, which was tipped here at 8/1 on Monday but is now as low as 4/1, with Churchill out to 100/30. They are both perfectly familiar with the likeable Barney Roy, which seems a vulnerable enough favourite but certain to give it a good go.
Ulysses has thrived this year and, having just denied Barney Roy in the Eclipse after travelling all over him, it seems a shade surprising he is only third-favourite. Cliffs Of Moher and Seamus Heffernan look the best value.
If it is an appetiser, the Betway Great Voltigeur Stakes is one of those meals pre-main that may actually be too rich. This is a belter, with Cracksman - touched off in the Irish Derby and now reunited with Frankie Dettori - set to justify odds-on favouritism. He raced a shade lazily at the Curragh and the bit of rain should help bring his stamina to the fore now.
O'Brien relies on three here. "Venice Beach (mount of Moore) ran a good in race France last time and I feel that the track will suit," the trainer said. "Spanish Steps won nicely the last day in Leopardstown, while he was very green in France previously. He has improved a lot and it will be interesting to see him again - better ground will suit him.
"Douglas Macarthur had a break since the Irish Derby and is just ready to start back."
Perhaps the biggest threat to Cracksman, trained by John Gosden, is the Michael Stoute-trained Mirage Dancer. Third to Benbatl at Royal Ascot, he steps up in trip and remains unexposed.
The other Group heat today is the Tattersalls Acomb Stakes, in which Ballydoyle relies on the War Front-bred Fleet Review, which has exhibited an excellent attitude in back-to-back Curragh victories.
"He's progressed with every run, improved from his maiden to the last day and this step up in trip, we always thought, would suit," O'Brien said.
Many Irish eyes will be on the opening race, in which the leading apprentice Robbie Downey steers Moviesta for trainer Edward Lynam. This one is owned by, among others, Harry Redknapp.
The ground at York is good to firm, good in places - but that seems certain to change today with rain on the way.