2-7-23 Curragh. Auguste Rodin and Ryan Moore win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Group 1). (c) Pat Healy / Racingfotos

Monday Musings: A Diamond Studded King George in Prospect

It looks as though we might be getting a twelve furlong Race of the Year in England just as Sandown’s Coral-Eclipse Stakes three weekends back provided a midsummer pecking order between the generations, writes Tony Stafford. Ballydoyle’s Paddington won that and now the Aidan O’Brien stable’s other 2023 Classic-winning colt is due to line up in Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes.

That horse is Auguste Rodin, coming on from the two Derby wins, emphatically at Epsom over King Of Steel, and a shade controversially against fellow Coolmore inmate Adelaide River in his home Derby. More than a few close observers of the Curragh race noticed a marked differential between the relative energies of Ryan Moore on the winner and Seamie Heffernan on the runner-up.

Adelaide River had been only eighth at Epsom, so as the favourite joined him on the outside at the head of affairs, a “see you later” type of accelerating flourish was on everyone’s minds, but it didn’t quite work out like that.

Then again, Adelaide River is a fair tool as he showed under Ryan in the subsequent Grand Prix de Paris on Bastille Day ten days ago. He ran a close second to the Pascal Bary-trained Kingman colt Feed The Flame, now a winner of three of his four career starts, all this year, with just the French Derby as a negative.

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More easily quantified for Anglo/Irish observers was the presence in third in Paris of the Gosdens’ Oaks winner, Soul Sister, who saw off Savethelastdance at Epsom in a battle of the super fillies. Savethelastdance put her seal on the overall form picture with a Group 1 win of her own in the Juddmonte Irish Oaks on Saturday.

Lucky it wasn’t on Sunday as the two scheduled midsummer Sunday flat programmes, one each in Ireland and Redcar in the UK, were off through waterlogging as is Cartmel’s jumps card today. It was a bit wet at the golf and the cricket, too, but it was nice for the Athletics in East London.

So here we are, summer half over, the nights are starting to draw in and eight of the ten UK and Irish Classics are already done. Every year I say something similar. We’ve Ascot this week, Goodwood, York, the St Leger and not much else. And before the next month is out, trainers will be asking owners to re-invest at the upcoming yearling sales and chase all that generous BHA prizemoney.

But to return to the King George. Adelaide River and King of Steel, the two runners-up in the Epsom and Irish Derby wins of Auguste Rodin, form – along with their vanquisher – a three-horse bloc against 16 older horses at the latest entry stage. We will know after midday today how many have stayed in. The most likely port of attrition is O’Brien, who had nine still engaged up until last night. That number is sure to be trimmed by a few.

The first question of course is whether Auguste Robin will be pitted against the Roger Varian-trained Amo Racing colt, King Of Steel. Varian had been very forthright about the chance he thought the son of Wootton Bassett had on his stable debut at Epsom having been trained previously by David Loughnane.

Starting at 66/1, a furlong out he looked to have won the Derby having gone clear in the straight under new Amo jockey Kevin Stott, but Auguste Robin pulled him back late to win by half a length. It was five lengths back to the rest – hence no extra three-year-old challengers for this weekend.

While O’Brien waited for the Irish Derby, Varian went quickly to Royal Ascot and the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes. Once called the Ascot Derby, it gave a chance for a trio of Epsom also-rans to try to depose the emerging star, but they were wiped away. It was the ease of that win that encouraged some of the Machiavellian thoughts to emerge among the racecourse crowd – if there is such a thing.

One view was, if Auguste Rodin takes on King Of Steel again and beats him once more, that’s fine. If the result gets turned around, though, the downside for Auguste would be severe. If he stays away and King of Steel wins – “We’ve already beaten him in the Derby”, they can and will say – and in that regard in the Derby hero’s absence, effectively King Of Steel would be running for him, reputation-wise.

Some of that tortured reasoning has its basis on that less emphatic than expected run on the Curragh, but whatever the rights and wrongs of that, Auguste Rodin is lining up to be the first winner of the two Derbys and then the King George since Galileo.

The Ascot race has gone to the Classic generation seven times in the 22 years since Galileo’s success. Two went to fillies, Taghrooda in 2014 and Enable three years later. Of course, Enable was destined to win the race twice more after a break as a four-year-old when she missed the entire summer.

Adayar, the Derby winner of 2019 for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin did win the King George but didn’t appear in Ireland in between. He is one of two further Derby winners still engaged, joined by Desert Crown, last year’s Epsom hero for Sir Michael Stoute, but absent for the rest of his Classic year.

Adayar did make a winning return to action this spring, but two defeats, including at long odds-on as recently as the July meeting at Newmarket, must make him a doubt on both the scores of form and the short time since that appearance.

Desert Crown’s comeback defeat, half a length behind Hukum in the Brigadier Gerard at Sandown in late May, was diminishing in form terms, but the apparent growing confidence behind the Owen Burrows six-year-old, who would enjoy a testing surface, should also throw a favourable light on last year’s Epsom victor.

Talking of 2022 winners, how about the ever-improving Pyledriver? Also a six-year-old, he ran his best race of an illustrious career when seeing off 2021 Arc winner Torquator Tasso in this race last year and returned at the Royal meeting a month ago after that near one-year gap, romping away with the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes.

He might have knocked a few of his rivals over in the closing stages there, but after his delayed return you could imagine William Muir and co-trainer Chris Grassick would have left something to work on for this weekend.

Then, for good measure, we also have the prospect of 2022 Oaks runner-up Emily Upjohn. She followed Epsom with a weak effort in Pyledriver’s King George, but has done little wrong since, winning the Filly and Mare Championship race at Ascot last October and cleaning up in the Coronation Cup a year on from what most people thought a luckless defeat in the Oaks.

Last time, she got within half a length of midsummer sensation Paddington in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. She was down in trip, with the winner stepping up from a mile, and it’s hard to fault her, especially with the older filly having to concede that outstanding colt 7lb in the Esher showdown.

As the only female in the race, Emily Upjohn now gets 8lb over the two furlongs longer trip and if she doesn’t have a repeat of last year’s poor showing, she must be dangerous.

If either of the first two at Epsom this June should stave off all that older talent, he would be celebrated as the interim middle-distance champ, with only the Arc to dent that reputation. It will be well worth travelling a long way to see it!

- TS

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