Still reeling from the news of Postponed missing the King George VI, it’s fair to say that the field of seven that remain lack a true ‘A-lister’, giving the race a competitive look, rather than that of a potential classic.
It’s surprising that the omission of one horse can cause such a mood change, but the event is now pretty much a repeat of the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes, with a decent French raider thrown in for good measure. My money will be on Erupt, who appears at least, to have the potential of becoming a serious Group 1 performer. His Arc fifth place finish is undoubtedly the strongest form. I expect Highland Reel to get the better of Dartmouth in the race for second spot, though both are surely a fair bit shy of top-class.
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes remains the feature race on Saturday’s card. Nevertheless, it’s the Gigaset International Stakes that is sure to attract the most attention from a betting prospective. This latest event in the Heritage Handicap series is worth over £93,000 to the winner, and has attracted a field of 26. Ultra-competitive as ever, several ‘old favourites’ take up the challenge, including last year’s winner and runner-up; Heaven’s Guest and Balty Boys.
This year’s renewal is set to be run on very different ground from 12 months ago, and is currently described as good to firm. Heaven’s Guest appears to operate just as well on a quicker surface, as shown when a close second on fast ground in Newmarket’s Bunbury Cup a few weeks back. A stiff seven furlongs certainly suits Richard Fahey’s fella, and though he only just held on for victory last year, he had been in front plenty long enough on that occasion. Adam McNamara takes a valuable 5lb off, and has been aboard on three of the last five starts.
Balty Boys was cutting him down fast 12 months ago, though may find things happening a little quick for him this time around. He’s proven over further, and although he’s handicapped to reverse form with Heaven’s Guest, I’d be surprised if that actually happens. He’s a classy sort, and I expect him to be charging home late on, probably a little too late.
Having covered last year’s front two, the stats suggest that the winner is more likely to be a younger horse, with four and five-year-olds dominant in recent years. Indeed, four-year-olds have won seven of the last ten renewals. Experience of both large handicaps and of running at Ascot, have also proved a positive for those looking to win this race. The last 10 winners had all run at the track.
It should come as no surprise in such a competitive race, with so many contenders, to see that favourites have a very poor record. A third place finish is the best that the last ten favourites could manage, with last year’s favourite not even making it out of the stalls. In fairness, Speculative Bid did eventually exit the stalls, though minus a jockey.
This year’s curse looks set to hang over Suzi’s Connoisseur, who currently heads the market at 7/1. The five-year-old gelding is trained by Stuart Williams for Qatar Racing, and was fifth in the race 12 months ago. He’s not short of speed, but has been known to wander somewhat under pressure late in his races. I fancy he’ll do well to see out this trip, in this company. It would be no surprise to see him go close, only to be chinned late on by stronger stayers.
I was on Flash Fire when he won the Victoria Cup at Ascot in May. Godolphin’s four-year-old then ran a stinker in the Wokingham, on ground too soft and over a trip too short. He bounced back to some kind of form when fifth in the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket. He tops the weights, and that’s a tough ask in a race of this nature. Though a course and distance winner, I’d be surprised if he can win tomorrow.
Marco Botti’s Fanciful Angel is a classy sort, and is the mount of Frankie Dettori. The four-year-old spent the winter in Meydan, and performed well. He was a decent three-year-old, finishing second in the German 2000 Guineas (Frankie rode him on that occasion). He ran no sort of race at Epsom last time, when far too keen in a Group 3. He also has plenty of weight on his back, and that has to be a worry, as would be the lack of experience in large field handicaps.
Bossy Guest is another that certainly has the ability to go well, but whether he has the aptitude is a totally different matter. He all but dropped himself out last time at Newmarket, before rallying late on. His handicap peaked at 114 and is now down to 104. He ran pretty well in the Royal Hunt Cup two starts back, and is reunited with Silvestre De Sousa. You couldn’t be confident that he’ll run well, yet wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
Mutawathea has run two huge races in valuable handicaps already this season. He was a close second to Flash Fire at Ascot in the Victoria Cup, and ran a belter to finish third in the Bunbury Cup. Simon Crisford hands the mount to 7lb claimer George Wood. This is a tough gig for such an inexperienced young jockey, though he looked a stylish rider on Buckstay in the Bunbury Cup. Tactics will be interesting, as the horse was probably ridden a little too positively last time. He has to be on the short-list, on what he’s done so far during this campaign.
Challenging for favouritism is the four-year-old Royal Hunt Cup runner-up Librisa Breeze. He travelled powerfully that day, and looked the winner a furlong out. That came at a mile, on soft ground, and he’s yet to run over a shorter trip in eight career starts. His trainer, Dean Ivory, did say in the week that the gelding would miss the race should the ground stay on the firm side.
Niall Moran trains Dont Bother Me in Ireland, and he was last seen running well in a Group 3 at Leopardstown. Ahead of Gordon Lord Byron that day in a six runner affair, this is clearly very different, nevertheless, he is more than familiar with this event having finished second in the 2014 renewal when handled by Marco Botti. He’s back on the same handicap mark, and although vulnerable to more progressive types, his odds of 20/1 appear more than reasonable.
As hard as I’ve tried to find a four-year-old to uphold recent trends, I’ve come-up short. It’s a five-year-old for me that has outstanding claims, along with two experienced six-year-olds. Mutawathea has been knocking on the door this summer, and I fancy he’ll land the big prize on this occasion. Heaven’s Guest and Don’t Bother Me look sure to run well. I’ll take the latter to be finish powerfully for place money at 20/1.