Potentially vintage King George may be the race of the season
Photo courtesy of Mark Cranham/focusonracing.com
Courtesy of Nicholas Godfrey of Thoroughbred Racing Commentary
The doors are open to the racing public in Britain again – and after last year’s behind-closed-doors edition, Ascot is preparing for upwards of 15,000 through the gate for a potentially vintage renewal of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Saturday.
A thrilling clash of the generations of the type for which the midsummer showpiece was originally created is on the table for the storied mile-and-a-half contest, which also provides the latest European leg of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge offering a guaranteed spot in the Longines Turf at Del Mar.
Not for nothing is the King George being billed as the ‘race of the season’ as Epsom Derby winner Adayar takes on a top-class field of older horses headed by brilliant Ballydoyle filly Love, back in the G1 groove as a 4-year-old, and Saudi Cup/Dubai Sheema Classic winner Mishriff.
The presence of Godolphin’s Adayar, Frankel’s first Derby winner, is especially welcome. Derby winners habitually used to run in the King George after Epsom – think Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Shergar et al – but more recent trends have seen 3-year-olds rather less common.
Adayar, though, is joined by Irish Derby runner-up Lone Eagle – and, while the loss of Coronation Cup hero Pyledriver through injury is to be lamented, it is a testament to the quality on show that the Curragh runner-up is the only horse in the field not to have won a G1 prize. And he was beaten only a neck by subsequent 6-length Grand Prix de Paris winner Hurricane Lane.
Connections of Hardwicke Stakes winner Wonderful Tonight will be hoping the forecast thunderstorms arrive before Saturday’s race to soften the expected fast ground. Champion jockey Oisin Murphy is set to deputise for William Buick, who rides Adayar for his retainers Godolphin. Broome, Aidan O’Brien’s second runner, would also favour some give.
The King George is also part of the British Champions Series; prize money is back up to £875,000, nearly doubling last year’s Covid-denuded purse of £400,000 as Enable completed her historic treble.
King George: a bit of context
History: inaugurated 1951 to coincide with the Festival of Britain and intended to provide a midsummer championship clash of the generations, soon became a natural target for Classic winners and top-class older middle-distance horses alike won by a litany of greats, among them Ribot, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Shergar, Dancing Brave, Galileo and Enable.
Star turn: Enable (2019) – the late Khalid Abdullah’s superstar racemare made history last year when she became the only 3-time King George winner, with a bloodless victory at long odds-on over just two rivals. Rather more thrilling, though, was the epic duel 12 months earlier in which she just overcame Crystal Ocean by a neck, with subsequent Arc winner Waldgeist staying on for third. So good was this race that the three principals shared top spot on the IFHA’s official world rankings at the end of the year on a mark of 128. By the way, the other dual King George winners are Dahlia (1973, 1974) and Swain (1997, 1998).
Most wins (trainer): Sir Michael Stoute (6) Shergar (1981), Opera House (1993), Golan (2002), Conduit (2009), Harbinger (2010), Poet's Word (2018).
Most wins (jockey): Lester Piggott (7) Meadow Court (1965), Aunt Edith (1966), Park Top (1969), Nijinsky (1970), Dahlia (1974), The Minstrel (1977), Teenoso (1984). Frankie Dettori (7): Lammtarra (1995), Swain (1998), Daylami (1999), Doyen (2004), Enable (2017, 2019, 2020)
Breeders’ Cup Challenge
The winner will receive will receive an automatic fees-paid berth in the Longines Turf at the 2-day championships at Del Mar on November 5-6. A minimum travel allowance of $40,000 will also be provided for all starters based outside North America; the Challenge winner must already be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup programme or nominated by the pre-entry deadline to receive the rewards.
Already qualified (3): Cool Day (GP Carlos Pellegrini), Love (Prince of Wales’s Stakes), Chrono Genesis (Takarazuka Kinen)
Breeders’ Cup past performance
Three horses have completed the King George/Breeders’ Cup Turf double – Daylami (1999), Conduit (2009) and Highland Reel (2016) – while both Fantastic Light (2001) St Nicholas Abbey (2011) were placed at Ascot before their Stateside successes. Enable may have won the King George three times but she did not run in the King George before her victory over Magical in a memorable clash at Churchill Downs in 2018.
Top contenders for 2021
Love (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore) – completely dominant among last year’s 3-year-old fillies, completing Guineas/Oaks double with smashing 9-length triumph at Epsom before rounding off G1 treble in Yorkshire Oaks; tenacious rather than brilliant on return to action when beating BC heroine Audarya in Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and now back up in trip. Currently world-ranked #6
Adayar (Charlie Appleby/William Buick) – progressive type, big and strong, who stepped up markedly on previous form with comfortable 4½-length success at Epsom; got the run of the race there under fine ride from Adam Kirby but was immediately earmarked for this (trainer has never won) and could easily continue improvement. World #70
Mishriff (John & Thady Gosden/David Egan) – rare commodity as a top-grade scorer on both dirt (Saudi Cup, not yet officially G1 but ranked as such by TRC Race Ratings) and turf (Dubai Sheema Classic at this distance), adding to last year’s Prix du Jockey Club; had no answer to St Mark’s Basilica after a break in Coral-Eclipse but no disgrace in that effort; likely to come on for that run. World #9
Lone Eagle (Martyn Meade/Frankie Dettori) – son of Galileo came oh-so-close to landing Irish Derby before just getting caught close home by top-class Hurricane Lane, who has since franked the form; previous 4-length win from Yibir at Goodwood was also boosted when runner-up won G3 at July meeting; gets weight from older horses. World #71
What they say
Aidan O’Brien, trainer of Love and Broome
“Everything has gone well with Love since Royal Ascot, where we were delighted to be able to give her the run in the Prince Of Wales’s. This is up another two furlongs and we are looking forward to it. She’s very genuine and she puts it all in. She would be the main one, but, if was going to be soft, Broome handles it whereas Love wouldn’t be mad about it.”
Charlie Appleby, trainer of Love (on godolphin.com)
“We have seen him maturing week on week; I believe he is physically stronger than he was at Epsom. When you see him in the paddock on Saturday, he won’t look like a 3-year-old against older horses. He looks like an older horse now and he’s approaching his biggest challenge in tip-top condition. It’s true that, before Epsom, I thought he was shaping more as a St Leger type. He’s so straightforward at home, he never stood out in his work. But, having said that, we always felt he was very good. On Derby Day, he showed us a turn of foot we hadn’t seen before, and he has sharpened up a lot for that experience.”
Ted Voute, racing manager to Prince Faisal, owner of Mishriff
“We want to win a Group 1 in England with Mishriff and you can’t win one unless you run in them. He has beaten some very good horses from around the world and now is the time to see what he can do against the big battalions from England and Ireland in particular. I thought Mishriff was a bit gassy at Sandown in the first half of the race, which happens to a lot of horses after some time off, and I just wondered whether he needed a race under his belt to get him spot on. He seemed to run very well backing up from Saudi to Dubai.”
Martyn Meade, trainer of Lone Eagle (quoted in Racing Post)
“We can go on quick ground because we proved that at the Curragh, but I’d quite like to see a bit of rain to slow the others down. We need to look for a bit of pace because he’s not a sprinter. He’s quick through the gears, a proper horse I reckon, and we’ll see on Saturday whether he’ll really go to the top or what his level is.”
David Menuisier, trainer of Wonderful Tonight (world #12)
“There are thunderstorms forecast and a good chance of heavy showers. That doesn’t mean Ascot will get them, but as long as it remains a possibility we owe it to the filly to keep her in the race and take her to Ascot on Saturday, where we will sit and wait.”
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