Tactics will surely be the key to Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. In one corner is the favourite, Duke Of Marmalade, tackling a mile and a half for the first time, with his camp facing his trip into unknown territory in hope rather than supreme confidence. In the other is market rival Youmzain, for whom the distance is a minimum and whose connections have made clear their requirement is an end-to-end gallop.
Likely to be accompanying Duke Of Marmalade from Ballydoyle are his stablemates Macarthur, a second string most would be delighted to have as a first, and Red Rock Canyon, who did duty as hare earlier this season for his team's No1 in both the Tattersalls Gold Cup and Prince of Wales's Stakes.
But with Duke Of Marmalade's ability to see out a strongly run 12 furlongs unproven, it remains to be seen whether Red Rock Canyon trail blazes or merely smoulders. "A strong gallop usually suits everyone and makes sure the best horse wins," said Pat Eddery, winner of two editions of the King George in his days as a jockey. "But it wouldn't be a surprise if Aidan tried to control the race by slowing it down if he could, either with the pacemaker or – possibly – you could see a scenario where the favourite made all."
Eddery's victories came in two of the most memorable runnings of the midsummer showpiece, on Grundy and Dancing Brave and on both occasions, he won despite the deployment of pacemakers on behalf of a Dick Hern-trained rival. In 1975, Highest, then Kinglet acted for the runner-up Bustino in what became a legitimate contender for race of the century and 11 years later Boldden and Vouchsafe made the pace for sixth-placed Petoski.
"The first time the aim was to make it a proper test for the Derby winner [Grundy]," he recalled, "and it so nearly came off. It didn't suit me at all; I had to go after Joe [Mercer] on Bustino much sooner than I wanted, and although my horse did it in the end, it broke him.
"On Dancing Brave it didn't make the slightest difference. He was exceptional and with the turn of foot he had, he would have won off a slow pace, a fast pace, anything."
The last horse to win the King George over Ascot's stiff mile and a half on his first try at the distance was Brigadier Gerard 36 years ago (when Azamour did it in 2005, the race was run at less demanding Newbury) and O'Brien admitted yesterday he was in the dark about whether or not his four-year-old charge could follow suit.
"Physically, pedigree-wise and with his mental attitude he is very good," he said of the son of Danehill. "He is a top horse who is very professional and we are very happy with him. But we don't really know what will happen when he enters the final two furlongs. It will be interesting to see."
Youmzain, last year's runner-up, has dipped below 12 furlongs only once in the past two years, when he was third in the Tattersalls Gold Cup last year over the extended 10 at the Curragh. After two more second places, in the Arc and Coronation Cup, he came good at the highest level again –he had already won the 2006 Preis Von Europa – in last month's Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
"That race was truly run and he sat closer than he usually does but you could see he was going to win a long way out," said Mick Channon, "but it's up to him to do the talking on Saturday." Fair enough, though the five-year-old might be disappointed with his trainer's words on his prospects. "I think he's got as good a chance as he had when second to Dylan Thomas last year," he added.
Lack of stamina is unlikely to be an issue for last year's St Leger hero, Lucarno, but though the John Gosden-trained colt made all in the Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket last month, a front-running repeat is not guaranteed on Saturday. "He doesn't have to dominate," said his rider, Jimmy Fortune. "We held him up in the Great Voltigeur and in the Leger."
Bustino came close, but the last St Leger winner to take the King George the following year remains Alcide in 1959. Lucarno is third favourite, a realistic market position, according to his jockey. "I'm hopeful of a place. Anything else is a bonus," he said.