COMMENTARY: Dip leaves generation gap

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The Independent Online
If you seek an elusive figure of excellence it will pay to ignore The Scarlet Pimpernel on Channel 4 on Saturday and watch instead BBC's coverage of the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. With winners of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Japan Cup and Breeders' Cup Turf in the field it will take an uncommon animal to breast the tape.

The premier cast list of Helissio, Singspiel and Pilsudski has persuaded many to refer grandly to the contest as "the race of the decade". Despite its manifest allure it cannot be that however.

On Saturday, for the first time since 1990, there will be no Derby representative in the King George field. In fact, the only runner from the Classic generation is likely to be Kingfisher Mill, who had his limitations exposed in the Dante Stakes. To qualify as a milestone occasion, a race has to embrace the generations.

Such an event was the King George of 26 July, 1975 and the duel between Bustino and Grundy. So many people recollect their personal on-site memory of this encounter that it appears that a zero was left off the official attendance figure. Although the race remains vivid to many it in fact belonged to another era, when men like Yves Saint-Martin, Lester Piggott, Joe Mercer and Willie Carson occupied the weighing-room pegs that burning summer day.

Bustino, the previous year's St Leger winner, was helped round by two pacemakers: Kinglet and Eric Eldin taking over after the initial booster rocket of Frankie Durr on Highest had burned itself out. Still that was not enough for Team Beaverbrook to repel the Derby winner. Grundy was the smallest beast in the field but also the most conspicuous, his burnished chestnut hide interrupted by only a white blaze meandering the length of his face. His jockey that day remains the bridge with the present, though it may worry some to learn that by then, Pat Eddery, Kingfisher Mill's rider, had just one championship behind him.

With its inception in 1951, the King George was devised to provide an all-age championship of Europe, a standard that has fallen away in recent years with the prosperity of the Arc and the reluctance of the French to dispatch their leading material across the water. It is doubly gratifying therefore to see last season's winner at Longchamp, the Chantilly-trained Helissio, in the field. The four-year-old, who completes his preparation this morning, is maturing so swiftly that he is astonishing even his trainer, Elie Lellouche.

Benny The Dip should of course be leading the home charge but, although he remains among the race entries, the colt will not run as connections have got into their heads that he is not a genuine mile-and-a-half performer. This is a preposterous notion for a horse who has won round Epsom, and finished best behind Pilsudski in the Eclipse.

It is a sobering thought that both the Sandown winner and his stablemate at Michael Stoute's yard, Singspiel, might now be spreading their genes in some minor colonial outpost had the market in stallions not dried up to its cracked riverbed stage. Both have been kept going into their sixth year and it is only latterly they have shown outstanding form. Interestingly they now return to a stage which they have been booed off in the past.

It was two years ago that Pilsudski was 17th of 20 in the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot off 8st 4lb; the sort of effort that suggested the winter was about to be spent levering the more sensitive parts of his body over the splinters of eight hurdles.

The previous season Singspiel had rounded off his juvenile campaign by receiving an eight-length humiliation in the Hyperion Stakes. If anyone had suggested that a runner from that contest would go on to capture the Japan Cup and Dubai World Cup in their career, Celtic Swing would have been the majority vote as the future superstar.

Singspiel was eased slightly by William Hill yesterday (from 2-1 to 9- 4) as the biggest fluctuation concerned Frankie Dettori's mount, Shantou. Punters clearly do not see the end of the Italian's bachelor days (he was married yesterday) as an enfeebling watershed and John Gosden's colt is now 12-1 (from 16-1). Frankie mixed it up a little on Saturday, riding two winners at Headquarters but also collecting a suspension for careless riding that will absent him from the first two days of Glorious Goodwood. It may be that his mind was somewhere else.

KING GEORGE VI & QUEEN ELIZABETH STAKES (Ascot, Saturday): Ladbrokes: 13-8 Helissio, 2-1 Singspiel, 7-2 Pilsudski, 10-1 Kingfisher Mill, 12- 1 Shantou, 14-1 Predappio & Swain, 25-1 Strategic Choice; William Hill: 6-4 Helissio, 9-4 Singspiel, 7-2 Pilsudski, 12-1 Predappio, 12-1 Shantou, 14-1 Kingfisher Mill, 16-1 Swain, 25-1 Strategic Choice, 33-1 Dushyantor.

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