Racing: Sheikh keeps King waiting

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The Independent Online
Racing

GREG WOOD

Ascot will not discover until this morning whether the field for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the course tomorrow will be the smallest for more than two decades. No fewer than four of the first five horses in the betting are either owned or managed by Sheikh Mohammed, but last night the Sheikh had still to decide which of them would go to post.

Carnegie, last year's Arc winner, and Lammtarra, the Derby winner, are both likely runners, but as the ground at Ascot continues to dry out, the odds against Balanchine entering the stalls grow longer by the hour. Winged Love, who took the Irish Derby three weeks ago, is also far from certain to be declared this morning.

Both Lammtarra and Balanchine represent the Godolphin operation, which has taken three British Group One races already this season, and its colours will now be represented in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood next Wednesday, following the decision yesterday to supplement Darnay to the race. Darnay won a Group Two event at the Curragh on Irish Derby day, having previously finished second to Realities when burdened with top weight in the Royal Hunt Cup.

Another addition to the field for Glorious Goodwood's centrepiece will be Mick Channon's Piccolo. A Group One event over a mile is hardly an obvious destination for a horse whose most recent victory was in the five- furlong King's Stand Stakes at Ascot, but Channon has persuaded Piccolo's owners that it is an pounds 18,000 chance worth taking.

"I'm hoping that the weather doesn't break but the forecast is for cloudy skies next week," Channon said yesterday. "He's a good horse on softer ground but he's a stone better when it is firm." As for the possibility that Piccolo is also a stone better at no more than six furlongs, the trainer was typically optimistic. "If you're not in it you can't win it, and we've never been afraid to run our horses."

If a few more trainers shared his attitude, today's televised card at Ascot would provide a better spectacle. Fewer than 50 runners will pursue pounds 82,000 in added prize-money, a poor muster at the country's premier track even if the ground may be firm by this afternoon. It is certainly not much of a tribute to Brown Jack, six times the winner of the Queen Alexandra Stakes at the Royal meeting, in whose honour the stayers' handicap is named.

Yet this is an interesting race none the less, since the 12-runner field is swiftly whittled down to two convincing candidates, Stately Home and Blaze Away. Stately Home has improved since stepping up in distance recently, and while he is now running off a handicap mark of 52, it is interesting to note that he was rated 19lb higher still when running in Ireland last year.

Today's stiff two miles may just be beyond him, though, and BLAZE AWAY (nap 3.00), for whom this trip is probably a minimum, is the one to back. He ran too freely in blinkers at Newcastle last time, but the headgear will stay at home this time and his previous form gives him the leading chance today. Lanfranco Dettori, his jockey, should complete a double on Join The Clan (next best 3.30) half an hour later, while Jameel Asmar (4.05) must also go well.

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