Hawkbill primed to land York’s International at Postponed’s expense

York racecourse Hawkbill primed to land York’s International at Postponed’s expense Godolphin colt has won his last six races including the Eclipse Stakes
Idaho ready to advertise his status as St Leger favourite in Great Voltigeur

Many Group One winners have made inauspicious starts to their racing careers, but few have hidden their light as thoroughly as a son of the American stallion Kitten’s Joy in a maiden at Newbury last April. Hawkbill officially finished ninth of 10 starters, 21 lengths behind the eighth horse over the line, and was spared the ignominy of finishing last only because one of his opponents dumped his jockey in the opening strides.

Timeform’s on-the-spot verdict was that a horse who had cost $350,000 as a yearling “could hardly have shown any less”. Yet seven races and 16 months later, Hawkbill is already a Group One winner in last month’s Eclipse and, on the official figures, the joint second-best three-year-old in Europe, 1lb behind Harzand, the Derby winner in England and Ireland. By Wednesday evening, Hawkbill could be out on his own as the new leader of the Classic generation.

To move further up the ladder, Hawkbill will need to beat the first double-figure field for the Juddmonte International Stakes this century when the Ebor Festival opens at York on Wednesday afternoon. In particular, he will need to overcome Postponed, currently the top-rated horse in Europe, who is unbeaten in five starts since June 2015, but there are also three more previous Group One winners in the 12-strong field. With Wings Of Desire, the Dante winner in May over the same course and distance, also in contention, this is, quite simply, the best field to assemble for any race in Europe this season.

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Postponed missed the King George at Ascot in late July with a respiratory infection which has affected a number of horses in his yard, but Roger Varian, his trainer, believes the horse is ready to do himself justice. The drop back to an extended 10 furlongs is a nagging worry as well, however, and Hawkbill (nap 3.40) is a very fair price at around 9-2 to emerge on top on Wednesday given his relative scope for further improvement when compared to his main rivals.

“We were delighted with the way he won the Eclipse and he’s continued to improve as the season’s gone on, both mentally and physically,” Jim Clarke, media manager for Godolphin, Hawkbill’s owner, said on Tuesday.

“It’s a very tough race, but based on form and the way he’s been going at home, he definitely deserves to take his chance. We’ve yet to see where the limit is with him, but this will give us a very good indication of where he fits in. He took time to mature but now it’s great to see him putting it all together.

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“There was cut in the ground for the Eclipse and tomorrow it looks as though the track will be much more firm, but hopefully that will suit Hawkbill, as [his US-based sire] Kitten’s Joy is a really good turf stallion that’s had a lot of really good fast-ground horses in America.”

Godolphin has had two wins at the highest level already in August, with Ribchester taking Sunday’s Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville and Frosted landing the Whitney at Saratoga, one of the highlights of the American season, the previous weekend. While still some way short of their dominance around the turn of the century, this season could well be Godolphin’s best for a decade if their leading horses maintain their current form.

They are still in the market for new recruits too, and Best Of Days (2.30), bought to join the operation after a six-length maiden success in July, may get the royal blue silks off to an excellent start to the meeting in the Acomb Stakes. Idaho (3.05), the clear favourite for next month’s St Leger at Doncaster, should win his trial in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, while Havana Beat (next best 4.20) is better than his recent form suggests and is a big price at 11-1 for the stayers’ handicap.

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