Racing: Stiff challenge to Chief's authority: Fine-tuning of the formidable opposition is complete and the Derby winner will have to work to ward off defeat at Ascot

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SO OFTEN the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is a soft touch for the Derby winner, a race that simply rubber stamps that he is the best around. Not this year though; some are unsure that Commander In Chief is even the best from his stable and he faces a real fight next Saturday to avoid becoming only the third Derby winner (with Snow Knight and Shahrastani) in 20 years to meet defeat in the King George.

All the leading protagonists worked on Saturday and Commander In Chief's exercise provided some diverse perspectives. His trainer, Henry Cecil, said one thing, the money and the men that handle it say quite another.

For Cecil, Commander In Chief 'worked beautifully and looked great'.

'He travelled very well at a good strong gallop set by Allegan,' Cecil said. 'Tony (McGlone) took him past Allegan and once he was three lengths clear, left him alone. I was very happy with that.'

But David Hood, the former rider who represents William Hill these days, detects little eagerness to back the Derby winner and has eased him to 2-1 from 6-4 in the betting. 'People feel the edge might have come off him as he's had quite a bit of racing in the last few months,' Hood said. 'Commander In Chief hasn't been working with quite the same enthusiasm that he was showing before Epsom.'

It would be insulting to Cecil to suggest that the opinion of anyone outside his stable should be more highly regarded than his own instinctive and proven judgment, but it should also be remembered that bookmakers talk to and take bets from many people who see the horse just as often as Cecil. In Newmarket this year that has not been difficult when every piece of work has been accompanied by a posse of prying eyes.

Irrespective of the suggestion that the favourite has been working lazily, Cecil was able to swat one rumour that had been buzzing more busily since Tony McGlone partnered Commander In Chief and Eddery rode Tenby on Saturday.

'The reason Pat rode Tenby was because Tony is the regular work rider and he knew exactly what I wanted,' Cecil said. 'Both horses are in good order. Commander In Chief has very good form which speaks for itself. I am no betting man but if I was, I wouldn't be averse to having pounds 10 each-way on Tenby.'

Cecil had better not pop down Warren Hill to William Hill for his bet. Tenby has been cut to 9- 2, from 6-1, with that firm but remains at the bigger price with Coral. As not only the favourite's odds have eased but also the ground at Ascot, both colts look sure to take their chance.

The going, which is now soft, should not bother the winner of the Eclipse Stakes and Coronation Cup, Opera House, who went impressively for Michael Roberts in his Saturday work.

'He felt very good indeed and he is at the top of his form,' Roberts reported. 'It was a healthy exercise and he quickened in very good style. It is going to be a very hot, competitive race but I believe he is even better when he gets his toe in. I think I am on the best older horse in the race.'

Clive Brittain, along with the punters who have backed User Friendly into 5-2 second favourite, would disagree. 'User Friendly is really moving exceptionally well and I have to say I am very hopeful for her. She is ready to fire and is as well now as she's ever been,' he said.

Also in disagreement with Roberts were the stewards at Newbury on Saturday who meted out a 10-day suspension, encompassing Glorious Goodwood, for what they deemed intentional interference on Sabrehill, whom they disqualified. Roberts intends to lodge an appeal against the ban today.

King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Ascot, Saturday): William Hill: 2-1 Commander In Chief, 5-2 User Friendly, 9-2 Tenby, 11-2 Opera House & White Muzzle, 14-1 Platini, 25-1 Desert Team & Drum Taps, 33-1 Jeune, 40-1 Environment Friend, 50-1 George Augustus, Red Bishop & Zinaad. Coral: 13-8 Commander In Chief, 3-1 User Friendly, 11-2 Opera House & White Muzzle, 6-1 Tenby, 14-1 Platini, 16-1 Jeune & Drum Taps, 20-1 Desert Team.

(Photograph omitted)