Racing: Warrsan to stay on £1m Triple Crown trail

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The Independent Online

The perceived view of this afternoon's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is that the 12-furlong summer showpiece's 54th renewal is not a vintage one.

The perceived view of this afternoon's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is that the 12-furlong summer showpiece's 54th renewal is not a vintage one.

That does not mean it will not be a competitive contest, just that there does not appear to be a truly outstanding performer among the field of 11, a horse fit to climb up on the pantheon to stand with such as Ribot, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, the Brigadier, Shergar, Dancing Brave, Generous or even the two best recent winners, Montjeu and Daylami.

The trouble with today's protagonists is that most of them have beaten each other at one time or another, which does not make for charisma. Warrsan beat Doyen and Vallee Enchantee at Epsom. Vallee Enchantee beat Warrsan in Hong Kong.

Gamut beat Warrsan at Newmarket. Bandari beat Sulamani at Newmarket. Sulamani beat Bandari at Ascot. Sulamani beat Warrsan in this race last year, Hard Buck beat Warrsan in Dubai, and so on, and so on. Which is hardly really surprising, as the 10 older horses on parade are veterans of 142 battles, and 57 victories, worldwide.

The King George, instigated in 1951 at the height of the Festival of Britain celebrations by the then clerk of the course at Ascot, Sir John Crocker Bulteel, is the race that did more than any to change the face of top-level racing in this country and, ultimately, the world.

It promoted the cause of international inter-age competition, threw other such contests into sharper relief and questioned the notion that the Classics were the only proving ground for excellence. More often than not, its winner is the seasonal champion. Success has been split remarkably evenly between the generations. Three-year-olds hold the call, just, with 27 successes, but with only Irish Derby third Tycoon representing the Classic crop, honours are likely to be evened again this afternoon.

Only one six-year-old has triumphed in the past, Swain, when he won for the second time six years ago. Today can provide another glittering strike for the golden oldies, through Warrsan (4.25), whose name crops up more than any other as a thread through all those collateral formlines.

One of the sub-plots surrounding the little bay son of Caerleon today is that he is the only horse who can still land the £1 million Summer Triple Crown bonus offered to the winner of any three of a selection of top-level middle-distance events. Today's prize (the purse totals £750,000) and the York International Stakes next month are the only two remaining.

Warrsan put himself in line for millionaire status when he took the Coronation Cup (for the second time) at Epsom last month and very nearly added another Group One to his CV when going under by only a head to Refuse To Bend in the Eclipse Stakes. Like most in his family, he has improved with age; a year ago, when he finished sixth in the King George, he was regarded rather as the type who would be gaining most of his brownie points abroad.

It was last year's race that was the road to Damascus as far as his talents were concerned. "To finish where he did after being held up from an inside draw was a hell of a run," said trainer Clive Brittain, "and we knew then what manner of horse he really was."

Not many outsiders win King Georges - Swain, 16-1 on the occasion of his first success, has been superseded in that department only by Montaval, 20-1 in 1957 - and the two obvious dangers to Warrsan are the pair who followed him home in the Coronation Cup, Doyen and Vallee Enchantee.

Both were considered unlucky by their connections. Next time out Doyen turned the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot into a procession and this lightly-raced four-year-old is the one in the field who may have the untapped potential to prove himself a genuine luminary. But horses rarely gain their first Group One wins in this contest and the value about his doing so has long gone.

Vallee Enchantee is bidding to become the sixth female to win, after Aunt Edith, Park Top, Dahlia (twice), Pawneese and Time Charter, and the first French-trained winner since Pawneese, also a bearer of the Wildenstein colours, 28 years ago. The Ascot authorities started watering the firm summer ground last night, but their efforts may have come too late to help last year's runner-up Sulamani and Gamut, both of whom favour ease underfoot.

The fast conditions will suit Vortex (3.45) very nicely in the valuable seven-furlong handicap. Like his jockey, Frankie Dettori, the five-year-old goes well on the track, and showed he was right up for this afternoon's task when just denied at Newbury a week ago after a troubled passage.

The form of the Queen Mary Stakes at the Royal meeting has been franked repeatedly and runner-up Soar (3.10, nap) can pay her own tribute to Damson over today's extra furlong.

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