Racing: Azamour leads old brigade toward King George

The £650,000 prize fund is undoubtedly a considerable lure, but not, apparently, to one section of the equine population. Only two three-year-olds remain among the possible runners, the Oaks heroine Eswarah and recent Haydock listed winner The Geezer. In 54 previous runnings, the score is 27-all between the Classic generation and their elders. But the contest is becoming increasingly one-sided.

In the past 10 years there have been 90 runners , 21 of them, or 23 per cent, three-year-olds, three of them victorious. In the 10 years before that, 97 runners included 34, or 35 per cent, three-year-olds, eight of whom won. The proliferation of good older horses now staying in training may be a double-edged sword.

But among the older brigade, all those who should be there are still in the line-up. Arc winner Bago, Irish Derby winner Grey Swallow, Prince of Wales's Stakes winner Azamour, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Gamut, globe-trotting Phoenix Reach, Yeats and Warrsan, winners of the last three Coronation Cups between them, and defending champion Doyen. Saturday's 16 contenders have won 20 Group One races between them, and mustered 38 top-level places.

The favourite, Azamour, was reported in top form yesterday by his trainer, John Oxx. The Aga Khan's four-year-old, 2-1 in most lists, will be running in a Group One race for the eighth successive occasion but will be tackling a mile and a half for the first time.

Oxx is hopeful, rather than ultra-confident, about the Night Shift colt's stamina reserves. "We thought we'd try a mile and a half once," he said, "and the King George is the race for it. We hope he will stay but racing is littered with trainers who believe a horse will stay and then being proved wrong. But we will find out on Saturday. He should get the fast ground he likes and he's fit and well and ready to go."

The more Oxx thought about it, the more dangers loomed. "There will be some tough opposition out there," he added. "Grey Swallow looked good in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and is an Irish Derby winner, so he's proven over the distance. If Bago returns to his Arc form then he will take some beating, as will Yeats if he reproduces his Coronation Cup run. His stable companion Ace was not that far behind us at York and the filly [Eswarah] is an interesting runner. It is boiling up into a very hot race."

Oxx reported that Hazariya, pulled up in Sunday's Irish Oaks behind her fellow Aga colourbearer Shawanda, suffered a hairline leg fracture and has been retired to stud.

Watering has begun at the King George's temporary home, Newbury, where the going is good to firm. "We have put a bit of water on today to keep it nice," said the clerk of the course, Richard Osgood, yesterday, "The greatest risk of showers is tonight but after that the forecast is basically dry so we may have to put more water on as we go along."

Bago, trained by Jonathan Pease, will be accompanied from Chantilly by Policy Maker, who was the sole supplementary entry yesterday, at a cost of £60,000. The five-year-old ran second to Alkaased in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, with Bago two lengths behind him in third.

If Eswarah runs, she will be attempting to become the first filly to win since Time Charter in 1983. She is likely to make the line-up, but her trainer, Michael Jarvis, the fairest of men, warned her supporters not to get too involved too soon. "If we are happy with the filly through the week, and her owner, Sheikh Hamdan, thinks it is the right thing to do, she will run," he said. "But I would advise punters to hold on until she is confirmed at the 48-hour stage or, if they want to have a bet, do so with-a-run."

The four-year-old Imperial Stride gave Sir Michael Stoute his third successive Scottish Derby at Ayr yesterday, making all under Richard Hills for a length-and-a-quarter defeat of Powerscourt. The Group Two win was his third on the bounce, after a handicap at York and a 17-length romp at Newmarket.