King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Heroes

Excitement is starting to build with Glorious Goodwood less than a week away. But before we take a trip to the Sussex Downs, there’s the small matter of this Saturday’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes from Ascot.

First run in 1951, this is arguably the most prestigious Flat race of them all. The Group One, run at a mile and four furlongs has been won by middle-distance legends. The roll of honour is astounding, teeming with Derby, Oaks and Arc winners. Many of the sport’s greatest trainers have landed the spoils, including Andre Fabre, Henry Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute, the O’Brien’s both Vincent and Aidan and ‘The Major’ Dick Hern.

Outstanding jockeys have steered equine heroes to success. Multiple champion Sir Gordon Richards was victorious in 1953. French legend Yves Saint-Martin, landed the honours in the 60’s and 70’s. Lester Piggott won this race seven times over a period of three decades. And Kinane, Murtagh and Dettori have all tasted success in more recent times.

I mentioned the sensational roll of honour, and the 1970’s is a great place to start. In a particularly thrilling decade for the event, the list of winners includes; Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Grundy and Troy.

The winners in the 80’s were no less illustrious, and included the mighty Shergar, a dazzling Dancing Brave, Reference Point and Nashwan. The 1990’s saw success for Generous, Lammtarra and Daylami, whilst this century opened with an astounding performance by the wondrous Montjeu.

In recent times, we’ve been treated to stunning performances from Galileo, Dylan Thomas, Harbinger, Danedream, Novellist and Taghrooda. Last year it was the turn of Aidan O’Brien’s globetrotting star Highland Reel, to add his name to the remarkable list of King George heroes. He’ll be doing his utmost to make it two-in-a-row on Saturday, and is sure to be a tough nut to crack. But for now, I wanted to focus on past heroics from a quintet that took this prestigious event in quite sensational fashion.

It’s no exaggeration to call the first an equine legend. Nijinsky was trained in Ireland by Vincent O’Brien, and owned by American Charles W Engelhard Jr. The colt was from one of the earlier crops of outstanding American stallion Northern Dancer. As a juvenile Nijinsky was exceptional, winning all five starts, including the Dewhurst at Newmarket.

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He opened his three-year-old campaign with victory at the Curragh, before cruising to victory in the 2,000 Guineas back at Newmarket. Facile victories in the Epsom and Irish Derby’s were to follow, before a date with the older generation in the King George at Ascot. A classy field was assembled, including the previous year’s Epsom Derby winner Blakeney. Nevertheless, the result was never in doubt, with Lester Piggott motionless on Nijinsky as he swept past the field in the closing stages. Poetry in motion, O’Brien’s sensational youngster was in a league of his own.

He went on to complete the Triple Crown with success at Doncaster in the St Leger. Possibly past his best after a lengthy campaign, his season ended with two defeats, though he was unfortunate to lose-out in the Arc. He was retired to stud having won 11 of his 13 career starts. Nijinsky was a powerful racehorse that glided across the turf. A sensational mover, he was one of the best.

During the summer of 1991, the Paul Cole-trained Generous routed classy fields in both the English and Irish Derby’s, before winning the King George by a record, seven lengths. Only fourth in the Guineas on seasonal debut, he was a different proposition when stepped-up to a mile and a half. His Grandsire was Nijinsky, and he undoubtedly inherited plenty of his grandfather’s class. I’d encourage everyone to watch the Ascot success on YouTube. It was truly a devastating performance, from an outstanding racehorse.

Similarities can be drawn between Nijinsky and the 2000 King George VI winner Montjeu. Another powerful looking colt from the Northern Dancer bloodline, he was also a wonderfully fluid mover. He made winning appear effortless, and as a three-year-old captured the Prix du Jockey Club, the Irish Derby and the Arc.

Thankfully, he remained in training at four, and after success in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, he was sent-off a short-priced favourite for the Ascot showpiece. He did not disappoint, cruising to a stunning success, hammering the classy Fantastic Light in the process. It was a spectacular performance from a wonderfully talented colt.

The last of our ‘Fantastic Four’ came as something of a surprise when winning the 2010 renewal in such an extraordinary fashion. Second favourite to Epsom Derby winner Workforce, and shunned by jockey Ryan Moore, Harbinger proved to be one of the greatest winners of this prestigious showpiece. The acceleration he showed on turning for home was a sight to behold. He scorched clear to win by an astounding, 11 lengths, trouncing the Epsom Derby winner, the Irish Derby winner and an Arc runner-up.

He’d proved rather ordinary as a three-year-old, but as often is the case with Sir Michael Stoute inmates, he improved immeasurably at the age of four. Serious injury ended his career before a shot at the Arc. Timeform gave him a lofty rating, which on the evidence of the Ascot romp, was richly deserved.

