Racing: Commander to surrender his control: The filly, User Friendly, has the quality to master a typically strong field in the King George on Saturday. Clive Hughes reports

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The Independent Online
SINCE its inception in 1951, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes has certainly lived up to its aim: to test the best of the three-year-olds against their elders and attract top-class opposition from abroad.

The runaway winner 12 months ago, St Jovite, was just the latest link in a chain of excellence. Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard and Dancing Brave have all endorsed the quality of the race in the past.

This year's running, at Ascot on Saturday, is no exception. The hottest three-year-old in Europe right now, the Epsom and Irish Derby winner Commander in Chief, may be a short-priced favourite, but the opposition he faces is tough. If he is to become the latest King George champion - and 23 three-year-olds and 12 Derby winners in 42 years have preceded him - Commander In Chief must conquer a host of Group 1 winners.

They are headed by the filly User Friendly, winner of the Oaks, Irish Oaks and St Leger last year. The five-year-old Opera House is a senior citizen of the 12- furlong race but a winner of the Coronation Cup and Eclipse Stakes already this season. Then there is Commander In Chief's stablemate Tenby, odds-on favourite when a dismal flop in the Derby before finishing a staying- on third in the 10-furlong Eclipse.

The trainer Henry Cecil by no means regards Tenby as a second- string to Commander In Chief. Now that we are all blessed with hindsight, it seems that a bout of colic he suffered before the Derby in June took more out of him than he indicated. Tenby, a tiny but rugged, determined race horse, has been working well recently and, with Pat Eddery on Commander In Chief, he almost will certainly be ridden by Ireland's champion jockey Michael Kinane, who acted as a deputy when winning the 1990 King George on Belmez, and this year's Derby with Commander In Chief and the Eclipse with Opera House.

It is almost certain this year's King George will go to a horse trained in Newmarket, the headquarters of British racing. Confidence is highest not at Henry Cecil's Warren Place yard or Michael Stoute's Freemason Lodge, where Opera House resides, but at Clive Brittain's Carlburg Stables.

Brittain is often ridiculed for his role as the supreme optimist; yet often he has a point. His latest talent, User Friendly, is rated as the business not just by Brittain but her equally confident owner, Bill Gredley.

'I think that User Friendly is quite an exceptional filly,' he states. 'Right now she's bubbling, she has come on so much since she won (her most recent race) at Saint-Cloud that she is almost at her peak.'

It is infrequent for a top-class three-year-old colt to be kept in training as a four-year-old. However, whereas even the wealthiest of owners have succumbed to the temptation to retire their male stars for a lucrative syndication before what may prove an even more renumerative stud career, the biological fact that a filly may only produce one offspring per year whereas a colt may have a hand in 40 or more means there is a tendency for top-class fillies to be given more of a chance to prove themselves at four and beyond than the colts.

The 1982 Oaks heroine, Time Charter, covered herself in glory when cutting down her rivals to win the King George at four in 1983 and User Friendly is capable of following in her footsteps.