O'Brien double-handed in pursuit of Crystal Ocean at York
Aidan O'Brien will fire two bullets at tomorrow's mouth-watering Juddmonte International Stakes with Japan and Circus Maximus leading his charge against the world's highest-rated horse, Crystal Ocean.
O'Brien is chasing a record-equalling sixth victory in the York showpiece having landed the Group One for the first time in 2000 with Giant's Causeway and adding to his tally with Duke Of Marmalade (2008), Rip Van Winkle (2010), Declaration Of War (2013) and Australia (2014).
His two contenders have thrived since encouraging efforts in the Derby with Epsom third Japan (5/1) landing the King Edward VII at Royal Ascot in good style before claiming his first Group One success in the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp.
Circus Maximus (9/1) was sixth in the Derby before a career-best when successfully dropping back to a mile in the St James's Palace at the Royal meeting and then pushing Too Darn Hot close in the Sussex Stakes.
The Ballydoyle maestro is chasing Michael Stoute's record haul and the Newmarket trainer is responsible for the favourite in the €1.2 million contest over 10 furlongs, with the ultra-consistent Crystal Ocean (6/5) kicking off the Ebor meeting.
The brilliant five-year-old - a ready winner of the Prince of Wales's Stakes - returns to a mile-and-a-quarter after just losing out to wonder mare Enable over 12 furlongs in an epic King George last month.
The John Gosden-trained Enable was scratched from the field yesterday with Thursday's Yorkshire Oaks her target ahead of a hat-trick bid in the Prix de l'Arc, while Stoute also saddles outsider Regal Reality (25/1).
The chief danger to Crystal Ocean is Gosden's King Of Comedy (7/2) with Frankie Dettori taking over from Adam Kirby after the son of Kingman went down fighting to Circus Maximus at Ascot. Having been supplemented for a fee of €80,000 following a stylish victory in the Group Two York Stakes on the Knavesmire three weeks ago, Mark Johnston's Elarqam (10/1) commands respect under former champion jockey Jim Crowley.
David Menuisier's Thundering Blue (40/1) will try to replicate the excellent effort that saw him take third place 12 months ago, while there is an international flavour with Japan raider Cheval Grand (33/1) taking his place as David O'Meara's Lord Glitters (25/1) completes the line-up.
Willie Mullins will lead the raiding party on Saturday's Ebor Handicap, with entries for Max Dynamite, True Self, Stratum, Uradel, Buildmeupbuttercup and Exchange Rate. Ger Lyons has Mustajeer, O'Brien could be represented by Cypress Creek and 'Fozzy' Stack has left in Carlo Biraghi.