Mike Cattermole offers his expert verdict on the six stars out to shine in Saturday’s King George at Ascot, live on Sky Sports Racing.
Back we go to Ascot this Saturday for British flat racing’s mid-summer showpiece, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes, first run in 1951, live on Sky Sports Racing. The role of honour is littered with some of the greatest racehorses ever foaled, many going on to become champions in the breeding sheds. It is indeed a race for equine legends.
A year ago, it was wonderful to see Adayar become the first Derby winner since Galileo to triumph in the King George, but he is sadly not around to defend his crown, having taken longer than anticipated to come to hand. His Epsom successor, the especially exciting Desert Crown, was also ruled out more recently after a minor setback.
So, only six have been declared but it is still a line-up dripping in class. Westover, an unlucky third in the Derby and since a brilliant winner of the Irish version, represents the Classic crop along with hapless Oaks runner-up Emily Upjohn who was only confirmed after her trip over for the Irish Oaks last week was scrapped at the last minute.
It could be fate, but fate wasn’t kind to her at Epsom and she should be unbeaten. Should she or Mishriff get back to winning ways, John Gosden would equal Sir Michael Stoute’s record of six wins in the race, although this would be the first shared with son, Thady.
Mishriff, the highest-rated runner in the race, shaped brilliantly for this when unfortunate to be beaten in the Eclipse Stakes.
We welcome the stunning Arc winner TorquatorTasso to these shores for the first time and connections will gain encouragement from Germany’s two previous King George winners, Danedream and Novellist, around a decade ago. But what about the ground?
Then there is the extremely talented duo of Pyledriver and Broome, also Group One winners, who are more than worthy of consideration in this compelling renewal.
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien; Jockey: Ryan Moore
Bidding to become just the third winner of his age group after Swain and Enable, Broome might be the senior member of the field but he looks to be the one that will be most suited by the quick underfoot conditions which, barring a wildly inaccurate forecast, are set to prevail.
On firm, he went down by only half a length to Yibir in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar last November and then, last month, on good to firm over this very same course and distance, he was a comfortable winner of the Hardwicke Stakes, when making most of the running.
That said, he was a little disappointing when a well-held fourth in this last year (nearly eight lengths behind Mishriff), also on good to firm, but he might be a better horse now and is certainly arriving here in much better form.
This will be his 12th Group One and he has been successful in just the one, the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud last year, notably again when making the running.
There is a big chance that Ryan Moore will turn for home in front and he could prove tough to rein in. Much respected.
John and Thady Gosden; James Doyle
He has been a fabulous globe-trotting ambassador for connections, amassing over £11m in prize money.
There was a time when it seemed he reserved his best for foreign shores, such as when winning the French Derby and then plundering huge purses in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. However, that illusion was shattered when he romped home by a stunning six-length margin in last August’s Juddmonte International at York.
That was on the back of a second in this contest to Derby winner Adayar (Broome well held in fourth).
Arrives here ready to be in peak condition on the back an unlucky second in the Eclipse behind this year’s brilliant French Derby winner Vadeni. Vadeni had the run of the race – out on the wing – while Mishriff got stuck on the inside and, when pulled wide, rallied well to get to within a neck of the winner and just ahead of Native Trail and Lord North.
If things had fallen right, perhaps David Egan would not have lost his job as the owner’s retained jockey. James Doyle, who has notched up a CV of top-class wins this season, now takes over.
Versatile on any ground, he will be patiently ridden as usual, probably not too far behind the pace, before pouncing. Now at his physical peak, and with a fine preparation, he will take a lot of beating.
William Muir & Chris Grassick; PJ McDonald
Because of his background story – nobody wanted him as a foal – he will always have his supporters, me included.
High class and consistent and on all types of ground, he gained his Group One in last year’s Coronation Cup when allowed to stride on. However, he couldn’t match Hukum’s finishing pace this time around when trying to follow up under another positive ride (led after two furlongs) last month.
In between, he has run big races in defeat in both the highly competitive Hong Kong Vase and Dubai Sheema Classic, the latter in which he finished fourth but was probably second best on merit.
