The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is the ultimate horse race, conventional wisdom runs, and certainly the fact that these two events bring together the different generations sets them above the Derbys and the other age-constricted Classics. Compare the last 10 Arc winners, though, with the corresponding years on the King George's scroll - Generous, Nashwan, Mtoto, Reference Point, Dancing Brave, Teenoso, Time Charter - and Paris in the autumn has less to offer than 21 2 minutes at Ascot in July.
For the classicist, that is. Anyone who prefers the suffocating shibboleths of the Berkshire course to Longchamp in October has an incurable case of clenched-buttock syndrome, which, of course, has its headquarters in the British racing community. The mission, at Ascot today, is to duck beneath protocol, discover whether St Jovite can establish himself the leading runner of his year, and escape with nothing more serious than a reprimand for breathing too near a member of the Royal Family.
One weakness must be acknowledged in the King George's claim to sublimity. Under the terms of a mystical and inevitably imprecise system called weight-for-age, Jeune, Silver Wisp and St Jovite will carry 12lb less than their elders, and though the authorities swear this is the correct disparity for the time of year, the evidence suggests that it favours the three younger contenders. Six of the last seven winners have been aged three.
Reason enough to decree St Jovite a good thing? Possibly, but to do so you have to retain faith in the reliability of his Irish Derby form while ignoring the fact that his preparation has been interrupted by a minor injury. Moreover his partnership with Christy Roche has been temporarily severed - Stephen Craine, surprisingly, has beaten Lester Piggott in the race for the ride - while Ascot places a far greater emphasis on finishing speed than The Curragh, where St Jovite's galloping power enabled him to reverse (Epsom) Derby form with the ailing Dr Devious to the tune of 14 lengths.
That was a show of advancing talent, and Jim Bolger, St Jovite's trainer, has always maintained that time is his horse's most valuable ally, but we must still suspect that the Irish Derby was a flawed race and that St Jovite would have to be another Reference Point to overcome a lack of acceleration.
Besides he is nothing like an attractive bet, and the best-each way chances are his contemporaries Silver Wisp and Jeune, though neither looks good enough to join the gallery of past winners.
Saddlers' Hall (3.20) just might be. To find the winner of a Group One race the best policy is to look for a horse with Group One success, and if you were looking for reasons to disparage this year's King George you could say that the eight runners have won just three such races between them.
Saddlers' Hall is among that group (the Coronation Cup was his investiture) and is probably better than even his four wins this season suggest. He has been prepared specifically for this race by a stable unsurpassed in its ability to strike the biggest targets and carries sufficient confidence in Newmarket for 9-4 or so to seem an acceptable price.
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