08/20/2014 11:47AM

Australia impresses in Juddmonte International


Australia staked his claim as one of the best horses in Europe, 3 years old or otherwise, with a last-to-first two-length win Wednesday at York in the Group 1, $754,735 Juddmonte International Stakes.

Australia, facing older horses for the first time after winning the English and Irish derbies in his two most recent races, overpowered the pacesetters a quarter-mile from home and had little trouble seeing off the French Derby winner, The Grey Gatsby, who ran well in his own right to comfortably claim second. Telescope was third, followed by Mukhadram, Arod, and Kingfisher.

Australia and The Grey Gatsby got a six-pound age-related break in the weights, carrying 124 pounds to the 130 toted by older horses Telescope and Mukhadram. The 124 reportedly is the lowest weight that the tall jockey Joseph O’Brien can make, but O’Brien was not about to miss a chance on Australia, whom he has ridden in all seven of his starts, five of which have produced wins.

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Australia, a royally bred son of Galileo and Ouija Board, has been touted by trainer Aidan O’Brien as the best horse he’s trained. It’s a claim O’Brien has made with other horses, most recently Camelot, and must be taken with a grain of salt, as the Coolmore group that owns Australia is in the stallion business, in which a racehorse’s reputation can help make a young sire.

Yet Australia’s performance Wednesday at least suggested that the claim had some degree of merit. Australia settled into last as stablemate and pacesetter Kingfisher came past a headstrong Mukhadram to set the tempo over the firm, fast-playing, left-handed course at York. And there Australia stayed until there was about a half-mile left in the Juddmonte International, a race covering one mile, two furlongs, and 88 yards.

Coming wide nearest the stands, Australia reached the back of the lead pack without being asked, and when called upon for run with three furlongs left, he easily ranged up to take command. Joseph O’Brien cropped him twice right-handed, encouraged him once left-handed, and when Australia jigged right at the latter blow, O’Brien merely showed Australia his stick in the final yards.

The outcome never seemed in doubt once Australia ranged up. The Grey Gatsby, who had raced in front of Australia, got into a little pocket with about three furlongs left and wound up swinging outside to follow Australia home. He easily bested the rest of the field but was no real match for Australia, who is beginning to look like the best English Derby winner since Workforce in 2010 if not Sea the Stars in 2009. His winning time Wednesday off a modest early tempo was 2:07.35.

Australia could make his next start Sept. 13 in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, where he’d be an odds-on favorite. A tougher test – his toughest – could come later this year in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.