And there you have it. I could have written about so many sensational winners of this wonderful race. But the four I chose, left an indelible mark, thanks to their extraordinary performances in winning this much-heralded contest.

Pedigree Pointers to Epsom Glory

Breeding plays such a vital role in creating high-class racehorses, and this is certainly the case in producing winners of the Epsom Derby.

Certain stallions appear again and again in the pedigree of Epsom Classic heroes. It may not be the deciding factor in attempting to find the winner of a Derby, but it’s certainly a point of interest when making that all important selection.

I’ve looked at the last dozen years or so, and it’s no surprise to see the name of Sadler’s Wells appear in the bloodline on numerous occasions, whether directly or indirectly. One of the great stallions of the modern era, by the time of his death in 2011 he had produced many of the leading lights of the Flat racing scene. Derby winners Galileo and High Chaparral; Arc winner Montjeu; St Leger winners on both sides of the Irish Sea – Kayf Tara, Milan and Yeats; and Guineas winners, Entrepreneur and King Of Kings, have all arrived via the Sadler’s Wells production line.

In Montjeu and Galileo, that exceptional DNA has been passed to numerous recent Derby heroes. Galileo is the leading Sire of the present day, and in recent times has produced New Approach, Ruler Of The World, and Australia. Montjeu is responsible for Motivator, Authorized, Pour Moi and Camelot.

Cape Cross has proved an ever-present Sire in the last few years, with Golden Horn and Sea The Stars winning in 2015 and 2009. The 2014 winner Australia had both Galileo and Cape Cross in the pedigree. And last year’s Derby victor Harzand also had the Cape Cross connection, being a son of Sea The Stars. Few contenders have the stallion in their bloodline this time around, though there is one at a price that catches the eye.

The third and final stallion I wish to focus on is the 1993 St James’s Palace Stakes winner Kingmambo. Though born and bred in America, he was campaigned in both the UK and Ireland during a successful period in the early 90s. Retired to stud in 1994, he died early last year at the grand old age of 25.

He’s been responsible for several mighty beasts. El Condor Pasa was no mug. One of Japan’s finest, he was runner-up to Montjeu in the Arc of 1999. Lemon Drop Kid won a fortune in the States, including victory in the Belmont Stakes. King’s Best could have been one of the greats, had it not been for injury. He took the 2000 Guineas before injury struck in the Irish Derby. Kingmambo sired other outstanding milers including, Dubai Destination, Russian Rhythm and Henrythenavigator.

Of recent Epsom Derby victors, Kingmambo has influence through both the Sires, but more so through the Dam’s side of pedigrees. Golden Horn is an example of the latter, with Dubai Destination prominent on the Dam’s side of the family. Ruler Of The World was by Galileo, but out of a Kingmambo mare. And likewise, 2012 winner Camelot was the product of a Kingmambo mare. The 2010 Epsom Derby winner, Workforce, was another from the Kingmambo production line, being by one of his famous son’s, King’s Best.

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So, what of this year’s Epsom Derby line-up, and who fits the pedigree profile?

It’s always tempting to manipulate your findings a little, to substantiate your opinion on a previous fancy. I’ll do my best to stick to the brief, without attempting to justify the unjustifiable.

I’m a huge fan of Cracksman, and I believe his position at the head of the market is completely vindicated off the back of his Derby Trial success at Epsom. He’s by Frankel, who in turn is by Galileo, hence a tick on the Sire side of the bloodline. That may prove enough for many pedigree followers, though the Dam side of his breeding is less conclusive. He’s out of a Pivotal mare, often associated with classy soft ground milers, and rarely mid-distance Classic winners. Sariska was a Pivotal that captured the Oaks, and the likes of Eagle Top, Wings Of Desire and Izzi Top were also classy types. They give hope that Cracksman has enough class on the dam side to prevail.

The pedigree case is somewhat easier to make for Ballydoyle’s Cliffs Of Moher. By Galileo (tick), he’s out of a Dansili mare, which at first glance cries out speed over stamina. Wave is the dam in question, and her mother was Queen Cleopatra, a decent sort at around a mile or just further. It’s at this point of the pedigree that Kingmambo arrives on the scene. Indeed, Queen Cleopatra was by Kingmambo out of a Sadler’s Wells mare. We’re having to go back a couple of generations, but the result is arguably a ‘double-tick’ for Cliffs Of Moher.

