Racing: King George: Muzzle to silence young pretenders: Nostalgia for the good old horses can pay off as one aims to better past glories today

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The Independent Online
IT IS racing's annual version of Grandpa's refrain at a family Christmas, when he tells the clan that things aren't what they used to be.

Nostalgia on the Turf means believing that the old horses were the best horses. That today's animals could not live with the likes of Nijinsky, Mill Reef and Shergar.

Those three champions all went on to victory in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes after success in the Derby, before the times when people regularly complained that the Classic crop was not up to much. That, however, is very much the mantra these days, especially in the period between the Derby and the King George, when the three-year-olds prepare to lock antlers with the older horses.

The facts, however, do not support wistful thoughts. Before Opera House's success for the old soldiers in this race last year, the previous four victors had emerged from the Classic generation.

Erhaab, then, ought to have plenty in his favour when he leads the young guns this afternoon. But, even before rumours in the last 48 hours that all was not well with the colt, there were plenty of stones to throw at his prospects, not least the value of his Derby win. The Epsom form is working out as smoothly as Billy Bunter in the Greyfriars gym, and Erhaab himself has been beaten in Sandown's Eclipse Stakes.

In the last five years, the Derby winners Nashwan and Generous have won the King George at odds-on, as did St Jovite two years ago after finishing runner-up at Epsom, but now the betting suggests people with money as well as those with misty memories are fielding against Erhaab. John Dunlop's representative has been pushed out to as long as 5-1 with some firms.

Erhaab is owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum and is an example of how the ruling family of Dubai is hedging its bets this afternoon. Not only are three of the brothers represented (Sheikh Mohammed and Maktoum Al Maktoum are the others), but each of them has two runners (Wagon Master runs as second string to Erhaab). In a race which pulls together eight Group One winners, few are easy to fancy, though.

Sheikh Mohammed's pair, King's Theatre and Foyer, are not top in the three-year-old class, while Walter Swinburn has been vacillating between Maktoum Al Maktoum's duo, Ezzoud and Petit Loup. Long thought should not have been needed if one of these was truly top class.

Petit Loup and Apple Tree travel from France, where the prevailing opinion is that Ascot in July tends to guillotine the prospect of late-season success on the Continent. The latter looks the better of the two.

Erhaab apart, the other British Classic winner in the field is Bob's Return, who won last season's St Leger. Mark Tompkins' colt is admirably durable, but even he looked like a horse in need of a sun lounger and a long, colourful drink when he last ran, in the Eclipse.

Strangely, the horse in the best form for today's race is one who has lost his last five contests, starting in this event 12 months ago. That afternoon, White Muzzle was sandwiched by Opera House and the dual Derby winner, Commander In Chief, whose next appointment was at a departure gate on the way to a stud farm in Japan.

That, one day, will be the destination for the Japanese- owned White Muzzle, who today is ridden by a jockey from the Land of the Rising Sun, Yutaka Take. On Ascot form of last season and his second to Urban Sea in the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe in October, Peter Chapple-Hyam's colt appears difficult to ignore, yet the riding arrangements have put off many.

Fortunately for Take, the four-time champion in his home land, jingoism will not be an obstacle. His mount looks the best bet to repel Erhaab's charge for the younger generation and give Grandpa some ammunition for his argument when the decorations go up.

(Photograph omitted)

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