You can lead a horse to water, and all that. The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, newly sponsored by Betfair, this afternoon becomes the first championship race in Britain decorated by a seven-figure prize fund. Yet again, however, the Derby winners at Epsom and the Curragh will both spend the afternoon idly picking at their mangers.
It is by no means a mediocre field, and the singular expertise of Sir Michael Stoute with older horses means that his three runners alone would guarantee legitimate Group One lustre. And at least there are a couple of three-year-olds involved, the first time the Classic generation has been represented since 2005.
Equally, however, the new sponsors acknowledge that either Sea The Stars or Fame And Glory would be a hot favourite, had one of them deigned to pop over from Ireland. The people at Betfair are already investigating future incentives. It is understood that their £1m National Hunt bonus is to be discontinued, and a similar scheme seems likely to be proposed on the Flat next year instead, with the King George as its cornerstone. As we can see today, however, a colt like Sea The Stars can earn so much at stud that the chance to pick up an extra million, here or there, barely registers in planning his racing career.
The received wisdom nowadays is that you must give top-class three-year-olds a midsummer break, after hastening them through various trials and Classics in the first half of the season. Otherwise they will be spent by the time they get to the Breeders' Cup, never mind Sha Tin in December – conceivably a target for Sea The Stars, whose owners are based in Hong Kong. As often as not, however, trainers will prove to have turned down a bird in the hand for two in the bush.
Mind you, connections of Fame And Glory would win twice over should Golden Sword happen to give them a third consecutive King George, following Dylan Thomas and Duke Of Marmalade. For a start, Golden Sword would reflect lavish glory on his stablemate, who beat him five lengths in the Irish Derby; and he would himself emerge as a serious stallion prospect, more or less overnight.
It might be argued that Golden Sword has been making all his improvement in the service of perceived superiors at Ballydoyle. He was sent off at 25-1 when given a reckless head start by Johnny Murtagh on the favourite, Masterofthehorse, in the Chester Vase; and again when helping to set what was admittedly a pretty gentle gallop in the Derby itself, finishing in the cluster of four Ballydoyle horses (including Masterofthehorse) who crossed the line together, a respectful distance behind Sea the Stars.
Golden Sword went off much harder at the Curragh, which helped Fame And Glory find his most destructive stride, but rallied bravely once the winner had swept by, and this time had Masterofthehorse 11 lengths back in fourth. Though stamina is clearly his forte, it will be interesting to see whether Murtagh rides him to show a bit of class as well, now that he has a pacemaker of his own in Rockhampton.
The other three-year-old, Alwaary, should not be dismissed. He has a very progressive profile, but his form as it stands requires a leap of faith in this company. For now the clear standard is set by the two Ballymacoll Stud horses who left Stoute's stable jockey, Ryan Moore, such an uncomfortable choice.
Both Conduit and Tartan Bearer are returning to their best distance after two starts apiece this term over 10 furlongs. Whether they can reach full cry in the short straight here is another matter.
Moore has favoured Conduit, who was blown aside by Sea The Stars in the Eclipse. Stoute has made it clear that the colt was not at his peak that day, and he certainly shaped that way. Moore was always going to be reluctant to jilt him a second time, having picked Doctor Fremantle when Conduit won the St Leger last year.
Tartan Bearer was, meanwhile, caught out by a half-hearted gallop in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at the royal meeting here, cut down by the superior acceleration of Vision D'Etat. A brother to the 2002 winner, Golan, he has only ever run over this trip twice, pulling four and a half lengths clear of Casual Conquest in third when beaten only half a length by New Approach at Epsom last year, and then disappearing after a rather tepid third at the Curragh. Tartan Bearer looks the better value of the pair, but somehow seldom seems in a sufficient hurry. Stoute's third runner, Ask, will be suited by the easing conditions – heavy showers yesterday having compounded the effects of watering earlier in the week – but will do well to confirm Coronation Cup form with Look Here, who came from a poor position in a sprint finish. It was a similar story for the filly when she was dropped back in distance at the Curragh last time, and with her stable now in peak form she holds very solid each-way prospects.
No filly has won this prize since Time Charter in 1983, but there was a spell previously when 11 female runners produced five winners, with only three out of the frame. Look Here had an interrupted preparation when third to Conduit in the St Leger, and may not have quite seen out the longer trip anyway, but the key to her chance is that she has only had six career starts. Who needs three-year-olds, when an older horse can have so much more still to offer?
Walk On Bye can keep the feminist march going
Success for Look Here at Ascot today would not necessarily mark the end of thoroughbred bra-burning this weekend. Tomorrow another filly squares up to the colts in a Group One field, and what's more Walk On Bye has been made favourite for the Camas Park/Ashtown House Studs Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh.
Trained by Tommy Stack, Walk On Bye is unbeaten in two starts over this course and distance, both in "mixed" company. She got up to win her maiden in a photo, after meeting traffic, and then won a Group Three prize in decisive fashion.
Aidan O'Brien has won nine of the last 11 runnings, and accounts for half the eight runners this time, Johnny Murtagh favouring Alfred Nobel, who looked rather awkward when winning the Railway Stakes on Irish Derby day.
Today's supporting action, meanwhile, embraces Channel 4's visit to York, where Spouk (2.35) has been given every chance by the handicapper; Kirklees (3.10) could be a class above his rivals; and Roker Park (3.45) can resume his recent progress after finishing best at Hamilton last week.
Back at Ascot, in the Abu Dhabi International Handicap, the three most progressive runners are drawn together in stalls 15, 16 and 17 – among which comeback queen Hayley Turner can perhaps do her bit for feminism on Secret Society (3.50).
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Luminous Star (7.05 Salisbury)
Shaped nicely in a decent maiden at Windsor on his debut, staying on for fifth after being left with plenty to do when hampered leaving the stalls. Green that day, he represents a yard whose juveniles are going well.
Solar Graphite (5.35 Ascot)
Should arguably be unbeaten this season, having been delayed in his run at Goodwood, and then just been caught when hanging under the whip at Newmarket last time. Runs off the same mark here.
*One to watch
Burgundy Ice (Saeed bin Suroor) made an encouraging reappearance in a handicap at Sandown on Wednesday. She has a top-class pedigree, and will surely prove better than her present rating before long.
*Where the money's going
Ghanaati is 7-4 from 5-2 with William Hill for the BGC Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on Wednesday.