Racing: QEII rivals square up for miling crown

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The Independent Online

Today in Co Kildare begins three days' examination of psyches on a petri dish in the name of sport. Tomorrow in Berkshire the test of reputations will be largely more physical than mental, and certainly less drawn out, but no less enthralling. Nine horses are scheduled to go to post for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, the race that should decide the European miling championship. And most of them are surrounded by issues.

Take George Washington, the likely favourite for Ascot's rider cup. On paper the pride of Ballydoyle is the best, winner of more majors - of Group Ones if you like - than any other in the field, including the first of the year, in the form of the 2,000 Guineas rather than the Masters. But he comes to the showdown off a last-time-out defeat and his baggage may be his temperament, which has shown frailty under certain circumstances. In the way of a certain Tiger Woods, he has something to prove, and that just could be frightening for the opposition.

Librettist, the Godolphin number one, comes to the fray on a roll and with his confidence sky high, a bit like Paul Casey, with whom he shares the distinction of a top-level success last time out. In the colt's case it was the Prix du Moulin, which followed the Prix Jacques le Marois and took him to five from five this year. He is now fulfilling his exciting potential but must carry his form on to the biggest stage.

To continue the anthropomorphic theme, Araafa has tended to blow hot and cold, somewhat in the manner of Sergio Garcia. Proclamation, like Padraig Harrington, will be looking to return to his very best form, and has hinted lately that he will. Court Masterpiece, the oldest horse in tomorrow's field has, like Jim Furyk, matured to the peak of his powers and has, unlike his aged equivalent Colin Montgomerie, at least won at the top level this year. But, like the Scot, he has been known to put his head up and ears back if crossed.

The Group One rookies are Ivan Denisovich, Killybegs and River Tiber and - good grief - there is even a Michelle Wie joining the party, the filly Nannina.

In racing terms, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes regularly provides the season's champion miler, either by confirmation or revelation. In the last dozen years half the winners - Maroof, Bahri, Mark Of Esteem, Dubai Millennium, Observatory and Rakti - have been top of the division. Tomorrow's renewal brings together six winners of 12 Group One races and features the time-honoured clash of antlers between Ballydoyle and Godolphin, with future stallion values at stake. George Washington is a son of Danehill and Librettist is by Danzig.

The second top-level contest on tomorrow's card, the Fillies' Mile, is a conveyor belt in its ability to showcase future excellence, with Nannina, Alexandrova, Red Bloom, Sundrop, Punctilious, Soviet Song, Casual Look and Gossamer among winners and placees in the past five years. Eight have been declared and it is likely that some of their names - perhaps unbeaten Sesmen, progressive Simply Perfect or the Queen's Lost In Wonder - will be prominent in next year's Classics.

Today's opening session of Ascot's three-day festival offers more lucre than kudos. The day features the second most valuable contest of the meeting, the latest of the sales-related juvenile races whose purpose is to boost takings at various upcoming bloodstock yearling auctions through the carrot of a lottery-style jackpot prize to buyers.

Today's winner of the Class 2 Watership Down Stud-sponsored event for fillies takes home £136,570, just £5,000 less than the winner of the Group One QE II. Some clever trainers make a point of farming such races; Richard Hannon, for example, saddles three, including likely favourite Indian Ink, and Brian Meehan, who nominates Siamese Cat as his best chance of adding to the similarly-endowed £159,126 pot he took with Doctor Brown at York.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Orion Express

(Worcester 3.35)

NB: Acts Of Grace

(Ascot 2.35)

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