Godolphin’s best chance appears to be with Best Solution. He too is a partial pedigree fit, thanks to the dam’s side. Al Andalyya came to little on the racetrack, but she is by Kingmambo, out of a Sadler’s Wells mare. It is the Sire side of the pedigree that is a cause for concern for Best Solution fans. Kodiac has always proved a source of speed over stamina, and it would be a surprise, if he were to produce a Derby winner.

Money has come this week for Aidan O’Brien’s Capri, and he of course has the mighty Galileo in his pedigree. But again, the dam side is an issue coming from an Anabaa mare. Soft ground is sure to suit, but whether he’ll have the class, or indeed thoroughly stay the trip, is questionable.

Eminent is a horse I’m struggling to fancy off the back of a slightly disappointing Guineas performance. Admittedly he finished less than four lengths back in sixth, but I thought he looked weakest at the finish. Nevertheless, he was ridden to win a Guineas that day, and is sure to be given a different type of ride on Saturday. He certainly passes the pedigree test with flying colours, indeed is possibly top of the class.

By Frankel, in turn by Galileo, Eminent is out of the Kingmambo mare, You’ll Be Mine. Her Dam (stay with me here), is Quarter Moon, a mare by Sadler’s Wells out of a Darshaan mare (tick, tick, tick, tick, tick). If only it was this easy, I’d be re-mortgaging the house, and lumping on Eminent.

A final colt worth a mention is Khalidi. His bare form suggests that he is well-held by Permian, though he was mightily impressive at Goodwood last time. There’s also positives to draw from his pedigree. He’s not quite up there with Eminent, but he’s not a million miles away. He’s by Epsom Derby winner, High Chaparral, a son of Sadler’s Wells. On dam’s side, we have Bezique, a mare by Cape Cross. Certainly, on pedigree, Khalidi looks a decent each-way proposition.

And there you have it. Breeding is certainly an aspect that I’ll be adding to the melting pot, when choosing my likely Epsom Derby winner. Of the above I’d have to side with Cliffs Of Moher and Eminent, with Khalidi the long-shot. Of course, all the contenders have an outstanding pedigree, but not all will be suited by the unique demands of the Epsom Classic.

The Epsom Derby Merry-go-round

With just over a fortnight to go, I’m not sure I can remember a more fluid look to the Epsom Derby.

With each passing day, yet another contender is set to be parachuted in, whilst another looks set to miss the event in favour of Royal Ascot, France or Ireland. With so many arrows to shoot at the target it’s always going to be tricky to second guess Aidan O’Brien and the ‘Ballydoyle Boys’. But that’s a conundrum we’ve become used to over the years.

The lead up to this season’s Epsom Derby has become that much more bewildering thanks to a combination of factors, including; injuries, surprise results, rapid improvement from late-comers, and even a state of the art Equinome Speed Gene Test.

The case of Wings Of Desire typifies this year’s road to Epsom. John Gosden’s colt was in the Derby, then he was out, but after the Dante at York he’s likely to be supplemented back in again. The trainer made his original decision due to the colt’s delayed introduction to the racetrack. The son of Pivotal, made his debut in April with a satisfactory if not sparkling third place in a maiden at Newmarket. However, just 10 days later he ran a race full of promise at Wolverhampton, before the huge step-forward at York when winning the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes.

In a year with few standout contenders Gosden anticipates plenty to oppose his Dante winner. Reflecting on his 2007 Derby fourth Lucarno, when no fewer than eight represented O’Brien, he said: “I expect Aidan to turn up with six colts at least. US Army Ranger is a bloody good horse, as are Port Douglas and Deauville. I was at Deauville on Sunday and The Gurkha was impressive, but I think he beat Group 3 horses.”

The Gurkha’s progression has mirrored that of Gosden’s Derby hope. He also made his debut in April, finishing third, before a much improved performance 11 days later when running away with a maiden at Navan. His eye-catching victory in the French Guineas thrust him into the picture for Epsom, though he is by no means a certainty for the race. ‘The Boys’ will weigh up the options, though many believe his participation to be assured.

One that will not be supplemented for the Classic is the Dee Stakes winner Viren’s Army. Trained by Richard Hannon and owned by Middelham Park Racing, the colt could well head for the Irish Derby, where the cost to supplement is much less. Spokesman for the owners, Tim Palin said: “It took us more than a week to weigh up the pros and cons, see the rest of the trials, and get all the votes in. We fully appreciate there's only one Epsom Derby, but the £75,000 just proved too prohibitive considering our market position - we were 6-1 a place.”

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Hannon had better news of his Lingfield Derby trial winner Humphrey Bogart, whose owners look set to stump up the dosh to supplement. Hannon said: “He's been in good form and the plan still is to supplement him. He didn't do much between Epsom and Lingfield, and he's only cantered since then, but I'm very happy with him.”

