O'Brien's Japan produces best to thwart Crystal Ocean in epic
Aidan O'Brien is looking forward to a tilt at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe after Japan (5/1) produced "the best form of any three-year-old this season" to repel hot favourite Crystal Ocean (11/10) and record a thrilling victory in the Juddmonte International at York yesterday.
The pair served up a terrific climax to the extended 10-furlong showpiece, with Ryan Moore just getting the better of James Doyle on Michael Stoute's hotpot by a head to reward O'Brien's patience with Japan.
"We didn't want to overdo it earlier in the year as we were thinking of the autumn. We rushed him to the Dante and every run since then has been a step up - he's stepping up all the way," O'Brien said.
"Horses progress and you're never sure which is the best. We don't look at them like that at home and let them progress from race to race. This horse would have no problem stepping back up in trip to a mile and a half.
"He's the type who will never win by far but is a lovely relaxed horse who does what he needs to do. That's the best form of any three-year-old this season."
Having joined Stoute at the head of the roll of honour for the prestigious Group One with his sixth victory, the Ballydoyle maestro expects the son of Galileo to "probably go to the Arc and maybe take in the Irish Champion on the way".
Japan was cut to 5/1 (from 8/1) for the French feature in October - also slashed to 2/1 from 7/1 for next month's Irish Champion Stakes - with Moore giving a similarly glowing review of his mount.
"He's kept improving since he ran in the Dante here and ran all the way to the line. It was a very hard battle and fortunately this lad got here really late. He's hasn't put a foot wrong and keeps getting better," Moore said.
The Ballydoyle maestro was just touched off in the earlier Group Three Acomb Stakes with Harpocrates (7/1) edged into second by Richard Fahey's Valdermoro (9/2) and he heads back to the Knavesmire today with plenty of chances.
The race of the day sees wonder mare Enable bid for her 10th successive win at the highest level when taking on three rivals in the Yorkshire Oaks (3.35) before heading to Longchamp for her hat-trick bid in the Arc.
It's hard to look past the daughter of Nathaniel but O'Brien's Magical has been less than a length behind on their two most recent meetings and will ensure that John Gosden's star must be at her best to prevail.
O'Brien's Precious Moments - still a maiden after four starts - is likely to find a few too good in the opening Group Two Lowther Stakes (1.55), while the same can be said of Ken Condon's Celtic Beauty.
Joseph O'Brien's Latin Five and Fozzy Stack's Piece Of Paradise (partnered by Frankie Dettori) could make the frame in the Goffs Premier Yearling Stakes (2.25) but Dermot Weld's Search For A Song is the best chance of an Irish winner on the day.
Fourth in the Irish Oaks, Oisin Murphy's mount will enjoy the drop in class of the Listed Galtres Stakes (4.15) while Condon's Crafty Madam has claims in the last (4.50).