Usually takes a good grip in his races and, with Martin Dwyer still sidelined, PJ McDonald (1/1 on him) is back on board. I suspect he will lie handy and do his best, but even at his best, he is likely to fall just a little short.
Marcel Weiss; Rene Piechulek
Top-class German star who created a huge surprise in last year’s Arc when, as an unconsidered 80/1 shot, he overcame a whole host of Group One stars to land Europe’s greatest prize.
Until that point, “TT” had looked very smart already, chasing home the future Arc runner-up In Swoop in the Deutsches Derby of 2020 before snaffling his first Group One in the Grosser Preis von Berlin later that year.
As a four-year-old, he was foiled by the English filly Alpinista in his bid to follow up in that race but then took the Group One Grosser Preis von Baden as his Arc stepping stone.
His latest campaign began in abysmal fashion at Baden-Baden, when he looked a shadow of his usual self, but normal service was resumed at Hamburg last time.
So, how come the big strides forward last October? Likely it was the prevailing heavy ground at ParisLongchamp that he clearly relished and enabled him to produce that outstanding turn of foot. He will not be enjoying those conditions this time, far from it, and indeed will be encountering the quickest ground of his career.
Connections have always said that another Arc is the long-term target and have surprised by admitting that he may not even be fully tuned up for this.
History, however, has told us never to underestimate a German-trained runner in the King George, with Danedream and Novellist both triumphing here in 2012 and 2013.
Even Hurricane Run, winner here in 2006, was German-bred.
Ralph Beckett; Colin Keane
A fast improver who has an identical profile to Alamshar, hero of this race in 2003. He too had run third in the Derby before going two better at the Curragh.
There’s little argument that Westover didn’t get the run of the race at Epsom, making up a tremendous amount of late ground after being denied room when others around him were kicking on. However, Desert Crown was idling in front and Westover was probably second best on the day.
Assuming Oaks winner Tuesday underperformed in the Irish Derby, Westover was left with little to beat but he could not have been more impressive as he strolled home seven lengths clear.
Comes here at the peak of his form after just six races and with the promise of probably more to come.
But will he be up to repelling the older horses?
John and Thady Gosden; Frankie Dettori
Unexposed stablemate of Mishriff who only comes here after her flight to Ireland for last week’s Irish Oaks was cancelled.
She lost her unbeaten record in controversial fashion when beaten a short head by Tuesday in the Oaks, having started as the 6/4 favourite, following wide-margin wins at both Sandown and the Musidora Stakes at York.
Yes, she stumbled and began slowly at Epsom but only gave away around three lengths to Tuesday, who also wasn’t best away and deliberately given time to settle. The Gosdens’ filly had made up that ground before they had covered the first quarter of a mile, although that would have used up some valuable reserves.
Emily Upjohn then had Tuesday right there in front of her for much of the race before Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore took a different route up the home straight.
Frankie brought Emily wide, whereas Ryan stayed on the inside on Tuesday. Having cruised into contention approaching the two-furlong pole, it appeared that Frankie was unaware of Tuesday’s sudden move to kick on up the inside, grabbing a valuable advantage.
That, for me, was where the race was won and lost, not so much from the slow start.
Emily Upjohn has a fine turn of foot and made up a lot of ground and was only denied by a head-bob. Nashwa, the Prix de Diane winner next time, was third.
Seven-time King George winner Frankie will be hell-bent on making a point here and his mount looks hard to rule out as she gets all of the allowances, being the only three-year-old filly in the line-up.
But why wasn’t she inked in for this in the first place?
Mike Cattermole’s big-race verdict:
Mishriff is going to be a tough nut to crack on the back of an excellent run in the Eclipse when it was said he wasn’t quite fully wound up. The ground will not be an issue and the return to a mile and a half might just suit.
Broome can outrun his price on ground that he will relish but the same cannot be said about Torquator Tasso who surely would prefer an easy surface and might be found wanting.
Westover is respected and is set to claim third from Emily Upjohn, with Pyledriver right on top of them.
Watch every race on Qipco King George Diamond Weekend at Ascot live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday July 22 and Saturday July 23.