Donn McClean: Foundry in the melting pot
The Juddmonte International is well-named. In the last eight years, it has been won by horses from Britain, Ireland and Italy, and were it not for Michael Kinane's strength and guile on Electrocutionist in 2005, a Japanese name would have been added to the roll of honour.
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The Juddmonte moniker sits easily now as well, since Twice Over became the first horse to win the race for Prince Khalid Abdullah's operation in 2011, bridging a 22-year gap back to the inaugural running under the Juddmonte banner. Then Frankel went and danced in last year.
No Juddmonte horses this year - no Italians or Japanese either - but the race does not lack for intrigue for all of that. In a straight match-up between the British (4 runners) and the Irish (2), it is a brace of British horses who dominate the market and the headlines.
Even at best prices, they are betting a shade worse than 1/4 that either Al Kazeem or Toronado prevail. The two horses together set a mile-high standard for a top-class race, but you can pick holes if you really want to try. (And you do at those odds.)
Al Kazeem is obviously top class. Tattersalls Gold Cup winner, Prince of Wales's Stakes winner, Eclipse winner, each performance probably a step up on the previous one. However, it would be a huge achievement for any horse to win four Group 1 middle distance races in the space of less than three months. Not that Al Kazeem couldn't do it, but a feat like that requires a special type of horse. Add to that the prospect of fast ground again, for the fourth time, for a horse who is probably at his best on something less than lightning fast ground, and he is not invincible.
Of course, the imponderable about Toronado is the trip. A half-brother to a winner over two and a quarter miles over fences he may be, but such is Richard Hannon's colt's blinding turn of foot over a mile that you would never have thought that he would improve for a step up to 10 furlongs.
He may not disimprove, and he obviously has the class to win an International, but he is priced up no better than fairly at 15/8, and you have to think that the decision to run him has been influenced at least in part by connections' desire to chart divergent paths with him and the same owner's Prix Jacques le Marois runner-up Olympic Glory.
The Irish duo have real chances, no question. Declaration Of War is a player. Aidan O'Brien's colt has two lengths to find with Al Kazeem on their running in the Eclipse, and he has three lengths to find with Toronado on their running in the Sussex Stakes. However, impressive winner of the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, and the sole remaining Ballydoyle representative in the International from four entries (the heavyweight trio Kingsbarns, Camelot and Ruler Of The World were scratched), there is the lingering feeling that we haven't seen the very best of the War Front colt yet. This trip could yet prove to be his optimum, and he is big at 12/1.
The other Irish horse, Trading Leather, could represent even better value at a shorter price. Admittedly, as is the case with Toronado, there is a chance that Jim Bolger's horse will not be competing over his optimum trip, given how impressive he was in battling on gallantly to land the Irish Derby after chasing a fast pace.
However, he had the pace to finish third in an Irish Guineas, and he was mighty impressive in landing a decent listed race over 10 furlongs three weeks before the Irish Derby. Also, York is a galloping track with a long home straight on which they can start to race early, and the International is run over an extended 10 furlongs - so just over a furlong and a half less than the Irish Derby trip, not the full two furlongs.
You would have loved to have seen Leitir Mor in the line-up, he would surely have had the pace to take them along at a good clip until at least deep into the home straight, and Trading Leather could probably have sat in his slipstream until the two-furlong pole. But three races in 10 days would probably have been too much even for the teak-tough Dewhurst runner-up.
In the absence of his stable companion, however, there is a chance that Trading Leather will get the run of the race up front. There is no obvious pace-setter and, given that the Teofilo colt is a prominent racer, it is likely that Kevin Manning will just allow him roll along. Manning is a top class judge of pace and, if he is allowed have it all to himself up there, you can be sure that he will set the fractions that will suit his own horse.
Restrained behind the two pace-setters in the King George, Manning can be a little more aggressive on his horse over the slightly shorter trip and, to that end, the drop in trip could even work in his favour. He is talented, he is still progressive and he is proven at the track. Current odds of 7/1 about him are more than fair, and that could get even bigger with the prospect of further support for his more fashionable rivals.
Ballydoyle took up half the 16 entries for the Great Voltigeur Stakes, so it is interesting that Aidan O'Brien relies exclusively on Foundry. We have only seen the son of Galileo once, in a seven-furlong maiden at Leopardstown at the back-end of last season, when he galloped on tenaciously to come home five lengths clear of his closest pursuer.
With the benefit of hindsight, that wasn't a brilliant maiden, but it wasn't a bad one either, the time wasn't bad for a debutant, and Foundry could hardly have been more impressive in coming clear on the easy ground. The better ground on Wednesday is obviously an unknown, but that is just one of many unknowns. That's what makes him so interesting.
A mile and a half should be well within his compass and, if you are thinking of backing him for the St Leger, best take the 33/1 with Sky Bet before the Great Voltigeur. If he wins the York race, he could be up there among the 5/1 favourites on Wednesday evening.
For more of Donn's thoughts, visit www.donnmcclean.com.