The 2015 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes has brought the best middle distance horses to Ascot to do battle over a mile and a half (3.50pm Saturday).
The Derby winner Golden Horn is the drifting favourite at 4/5. Logic suggests that John Gosden’s unbeaten colt deserves to head the market by some distance. He is rated 6lb superior to the field and receives 12lb from all bar one of them.
This son of Cape Cross quashed his owner / breeder’s stamina doubts over this trip by storming to victory at Epsom. But that was on good to firm ground. After 12mm of rain hit Ascot on Friday, the official going description was revised to ‘soft’. Some jockeys suggested it was verging on heavy.
The only time Golden Horn has met with give in the ground was first time out as a two-year-old. It was his narrowest victory. He beat William Haggas’ thoroughly useful Storm The Stars by just a head on good to soft. Will testing ground take the edge off his impressive turn of foot and push his stamina beyond the limit? There are enough areas of doubt for us to look elsewhere.
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The joint 7/1 second favourite, Sir Michael Stoute’s Snow Sky is an obvious alternative. This four-year-old son of Nayef looks progressive this year. He got the better of former footballer Michael Owen’s star stayer, Brown Panther, by half a length in the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup (over a mile and six furlongs) at York in May.
Most recently he was the surprise winner of the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot. Sent off at 12/1, he made all and won easily, beating Gosden’s Eagle Top by nearly four lengths. It was a masterful ride by Pat Smullen. He settled Snow Sky at a steady pace in front, leaving his more fancied rivals fighting for their heads behind him. There was an unsightly duel between Frankie Dettori on Eagle Top and Adam Kirby on Postponed (who finished third by a nose) that did for both their chances. Snow Sky’s talented but unreliable stablemate Telescope was sent off as the favourite but faded tamely into sixth.
After the race Smullen admitted that he was surprised by the pace Snow Sky showed when he asked him to quicken. It looked a stunning victory but the disappointing performance of the market leaders makes the true merit of it very difficult to evaluate. It has to be a positive that Snow Sky is proven beyond this distance but would he prefer better ground too? Pat Smullen will find out.
Connections were unimpressed by the ride Kirby gave Postponed (20/1) in the Hardwicke and have booked Andrea Atzeni to partner him here. Kirby previously finished a close third in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh in May, a Group 1 over a mile and two furlongs, won by Al Kazeem. In his only other outing this season Postponed was beaten nearly a length by Western Hymn at Sandown in April. In both those runs Kirby had made the pace.
Atzeni should know how to ride this four-year-old son of Dubawi, he has partnered him seven times and scored twice on him at the end of last season. He beat Snow Sky by over two lengths in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at York in August, having tracked the leaders. Trainer Luca Cumani may well suggest that similar tactics are employed here.
Gosden’s second string Eagle Top is joint second favourite at 7/1 and fancied by many to overturn the Hardwicke form. In his only other run this season he finished fourth, beaten two and a half lengths by his stablemate Western Hymn, over an inadequate mile and a quarter at Sandown in May.
Eagle Top also got the better of Snow Sky last year when taking the King Edward Stakes at Royal Ascot. He beat Aidan O’Brien’s Adelaide by over three lengths and Snow Sky by six under a hold up ride by William Buick (pictured).
He ticks the course and distance box but, as a son of Pivotal, is another horse that might not be comfortable with give in the ground. His form to date and consequent rating of 119 suggest that he will need everything to be in his favour to figure here. Richard Hughes has been booked to partner him for the first time.
Trainer Peter Niven’s Clever Cookie (9/1) should love the mud. This seven-year-old son of Primo Valentino does not boast the speed of his younger rivals on a fast surface but stays all day and really operates with cut in the ground. He was effective over hurdles over two miles plus in 2013 and 2014, gaining a hurdle rating of 148. He now seems to be thriving on the flat.
Most recently he won a listed race over one mile six at York at the end of May on unsuitably good ground ‘on the bit’. Previously he took the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes over a similar distance at York on soft ground, beating Marco Botti’s 11/10 favourite, Tac De Boistron. His flat rating of 114 suggests he has plenty to find here but his trainer is in great form and, with testing conditions confirmed, he could fill a place at least.
Another mudlark is the David Simcock-trained Madame Chiang (20/1). Simcock described her as a ‘big and almost gawky-looking filly’ who should get better as she matures. Last season Madame Chiang won the Group 1 British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes at Ascot in October on heavy ground and the Group 3 Musidora at York on soft in May.
This season she was not disgraced in her only run in May in a Group 2 for fillies and mares at York. She was beaten by three and a half lengths by Secret Gesture into fifth. The ground was good and the distance inadequate for her. This four-year-old daughter of Archipenko has never taken on the colts before but on soft ground she might do better than her rating of 113 suggests.
Gosden’s third string Romsdal (33/1) is the lowest rated runner to line up with an official rating of 112. He finished nearly five lengths behind Snow Sky in the Hardwicke, keeping on at one pace in the final furlong. Last season he came second in the St Leger, two lengths ahead of Snow Sky, suggesting that stamina should not be an issue for him. He also finished a very close second to Aidan O’Brien’s Orchestra in the Chester Vase at York on soft ground.
Like Clever Cookie, Romsdal would probably not see this field for dust on decent ground but this race may feel more like a two mile marathon on soft ground – and he seems to handle soft. He will benefit from the able assistance of William Buick and looks to be the best value each-way proposition on offer.
Our King George Preview’s Betting Tips Verdict
Thanks to the ground, this race has become an interesting one for punters who shy away from short priced favourites. Golden Horn is undoubtedly the classiest horse in the line up but this will be a whole new ball game for him. Stamina and the ability to handle mud may well prevail rather than speed.
Clever Cookie fits the bill perfectly but, having been 50/1 just a few days ago, 12/1 now seems ungenerous. Extreme conditions can cause big upsets and our King George preview prefers the unheralded ROMSDAL as an each-way betting tip, currently best priced at 33/1 with SkyBet, Ladbrokes, William Hill, Coral or Betfair.