Dubai: The mercurial James Doyle was denied a coveted first Juddmonte International Stakes (Group 1) victory when Crystal Ocean, the highest rated racehorse on the planet, was narrowly edged out by Japan in an electrifying renewal of the mile-and-a-quarter contest at York Racecourse in the UK on Wednesday.
Sent off as the 11/10 favourite, Crystal Ocean seized the first run as the nine-horse field flattened for the run to the line, with Japan always looking threatening in the capable hands of Ryan Moore.
An epic duel was to unfold as both Doyle and Moore went for broke.
Crystal Ocean, who was engaged in a similar battle with Enable in the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot four weeks earlier, appeared to hold the upper hand as the finishing post loomed large.
But Moore squeezed everything out of his horse in the final strides to win by a head, with Elarqam weaving his way through traffic for a closing third under Jim Crowley.
Japan, the Epsom Derby (G1) third who was completing hat-trick of wins, provided his trainer Aidan O’Brien with a sixth victory in the Juddmonte, and first since Australia, another horse that was named after a country, won in 2014.
“He’s got a great temperament. He’s kept improving since he ran in the Dante here and ran all the way to the line,” Moore told Racing TV.
“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.”
“Ryan was over the moon with him, he’s got better and better,” said O’Brien.
“We couldn’t be happier and the team back home have done a magnificent job. He’s a lovely relaxed horse and [has] loads of class. The three-year-olds are better than anyone thinks. The King George was a bit of a disaster with the soft ground and it didn’t work but that wasn’t a true reading of the three-year-old form.”
O’Brien indicated that the plan for Japan would be either go straight to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) in Paris or head to the Irish Champion Stakes en route.
With a lucrative purse of £1 million (Dh4.4 million) on offer the Juddmonte International is one of the most prestigious Group 1 races in the world, and has been won by some of the sport’s legends including Nayef (2002), Sulamani (2004), Sea The Stars (2009) and Frankel (2012).
Earlier in the day, Logician stormed to English St Leger favouritism with an eye-catching performance under the in-form Frankie Dettori in the Great Voltigeur.
Meanwhile, Enable and Magical will renew their rivalry at York on Thursday in the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks.
John Gosden’s superstar is unbeaten in her last 11 starts, including back-to-back wins in the Arc.