O'Brien opts to miss Ascot with George

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The Independent Online

There was a trace of winter on the wind gnawing across the downs here yesterday, but for Saeed bin Suroor this remains the hottest month of the year. The Godolphin trainer, who will soon be preparing his stable for its annual migration to the desert, saddled his 16th winner since the beginning of September when Kirklees won the listed race.

His spirits warmed further still when he was told that George Washington would almost certainly not feature among the opposition to Ramonti at Ascot on Saturday.

Few thoroughbreds of recent years have had the presence of George Washington, but he seems capable of commanding no less attention as an absence. Even his disappearance had the theatricality of a whodunit. He began the day as warm favourite to win the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, for the second year running, but during the morning bookmakers suddenly suspended their markets. Sure enough, some hours later, confirmation came from Ballydoyle that the stable would "probably" be relying on Excellent Art and Duke Of Marmalade instead.

Aidan O'Brien, their trainer, emphasised that all remains well with George Washington, but other options will be considered over the coming days. It is safe to assume that these will include the Breeders' Cup at Monmouth Park next month.

Though it will be disappointing not to see the horse back at Ascot, the decision makes perfect sense for O'Brien's patrons at Coolmore Stud. Since his failure at stud last spring, George Washington has necessarily been relegated beneath horses that must still advertise their potential as future stallions. Following his commercial emasculation, it would be exasperating if their stablemate were to deny Excellent Art his second Group One, or Duke Of Marmalade his first.

Excellent Art will be ridden by Jamie Spencer, and Duke Of Marmalade by Michael Kinane, as was the case when they finished first and second in the St James's Palace Stakes, over course and distance in June.

Ramonti, still Godolphin's only Group One scorer in 2007, was also a winner at the royal meeting, in the Queen Anne Stakes, and followed up by beating Excellent Art here in the Sussex Stakes. He has since been outpaced by Darjina at Longchamp, and bin Suroor was not complacent about the rematch. Though pleased to learn of George Washington's defection, he said: "The filly will still be hard to beat. And the other question mark might be the ground. He prefers good or faster ground, so we do not want too much rain. But the one thing that will help us is that the mile at Ascot is stiffer than at Longchamp, and we will probably run a pacemaker to make sure it is a good gallop."

Kirklees had meanwhile confirmed himself eligible for sterner tests, following up his impressive Doncaster comeback by giving his trainer his fourth success in five runnings of the Charles James Homes Foundation Stakes. True, he faced only four rivals, including two stablemates, but he had only been given a dozen days to get over that generous effort on his return from a long absence. This brawny animal, winner of a Group One prize in Italy for Mark Johnston last year, could yet merit a return to that level this autumn.

The opener had been won by Silver Rime, whose trainer, Richard Hannon, admitted that he is tempted to run another of his juveniles, Scintillo, in the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes, also at Ascot on Saturday.

This colt has won only one of his six starts, but Hannon felt he was unlucky not to beat McCartney – subsequently so impressive at Doncaster – when trying a mile for the first time at Salisbury last time. "I think he'd go well," Hannon said. "The trip suits him, he has some experience, and the form has worked out."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Gulf Express

(Pontefract 3.50)

NB: Double Attack

(Pontefract 2.50)

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