Gallop reports first began filtering back from Newmarket on frosty February mornings. Five months and a good few Classics later, work watchers were this week continuing to relay lengthy appraisals. Never, perhaps, have the exercise routines of two British-trained three- year-olds been scrutinised so closely for public consumption.
Until Epsom in June, Tenby was always the hot favourite, with Commander In Chief a subordinate stablemate. But the latter's Derby victories at Epsom and The Curragh reversed the roles and today, in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, he has the chance to be crowned the champion middle- distance performer of 1993.
Commander in Chief, the chosen mount of Pat Eddery, has remained a strong favourite, despite talk from Newmarket that he has been working lazily of late. Bookmakers, meanwhile, have allowed Henry Cecil's other runner, Tenby, to drift out to 7-1 or longer, despite stable enthusiasm and gallop reports that the colt has been exercising with zest.
The bookmakers' apparent generosity is intriguing. Punters, though, could not be blamed for feeling that Tenby's presence merely ensures a good gallop for the favourite. In the Irish Derby, Regency, yet another high-class horse owned by Khalid Abdullah, travelled to The Curragh - ostensibly to compete on his own merits. In the event Regency, ridden by Willie Carson, finished fourth after acting as pacemaker for Commander In Chief.
Whatever the pace pattern this afternoon, a stirring contest is certain and this son of Dancing Brave is impossible to oppose among the three-year-olds. Tenby's public form since the spring has been disappointing. White Muzzle, the Italian Derby winner, may be out of his depth.
Commander In Chief, who was cut to 11-8 by Ladbrokes yesterday, is taking on older horses for the first time. But Opera House seems marginally below the very top class, while the German challenger, Platini, needs a free kick from just outside the furlong marker to win here.
The big threat, then, must come from User Friendly, last season's Oaks and St Leger heroine. Her cause will be helped by rain soaking Ascot's turf yesterday. This brilliant filly was a fine second on soft going in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last October. Weighing against her chance is the fact that older horses have been kept at bay in the King George since Mtoto battled home in 1988. Three- year-olds have won 14 of the past 20 runnings.
Barry Hills, trainer of the Derby third, Blues Traveller, has more than statistical faith in Commander In Chief. 'You always get people saying the Classic three-year-olds of any year are sub-standard. But I'd say this year's Derby form is solid. Commander in Chief will take all the beating in the King George.'
Hills said prior to Epsom that Blues Traveller was likely to get in the frame, eventually finishing six lengths behind Cecil's victor. In the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud three weeks ago, Blues Traveller was beaten three lengths into fourth by User Friendly. Hills reckons his colt ran to form in both races and believes the Derby winner will have the edge this afternoon.
The dilemma for punters, though, is that the odds for today's favourite are too thin to attract a bet. Temptation rises to look for a long-priced rival to beat it. Resist all inducement. Stand back and watch as Pat Eddery's mount seizes this mid- summer championship.
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