2012 Ascot King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes Preview, Trends and
Saturday sees one of the most prestigious middle distance races in the British flat calendar, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Run over a mile and a half of Ascot's round course, the race is open to three year olds and upwards, and this year features a gamut of gloriously global gallopers.
Runners from Japan, Germany, France, and Ireland will take on the home defence, with Japanese Derby winner, Deep Brillante, the sole classic generation representative.
As such, Deep Brillante receives a twelve pound weight concession from his elders (nine pounds from the mare, Danedream).
It's a really deep contest, with class oozing out of almost the entire field. Indeed, between them, this year's King George line up has won fourteen Group or Grade 1 races collectively, with seven of the ten horses having scored in that top grade.
Let's start by looking at the historical trends for the King George, before moving on to a fuller form preview, and finally a tip (or two) for the race.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes Trends
The top trainers in the last twenty years have been Saeed bin Suroor, with five wins; Sir Michael Stoute, with four; Aidan O'Brien (3); and, John Oxx (2).
The Irish have won the King George six times in the last two decades, and the French twice. British-trained horses have won the other twelve races.
Ten of the last fifteen winners won last time out. The other five were second or third. None of the thirty horses out of the medal positions last time out won the King George in the last fifteen years, and only four even managed to make the frame.
In the last fourteen years, the biggest priced winner was Alamshar, at 13/2. However, fifteen years ago, the magnificent Swain won his second King George at odds of 16/1, beating an equally star-studded field. The favourite has won six of the last eight.
Three year olds have won three of those fifteen (from 23 runners, 13% strike rate); four year olds have taken nine (from 58 runners, 16% SR); five year olds are two from 32 (6%); six year olds one from eleven (9%); and the four horses older than that have failed to win or place.
Twelve of the last fifteen winners were running between sixteen and sixty days after their previous start. No winner has won in that time having run within the last fortnight, and only two have won off a break of 25 days or less (from 32 who tried).
So we're probably looking for a four year old, who was in the first three last time, is fancied in the betting, and has run within the last sixty days (but not in the last fortnight). The likeliest winner on trends, then, is Sea Moon, a four year old last time out winner, who previously ran 28 days ago (and is a course and distance winner to boot). He's 3/1 in the betting.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes Form Preview
The trends may or may not be instructive, as it's very hard to put a line through the likes of St Nicholas Abbey and Dunaden purely on the basis of age. Let's look more closely at the race record of the main contenders, and do what we can to assimilate form from around the globe... starting with the Japanese runner.
I have a couple of friends at the Japanese Racing Association, and I know they are very excited about Deep Brillante's participation here. The best Japanese middle distance horses tend to fare well on the international stage.
For instance, Victoire Pisa won the 2011 Dubai World Cup; Nakayama Festa was second in the Arc in 2010; and Deep Impact had been third in the 2006 Arc. It's no coincidence that all those races were over middle distances, and Deep Brillante, a son of Deep Impact gets a very healthy weight concession here.
His win in the Japanese Derby was in a field of eighteen, and his front-running style might be well suited to the way the race pans out.
Robin Hood is in the field to make the pace for St Nicholas Abbey and, while Nathaniel will probably not be far away, I expect Deep Brillante to be closest to the pacemaker.
Without any kind of handle on the merit of the Asian three year olds, or indeed any of their horses, I've referenced the Racing Post Ratings, which imply Deep Brillante has a fair amount to find. But, in a race that should be run to suit, I think he may outrun his odds, and his historical ratings.
The next in the weights, by dint of being a mare, is the 2011 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, Danedream. A doughtier young lady it would be hard to find, as she demonstrated when waltzing away with that Championship middle distance race last October. There can be no fluke about a five length win in Group 1 company, and she has to be respected back in a proper field after that four runner dawdle last time.
As a mare against colts and horses, she gets three pounds from all bar Deep Brillante, and if she runs to her Arc form - on ground that will be fine - she must be thereabouts.
She's joined in the ranks of four year olds in the race by Robin Hood, Brown Panther, Masked Marvel, Nathaniel, Reliable Man, and Sea Moon.
The first three are quite hard to fancy here: Robin Hood is a 250/1 pacemaker; Brown Panther has never won above Listed class (though he was second in the St Leger); and Masked Marvel beat Brown Panther in that St Leger, but has a mountain (range) to climb against Danedream and St Nicholas Abbey on subsequent Group 1 form.