Though Chester’s Dee Stakes winner is giving Epsom a swerve, the runner-up, Linguistic, is set to make his case for the Derby in either the Fairway Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, or a day earlier at Goodwood in the Cocked Hat Stakes. Gosden said of the Godolphin owned colt: “He could go to Epsom and could well be supplemented, depending on weather forecasts.” Yet another talented horse by Lope De Vega, Linguistic is out of a Montjeu mare, and though still to go beyond 10 furlongs, he has looked a strong stayer. It would not surprise me if he progressed into a St Leger contender.

From one possibly in, to another definitely out. Foundation will dodge Epsom despite his strong finishing third in York’s Dante. Harry Herbert, chairman of the owning syndicate, confirmed the colt would head for the French Derby on 5 June. “William [Buick] wasn’t able to extricate himself when he needed to, but he ran very well and was only beaten a length and three-quarters by the winner,” said Herbert of that York defeat. “William felt we should stick to a mile and a quarter for the time being. It will be very exciting for everyone involved to have a runner in the French Derby. I don’t think Highclere have ever had a runner in the race before.”

Another to suddenly arrive on the Derby scene is the Sir Michael Stoute trained Ulysses, a general 16-1 shot for the race, after breaking the maiden tag at the third attempt when storming to victory at Newbury last week. Another son of Galileo, he is out of Light Shift who won the Oaks in 2007, giving him an eye-catching pedigree for the Epsom showpiece.

“He won very nicely and has taken the race very well,” said Alan Cooper, racing manager for the Niarchos family, owners of Ulysses. “As for plans, we will regroup with Sir Michael, Ryan and the racing team and see what Sir Michael thinks we should do next. He’s in the Derby, but he’s just won his maiden. We are going to give his programme good thought and when we know, all will become clear.”

Should the team feel Epsom comes too soon, then an outing at Royal Ascot may well be his next step as he holds an entry in the King Edward VII Stakes. Prior to his maiden victory at Newbury, he had been narrowly beaten by Imperial Aviator at Leicester over nine furlongs. Roger Charlton’s impressive colt won the London Gold Cup at Newbury last week. The trainer has said that the horse should avoid an undulating track, and so rather than Epsom his next target could be the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot over 10 furlongs.

Another who’s Epsom participation remains in the balance is former favourite Midterm. An injury came to light after the disappointing performance in the Dante. Teddy Grimthorpe spoke of the beautifully bred colt, saying: At least it gives us some explanation of why he was so disappointing. We have to wait quite a few days and like everything we have got to be sure, so it will be a last-minute decision. Firstly, he has to be sound and secondly he has got to please - which is slightly difficult as he is not a great worker so it is hard to gauge on how he is going.”

Should Midterm be forced to miss Epsom then he too could head to Royal Ascot for the King Edward VII Stakes.

Finally, to Galileo Gold, who’s DNA suggests a trip to Epsom is out of the question. He runs in the Irish Guineas at the Curragh on Saturday, and depending on his run there, is likely to head to Royal Ascot. His plans are not set in stone, and in this of all years, it would come as no surprise should decisions suddenly change. Hold on to those antepost Derby bets - just for now.

Golden Horn set for King George Glory

The Mighty Golden Horn

The Mighty Golden Horn

Taghrooda stormed to victory last year and Novellist won in similarly stunning fashion a year earlier.

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes was first run in 1951 and has gone to some of the greats of the sport. In a magical period during the 1970’s the illustrious roll of honour included Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Grundy, The Minstrel and Troy.

Shergar, Dancing Brave and Nashwan took the race in the 80’s. In the 1990’s Lammtarra, Swain and Daylami played starring roles, and in more recent times Montjeu, Galileo, Hurricane Run, Dylan Thomas and Danedream added their names to the dazzling winners list.

For many, the King George and the Arc remain the most prestigious middle-distance events of the Flat racing calendar. Winners from France, Germany, Ireland and the UK give the event an international feel which only adds to its lofty reputation.

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Spice is further added to the mix with the opportunity of seeing the season’s top three-year-olds again taking on their elders. Four-year-olds have the upper hand in recent years though two of the last four renewals have gone to the youngsters.

This Saturday’s running is set to be as thrilling as ever, with the Derby winner Golden Horn again stepping into the arena. His stunning victory in last month’s Coral-Eclipse sent his BHA rating into the stratosphere. He remains undefeated, and the style of those victories has been truly eye-catching. He had to battle hard to win the Eclipse, but showed he possesses the resilience to go with his undoubted class.

