Racing: Almushtarak too tough to discount

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The Independent Online
IF HARDINESS was the defining factor in Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot then Almushtarak would be a lot shorter price than currently stands against his name.

At Berkshire's festival, the five-year-old will be having his 10th outing of the campaign, all of which have been conducted in Group company. A Group Two pot from Sandown earlier in the year is already in the bag, and now Almushtarak will attempt his customary final furlong weave - like a late commuter trying to make a rush-hour train - at the highest level for the sixth time this season.

Some reckon the horse is short of the final snow cap in this Everest of competition, but it is not a thought they ought to air in front of his trainer.

"He is a Group One horse and I'm sure he'll win one one day," Kamil Mahdi said yesterday. "This horse is something special and I think he's the most genuine horse this year in Group races. He hardly seems to run a bad race. He's always there."

Historians will note that a Mad Mahdi has made a nuisance of himself to British troops ranged against him before, and the Newmarket-based, Kuwait-born trainer will tell you that he too is a little bonkers. His craziness, though, is limited to all that is racing in England.

"Horses are in my blood and I could never walk away from them," he said, "and I first owned a horse when I was 10. But my ambition has always been to come to this country for the greatest competition and best races in the world. So it's been an honour to win races here. If you are involved in racing the best place to be is in England. I'm enjoying it very much.

"It's a nice race on Saturday and it would be an honour to win it with Her Majesty there to present the trophy."

William Hill suggest that Mahdi will not be taking the white-gloved hand in his. They make Almushtarak a 14-1 chance following his tepid effort in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp earlier this month. His trainer considers that to be an unhelpful entry in the form book. "We have to ignore that race because he was naughty in the stalls and when they jumped he missed the break by five lengths and ripped off a shoe at the same time," he said. "I have confidence in this horse and he will be thereabouts."

Almushtarak worked strongly over seven furlongs yesterday to please his trainer, but the burst of action most in Newmarket are still talking about is Mutathir's explosive effort on Saturday morning. John Gosden's colt will be one of the leading fancies this Saturday, as will Dr Fong, even though his recent gallops report book carries the comment "could try harder".

Nevertheless, Henry Cecil is expecting a serious contribution from the chestnut at Ascot, a venue where he beat another of his weekend rivals, Desert Prince, in the St James's Palace Stakes at the Royal meeting.

That seasonal high point came on good to soft ground over a mile. Since then Dr Fong has appeared to run out of reserves over slightly longer journeys, and he now has a different shade of going with which to contend. "He's very well, has had a rest and has been trained up for this race," Cecil said yesterday. "This is faster ground and it will be whoever likes the ground most. I am not going to prophesy, I just hope he runs very well.

"His best trip is probably a mile and one, but we don't have mile and ones, do we? It's the only race he can go for and that's that.

"If it was soft ground that would make the mile a bit stiffer, which would obviously suit him, but it's obviously not going to be soft. But I hope he is a bit stronger and is a fresh horse, and a stiff mile at Ascot is better than a sharp mile."

Queen Elizabeth II Stakes William Hill: 11-4 Desert Prince, 100-30 Among Men, Mutathir, 7-2 (with a run) Second Empire, 4-1 Dr Fong, 11-2 Cape Cross, 14-1 Almushtarak, 25-1 Kitza.

Festival Handicap William Hill: 10-1 Al Muallim, Golden Fortune, Granny's Pet, 12-1 Warningford, White Heart, 14-1 Daring Destiny, Jo Mell, Mubrik, Spanish Fern, 16-1 others.