One way or another, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes has gradually lost its traditional role as a showdown between generations. With the Prix du Jockey Club nowadays reduced to a brawl with milers over an intermediate distance, French three-year-olds had to wait until last weekend for their Group One opportunity over a mile and a half; and the Derby winner, Camelot, has been the latest to be put away for the autumn, after following up in the Irish version. That leaves just one three-year-old prepared to take on his seniors at Ascot today – and he has come all the way from Tokyo to do so.
With the backing of Betfair, however, the race has none the less managed to renew its stature. Prize money of £1m has drawn no fewer than seven Group One winners, from five countries – including Nathaniel, who won what proved to be a distressing race last year.
The loss of Rewilding that day certainly distracted from Nathaniel's emergence, but he confirmed his class with a brave success when reappearing in the Eclipse just two weeks ago. With the chance to broaden his appeal as a stallion prospect, in a Group One race over 10 furlongs, William Buick had no choice but to ask his mount to dig deep – and Nathaniel has had very little time to absorb that effort. Even a trainer enjoying a run as golden as John Gosden must be concerned about that, but Nathaniel is unbeaten in two starts over course and distance and remains lightly raced all told, especially at this trip. While Gosden has been making hay – he saddles Nathaniel's sister, Great Heavens, in the Darley Irish Oaks tomorrow – the past couple of seasons have been unusually slow for his Newmarket neighbour, Sir Michael Stoute. But the maturing middle-distance horse has always been a speciality of a man with a superb record in this race, and Sea Moon is poised for another step up the ladder after disposing of a strong field in the Hardwicke Stakes at the royal meeting.
He needs to take one, admittedly, having been outpaced by St Nicholas Abbey in the Breeders' Cup Turf last autumn. The latter has since looked as good as ever, albeit he merely had to land the odds to retain the Coronation Cup last time. The fact is that a field of this depth probably requires a career best from the Ballydoyle hope, at the age of five.
Danedream, a stunning winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last autumn, has not begun to approach that form since. As for Deep Brillante, the Japanese raider, you wish his connections well for their enterprise but have to doubt whether a horse with so little in hand of his peers – he scrambled home by a nose in his home Derby, all out – can soak up such a long journey in the summer of his sophomore season, and promptly see off so many elite European runners in their own backyard.
Perhaps the best value in the field, then, is DUNADEN (4.35). Winner of the Melbourne Cup and Hong Kong Vase at the end of last year, he has taken a while to find his feet this time round – excusably enough, after undertaking such an odyssey – but looked ready to resume his progress when second to Sea Moon in the Hardwicke.
He barely came off the bridle that day, losing ground when hampered on the home turn and again when trying to thread a path through in the straight. Sea Moon was in full cry by then, but Dunaden swept past the rest at least as comfortably once in the clear. Certainly he is no mere stayer, fully effective over this trip, and gives the impression that he is still flourishing in only his second campaign with Mikel Delzangles.
Stoute will perhaps consider his other big project today barely less important than Sea Moon. CARLTON HOUSE (3.20) drops to Group Two company but is also taking another step down in trip, having burst clear before being reeled in by So You Think over 10 furlongs at the royal meeting. He has not run over a mile since winning his maiden by nine lengths, as a two-year-old, but his Derby campaign may well have distracted connections from his true calling. Today could trigger an overdue fulfilment.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Escape To Glory (3.55 Ascot)
Lashyn (8.45 Lingfield)