Reliable Man has been anything but. After winning four of his first five starts, including the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Niel last term, he flopped badly in the Arc, where the good ground was said to have been against him.
Since then, he ran a respectful third to Cirrus Des Aigles on his seasonal debut this term (second horse, Giofra, won the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket last week); and has since run twice on supposedly unsuitable good ground, finishing seventh and fourth.
In both of those most recent defeats, Reliable Man was beaten less than four and a half lengths, and he should appreciate the softer surface as well as the longer trip here.
If it stays on the soft side, Reliable Man has place chances.
Nathaniel and Sea Moon complete the four year old team, and they vie for favouritism in the market too. The former is a most progressive animal, having shown himself to be best suited to Ascot and a mile and a half. Indeed he has two wins at Ascot (including in this race last year), and three wins at the trip, two of them here.
Last time out, on his first start of 2012, Nathaniel was fit enough and good enough to win the Coral Eclipse, vanquishing Farrh et al by half a length and more. He did have a tough race that day and, whilst Johnny G is a man who is infinitely more knowledgeable about horse condition than me, that break of just fourteen days since the Eclipse, after a break of nine months prior, is a big worry if you're tempted by 11/4.
Obviously, Nathaniel is up to this sort of a race, but at the price, I'm not too interested, given the prospect of a 'bounce' (running badly after a big effort off a long break).
Sea Moon is Sir Michael Stoute's entry, as he bids to record his sixth win in the race, since Shergar first did the biz for him here back in 1981. A typically progressive middle distance type from the Sir Michael barn, Sea Moon has yet to win in Group 1 class, but hinted that he may soon put that right when winning the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes, over course and distance.
He beat Dunaden that day, and whilst the second was unquestionably unlucky, he still had three and a quarter lengths of daylight between himself and the winner. If Sea Moon has a ground preference, it is probably for a bit of cut, and it is conceivable that with both improvement from three to four and that juice in the turf, he can reverse form with St Nicholas Abbey from last year's Breeders Cup Turf.
In any case, that race was run at a canter, and the form is probably muddling.
Sea Moon's last three runs bring in, as referenced above, the two remaining horses in this field: St Nicholas Abbey and Dunaden. I have to confess to a soft spot for both horses. St Nick ran in the race I sponsored, the geegeez.co.uk Alleged Stakes back in 2011; and Dunaden is trained by one of my favourite overseas trainers, Mikel Delzangles, whose UK runners must always be respected (two wins and six places from 19 runners in UK Class 1 company).
Although a son of Montjeu, whose progeny tend to take after their father and act on soft ground, St Nicholas Abbey has shown his best form on good or faster, and that has to be a concern here. His overall level of form on going with 'soft' in the description has seen him beaten in his last four races, only one of which was a Group 1 (this race last year).
On balance, I'll reluctantly pass him over, even though I understand he was working very well last week.
Dunaden is a six year old who opened his account at the sixth time of asking, when winning a claimer at Strasbourg (!) in May 2009. He then won an Angers handicap that November, before opening his account in pattern class, with a Listed win at Lyon a year later.
That was his 21st race, so he could hardly be called an early developer! Since then, of course, he's gone on to win the Melbourne Cup and the Hong Kong Vase, both Group 1's, and was unlucky not to have been at least a lot closer last time in the Hardwicke, as alluded to above.
This is tougher, but there's no doubt he thrives on racing, and if anything may still be improving. If Sea Moon has a chance here, then so must Dunaden and he's more than twice the price.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes Tips
As you'll have gathered if you've read the above, it's not an easy race to decipher. Chances can be given to all of Nathaniel, Sea Moon, St Nicholas Abbey, Dunaden, Danedream, Deep Brillante, and even Reliable Man.
For me, I'll not be tempted by Nathaniel (recency of a hard run) or St Nicholas Abbey (going concern) this day, but they remain top class horses for the future.
Sea Moon is progressive, and will need to be, as he's yet to win in Group 1 company. However, his only two defeats were when unlucky in running in the St Leger, and when tapped for toe on very fast ground in the BC Turf. He remains upwardly mobile and is the most likely winner for me here.
At bigger prices, I think Dunaden has a great chance of making the frame, and he looks an each way bet to nothing on his recent form, at around 7/1.
And it wouldn't surprise me at all if one or more of Danedream, Deep Brillante and Reliable Man made the frame.
Not a race to go mad in from a betting perspective, but my 1-2-3 are...
Selection: Sea Moon
Next Best: Dunaden
Best each way: Deep Brillante