In racing nothing is certain, though it appears this afternoon's encounter can only be an anticlimax if Michael Stoute carries out his ghastly suggestion of removing Pilsudski from the battle. The Newmarket trainer walked the Ascot pastures on Thursday and advised punters to back the five-year-old "with a run". Stoute will expect better timing from his jockeys today than he managed himself as racing has been talking about, and betting on, nothing else but the King George for a week now.
If Pilsudski does bring his bulky form to play on ground that may be slightly too firm for him, racegoers will see one of the most extravagantly improved horses these islands have ever produced. Two years ago he could not beat handicappers. Now there is hardly a horse anywhere in the world that can beat Pilsudski. Two that might (and have), however, are in today's field.
Singspiel is also in Pilsudski's yard. The Japan Cup and Dubai World Cup winner has earned more money than any European horse alive or dead and has earned, in some minds, the title of the best horse in the world. It may be, though, that he can be at his brilliant best this afternoon and still finish third.
The last of the big guns is Helissio, who has developed the knack of winning Group One contests while expending less energy than he would in a morning canter through Chantilly's pine forests. If he has a weakness it is that he does not seem at his best after travelling. Some observers, and they do not include his trainer, Elie Lellouche, also consider Helissio is not at his omnipotent best on firmish going.
The other five King George contestants are very good, but it would be a little disappointing if they could enter the kingdom of the big three. Shantou and Swain are well matched in the form book, while the latter's stablemate Predappio already has a Royal Ascot defeat of an undercooked Pilsudski to his name.
Another Royal Ascot winner is Kingfisher Mill, who won the King Edward VII Stakes, beating Palio Sky by eight lengths. Some of the lead horses of today's rivals could also do that. The chestnut is prepared by Julie Cecil, whose father, Sir Noel Murless, won this race with Aunt Edith, Busted and Royal Palace, and the trainer's initials on his saddlecloth will give an idea of the outside influence he requires today to win. Kingfisher Mill is the only three-year-old in the race and the absence of solid representation from the Classic generation is the spectacle's only Achilles fetlock.
Strategic Choice was third two years ago and that will remain his best effort. The six-year-old's main target is the Grand Prix de Deauville and he runs here only because connections have been dutifully paying out the pennies each time a declaration stage has arrived.
In such closely matched conditions it may even be that the horses themselves are not the most significant factors. Today's weighing room will be like the United Nations and if there are Toblerone packet-shaped identifying markers on the benches they will carry the names of Ireland, Italy and the United States. The only Englishman in the race, Gary Hind, is the least successful. One of these men will probably win the race with their tactics.
The shape of the competition is such that there is no guaranteed front- runner, although Cash Asmussen did make all on Helissio in the recent Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, his first ride on the horse. "He had a lovely run around there after a two-month lay-off because of his bout with the cough and it was a great way to initiate our relationship," the American said. "I was very pleased to become part of the relationship because horses like him don't come around that often. He's a great addition to the others I've already ridden and I've learned something from him. Those kind of horses are special and they have something to offer which you don't run across too often.
"I now know why the horses that try to get into a race with him seem to pay for it. The ones that get closest to him haven't really been in the race early on. I was out the back door on Oscar Schindler behind a load of dead wood [in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe], and everything that went with him apart from Pilsudski was drunk halfway down the straight.
"These are a great bunch of horses and if Swain is 14-1 that speaks for itself about the strength and depth of the race, but I'm not swapping Helissio for anything."
This then may be the key. While several will emerge from the jockeys' quarters just after three o'clock today with no clear mental picture Asmussen will have a gallery. HELISSIO (nap 3.50) has done it from the front and from behind, and today he should do it among such authoritative company that the argument about which is the best horse in the world will be over.
HOW THE BIG THREE MEASURE UP
Height: 16.1 hands
Breeding: By Fairy King out of Helice (by Slewpy)
Breeder: Ecurie Skymarc Farm
Owner: Enrique Sarasola
Trainer: Elie Lellouche
Jockey: Cash Asmussen
Career record: 11151113-11
(10 starts, 8 wins, 1 place)
Prize-money won: pounds 1,247,407
Strengths: Powerful galloper who is comfortable setting a pace that few rivals can live with.
Weaknesses: May prefer softer ground. Beaten on only occasion he has travelled outside France.
Height: 16.1 hands
Breeding: By Polish Precedent out of Cocotte (by Troy)
Breeder: Ballymacoll Stud
Owner: Lord Weinstock
Trainer: Michael Stoute
Jockey: Michael Kinane
Career record: 68/20113/2181121/321
(17 starts, 7 wins, 6 places)
Prize-money won: pounds 1,321,428
Strengths: Resolute horse whose best form came in his latest race.
Weaknesses: Prefers softer ground. Well beaten by Helissio both times they have met.
Height: 15.3 hands
Breeding: By In The Wings out of Glorious Song (by Halo)
Breeder: Sheikh Mohammed
Owner: Sheikh Mohammed
Trainer: Michael Stoute
Jockey: Frankie Dettori
Career record: 512/242221/1221121-11
(18 starts, 8 wins, 8 places)
Prize-money won: pounds 3,446,787
Strengths: Has improved into a tough performer who has shown versatility in the world's top races.
Weaknesses: Held by Pilsudski on Breeders' Cup form.
Odds: 9-4Reuse content