Richest prize at mercy of Montjeu

There will be at least one procession at Ascot this afternoon. The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the race named after the Queen Mother and her late husband, will be preceded by a royal parade down the Berkshire straight to mark ma'am's 100th birthday in six days' time.

There will be at least one procession at Ascot this afternoon. The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the race named after the Queen Mother and her late husband, will be preceded by a royal parade down the Berkshire straight to mark ma'am's 100th birthday in six days' time.

The Queen Mother may or may not be racing's most favourite owner, but that thought is definitely the sport's most threadbare cliche. Another is that we are unlikely to again see the golden days of Brigadier Gerard, Mill Reef and Nijinsky, who were all winners of the King George during the heady times of the early 1970s.

That suggestion could well be disproved this afternoon, though, when the great Montjeu should stage a flypast of his own on the occasion of the 50th running of the mid-summer highlight. Montjeu against another giant, Dubai Millennium, could be a race of the highest order, and it is a testament to the rank in which the French-based colt is held by connections that they would be quite happy to step down to the Godolphin horse's specialist distance of 10 furlongs in the Irish Champion Stakes.

Those behind Montjeu also seem to have rid themselves of the idea that their property needs to be campaigned on ground either good or softer. There was thunder around Ascot yesterday, and the occasional downpour, but not enough to change the official going from good to firm, good in places. Even so, Montjeu (3.50) looks close to unbeatable. Even his rivals concede that.

"Any horse that wins the Arc de Triomphe is obviously a very good horse," John Murtagh, who will ride today's second favourite, Daliapour, said yesterday. "I've seen him in Ireland earlier this year [in the Tattersalls Gold Cup] and he was awesome. He beat good horses on the bridle. He's exceptionally good.

"It's going to be very hard, but you know the great method Mr Stoute [Daliapour's trainer] seems to have with these older horses. It's not quite mission impossible and I'm going out with the attitude that I can win the race.

"On form, my horse has five lengths to make up from the Irish Derby last year. The ground was very soft on that occasion and Montjeu may not be as effective on firmer ground." In fact, it was officially good ground.

The absence of Fruits Of Love from the race with a damaged hock limits each-way possibilities and the field may be further denuded this morning if Henry Cecil feels the terrain is too firm for Shiva.

The forecast possibilities then seem to lie with Fantastic Light, who is trying to continue Saeed Bin Suroor's fantastic record in the race (four winners and a runner-up in the last five years), and Daliapour. Slight preference is for the latter, who has Raypour in the race as a pacemaker.

It is a blessing for Murtagh that his mount, last year's Derby runner-up, performs more speedily on the racecourse than he does on the gallops. "When I rode him work they told me not to expect too much and they were right," the Irishman said. "I didn't get too much. He's a bit laid back, but he's in top shape for the race.''

The King George is the richest race in terms of added prize money - that is excluding the stake money paid by owners - in the history of British racing. In addition, this will be the most valuable programme ever staged at Ascot, the £750,000 of the main race being supplemented by the £150,000 Tote International Handicap.

The handicap is what it says it is, as three Scandinavian representatives will be on view. There are two Swedish horses in El Gran Lode and Senador, and a Danish-trained runner, Woven Roving. El Gran Lode, who will be ridden by the Chilean Fernando Diaz, is said to be the best handicapped of the trio. He is also well drawn. The stands rail looks the preferred avenue and that militates against the favourite, Carib-bean Monarch, another with the backing of Murtagh and Stoute.

"I think low numbers will be all right with the stalls being on that side," David Nicholls, the trainer of second favourite, Tayseer, says. "Tayseer [in the No 8 box] is in good order.''

The best option here though appears to be the seven-furlong specialist PERSIANO (nap 3.10), who has been placed in both the Bunbury Cup and the Royal Hunt Cup. He has persuasive pulls in the weights with both Tayseer and Caribbean Monarch on those respective form lines.

Away from Ascot, Channel 4's cameras are at Newcastle and Redcar, where they seem to have missed out on the glamour of the day. The romance of Channel 4's offerings is summed up by the first televised race at Gosforth Park, the North East Slag Cement Maiden Auction. De Beers will probably continue to stick with the King George.

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