It was a King George who described an English summer as “three fine days and a thunderstorm”, so it seems somewhat appropriate that this hot spell is about to give way to heavy rain as Ascot prepares to stage the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Saturday.
Important, too, as far as the possible outcome of this mid-season highlight is concerned, for if the predicted deluge softens the Berkshire turf to a significant degree, it will be good news for the brilliant French raider, Cirrus Des Aigles, and bad news for the Aidan O’Brien-trained favourite, St Nicholas Abbey.
Cirrus Des Aigles has been a big hit in France for some time now, but we saw at close quarters just how good he is when he was sent over to Ascot for the last two runnings of the Champion Stakes. He won it in 2011 and then gave the mighty Frankel much more of a race than any other horse managed last year. And since Frankel’s retirement, Cirrus Des Aigles has, on ratings, assumed the mantle of “Best Horse in the World”.
Ease in the ground will be much appreciated by this tough Group One veteran, who demonstrated his wellbeing in France a month ago with a pleasing comeback run following an injury setback behind the German star Novellist, who takes him on again this weekend. Certainly it would suit Cirrus Des Aigles more than St Nicholas Abbey, whose record suggests he is at his best when hearing his feet rattle.
Bidding to make it third time lucky in the race, St Nicholas Abbey would benefit from a faster pace than was provided in the previous two renewals, and that is likely to be ensured by the keen-going Ektihaam, who was several lengths clear of his rivals when losing his footing at Royal Ascot last month.
But Ektihaam is not just the hare for others to chase down and devour; his trainer, Roger Varian, is confident that his four-year-old is now reaching his peak, and views him as a genuine contender. They just might not catch him.
Trading Leather, the Irish Derby winner, will now have help flying the flag for the three-year-old crop with Sir Michael Stoute’s progressive Royal Ascot winner, Hillside, supplemented for this million-pound pot at a cost of £75,000. If anyone knows what it takes to win a King George, it is Stoute, who has won a record-equalling five of them, but that’s a proper gamble whichever way you look at it.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Burnwynd Boy (5.0 Musselburgh)
Came good last summer and showed enough on his recent reappearance to suggest that he will be spot on again today.
Next best: Burning Thread (4.0 Musselburgh)
Can be very very good or horrid but the recent fitting of blinkers seems to have brought about some improvement.
Where the money's going
Universal has been nibbled at for Saturday’s King George ever since winning a Group Two at Newmarket and is a 20-1 outsider with each-way prospects.
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