Australia: a comfortable winner of the British and Irish DerbiesPICTURE: Getty Images
Australia faces toughest test yet in International
THE best horse Aidan O'Brien claims he has ever trained faces his sternest test as he lines up against a stellar field in the Juddmonte International at York on Wednesday.
By Derby-winning super sire Galileo, out of Oaks heroine and wondermare Ouija Board, Australia was bred to be the best and has not disappointed so far, finishing a close third in the 2,000 Guineas before routing his British and Irish Derby rivals.
Yet in taking on his elders for the first time, over a distance shorter than he has been racing over and a trip already proven to be optimal for two of his Group 1-winning rivals, Australia has plenty of questions to answer, especially as his trainer has expressed concerns about his fitness following a short break.
"He's a good bit heavier than he was for Epsom and the Curragh, and is really just ready to start back," O'Brien said on Tuesday.
"We imagine he should come on a lot for the run, but he is in good form and all has gone well with him since he last ran. We've always thought that a mile and a quarter would suit him well."
It will have to as it is certain to suit Mukhadram, winner of the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse over the same distance. Also in opposition is this year's French Derby winner The Grey Gatsby, so impressive over the course and distance when landing the Dante in May.
Add to that Royal Ascot winner and King George runner-up Telescope and Australia faces three horses who have achieved more than the 19 he faced at Epsom and the Curragh. Wednesday's field is completed by Arod and Kingfisher.
The fact Australia is the 4-6 favourite reflects the belief the bookmakers' have in O'Brien star, while his son - jockey Joseph O'Brien - has starved his lanky frame down to the 8st 12lb necessary to take the ride, a weight he has not done for more than two years further reflecting the confidence within Ballydoyle.
The ground, described by clerk of the course William Derby as good, good to firm in places should not inconvenience any of the six runners with conditions expected to remain dry until late afternoon or early evening.
The exceptional Sea The Stars was the last three-year-old to win the International back in 2009. It was his daughter Taghrooda who produced a sparkling performance in the King George, at the expense of both Telescope and Mukhadram, to leap-frog Australia at the head of the Arc betting. The bar has been set, we are about to find out how high Australia can reach.