At the weekend he will face challengers from Italy, France and the UK. Stefano Botti is set to send Dylan Mouth over from Italy. Ribot became the only Italian winner of the race when thrashing the opposition in 1956. Twice a winner of the Arc, he remained undefeated in 16 career starts and is rated by many as one of the all-time greats.

Andre Fabre runs the classy and ultra-consistent Flintshire. Second to Treve last time in France he is sure to run a huge race. Teddy Grimthorpe, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s racing manager, said on Monday: “We were a bit disappointed to say the least with Flintshire in the Coronation Cup. He didn’t really seem to spark at all, but he came back and ran a really good race in the Grand Prix de St Cloud and gave Treve a little bit of a fright. His form with Treve is probably superior to anything in Europe of the older horse brigade and now we’ll see the mettle of a very, very good Derby winner.”

Sir Michael Stoute’s Snow Sky has been supplemented for the race and also runs in the famous silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah. Grimthorpe appeared optimistic when saying: “He is slightly different. He ran a super race in the St Leger last year and he’s progressed through this year nicely.” Of his win in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot he added: “You can make the odd excuse but for me, he had them fairly stone cold on the turn coming into the straight. He certainly deserves a crack at a Group One and this fits perfectly into his schedule.”

It’s set to be another glorious renewal of one of the sport’s greatest races. History tells us that class usually shines through in this Ascot showpiece. It would come as a major surprise if Saturday’s race proved an exception to this ‘Golden’ rule.

The Chester Vase – Not only a Derby Trial

The Mighty Shergar

The Mighty Shergar

First run in 1907, the Chester Vase is a Group 3 run over a distance of just over one mile and four furlongs.

The race has become a recognised Epsom Derby trial, though over the years few have managed to complete a memorable double. Ruler of the World was the most recent to do so in 2013. Aidan O’Brien’s colt won at Chester by six lengths before heading to Epsom. Overlooked by stable jockey Joseph, the ride went to Ryan Moore and he was to win convincingly.

The Vase has been dominated by Ballydoyle in recent times, with the team successful in five of the last eight renewals. Treasure Beach won in 2011 before going on to take the Irish Derby. Soldier of Fortune did the same in 2007.

Back in the early 80’s two horses did complete the Chester-Epsom double. In 1980 Dick Hern’s Henbit, ridden by Willie Carson took the Vase before going on to win the Derby. The trainer had won the Epsom Classic a year earlier with the outstanding Troy. Sadly Henbit sustained an injury during the race and although he returned as a four-year-old he was retired after two disappointing runs.

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In 1981 the Chester Vase was won by one of the most famous racehorses of the modern era. The mighty Shergar had already won by ten lengths on his return as a three-year-old at Sandown, before his stunning 12 length success at Chester. He then went on to win the Epsom Derby by a staggering ten lengths, the longest winning margin in the race’s history. “You need a telescope to see the rest,” became one of the greatest quotes ever voiced by a commentator.

He went on to win the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Over the top when failing in the St Leger, he was without doubt one of the all-time greats.

Today’s Chester Vase has a familiar look to it with an Aidan O’Brien contender at the head of the market. The Champion Irish trainer will be looking to equal the record of six wins in the race. Hans Holbein carries the all-conquering silks of Michael Tabor, already successful in the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas this season. A winner at Leopardstown last time out the son of Montjeu is out of the Shirley Heights mare Llia. He is a half-brother to Irish Leger winner Sans Frontieres.

His trainer appears confident of a decent performance, saying: “He came on well from his first run of the season to win a mile and a quarter maiden at Leopardstown last month and, hopefully, he can improve again. He's stepping up in distance but is bred to get the trip.”

The betting suggests that Godolphin’s Future Empire could be the favourite’s strongest challenger. Beaten by Christophermarlowe at Epsom last time out, it is hoped the step up in trip will help the New Approach colt. In truth he was thrashed at Epsom, but his trainer Saeed bin Suroor seems confident of an improved performance, saying: “He ran very well but he was too far back so I think the mile and a half will suit him much better. He came back from Epsom in good form but this race will tell us more about the future.”

Storm The Stars brings strong two-year-old form to the fray. The Sea The Stars colt is trained by William Haggas and won easily at Leicester last time. Second to O’Brien’s Aloft and Gosden’s Golden Horn last term, this step up in trip looks sure to suit, and he could be a ‘big player’ today.

As a ‘Classic Trial’ the Chester Vase should not be underestimated. Today’s race may not produce an Epsom Derby winner, but it has a rich history of producing horses to take the Irish version, and major contenders for the St Leger later in the year. This afternoon’s renewal could well follow that trend.

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