JAPAN provided Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O'Brien with a record-equalling sixth victory in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York Racecourse.

It is 19 years since O'Brien first struck International gold on Knavesmire with the mighty Giant's Causeway (2000) - and he has since added to his tally with Duke Of Marmalade (2008), Rip Van Winkle (2010), Declaration Of War (2013) and Australia (2014).

Having rounded off his juvenile campaign with victory in the Beresford Stakes, Japan spent the winter months towards the top of ante-posts lists for the premier Classic at Epsom in early June - but those ambitions were dented after he could finish only fourth in the Dante at York in May.

However, he has made giant strides in the subsequent three months since that reappearance - finishing a half-length third at Epsom before dominating his rivals in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and breaking his Group One duck in the Grand Prix de Paris.

Taking on his elders for the first time on day one of the Ebor Festival on Knavesmire, Japan was a 5-1 shot in the hands of Ryan Moore, with Sir Michael Stoute's proven top-notcher Crystal Ocean the 11-10 favourite off the back of his narrow defeat to the brilliant Enable in a King George for the ages at Ascot.

Crystal Ocean battled his way to the front inside the final two furlongs, but despite displaying his trademark tenacity, Japan more than matched him to win a thrilling duel by a head.

O'Brien said: "Ryan was over the moon with him, he's got better and better. We saw he got a mile and a half and we didn't want to bottom him today, which is why we came back to a mile and a quarter with the autumn coming.

"We couldn't be happier and the team back home have done a magnificent job. He had an easy race in Longchamp, it was a steadily-run race and he quickened and got to the front. It was very easy for him and we knew he wouldn't go and win by far.

"He's a lovely relaxed horse and loads of class. The first time he showed us that real class was when he won the Beresford when he beat two of ours which we knew were good horses.

"We rushed him to get back ready for the Dante, but every rung has been a step up. 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."

Moore said: "We had a lovely trip. He (Japan) is a very straightforward horse and all he's done is improve since the Dante."

Meanwhile, Dakota Gold got favourite-backers off to a flying start at this year's Ebor Festival as he completed his hat-trick in the Sky Bet And Symphony Group Handicap.

A winner over the course and distance in late July, the Michael Dods-trained sprinter followed up with a dominant display in the Great St Wilfrid at Ripon on Saturday.

Turning out just four days later under a 5lb penalty, the son of Equiano was the 4-1 market leader in the hands of Connor Beasley and having forced the pace for much of the five-and-a-half-furlong contest, he found plenty for pressure to see off Marnie James by three-quarters of a length.

Dods said: "He's in the form of his life - to come out and do what he's done in the last five weeks is unbelievable.

"He's improving big time and he's run another super race there. The ground is quick enough for him - he's better on soft."

Eddystone Rock (8-1) followed up his recent win at Ascot with a narrow success in the Sky Bet Handicap.

The seven-year-old landed the Shergar Cup Stayers earlier in the month and needed every inch of the two-mile trip on Knavesmire to reel in Rare Groove by a neck.

Winning trainer John Best said: "I thought we were in a bit of trouble there with a fair bit to catch up, but he's been a great horse for us."

Owney Madden (20-1) put a disappointing performance last time out behind him with a gutsy victory in the Sky Bet Nursery.

The Martyn Meade-trained two-year-old finished down the field when failing to handle Goodwood's undulating track, but he found plenty under Rob Hornby in this six-furlong contest to get up on the line by a neck.

Malton handler Richard Fahey and jockey Tony Hamilton sampled success in the Tattersalls Acomb Stakes with 9-2 shot Valdermoro, who won by a neck.