Racing: King George procession for Azamour

Aga Khan's colt glides from last to first to dispel all stamina doubts and break a long-standing track record

Sue Montgomery
Friday 19 July 2013 06:00

But if some of the substance of Azamour's victory was predictable, the style of it was certainly an eye-stretcher. The four-year-old swept from last place to first without much apparent effort from himself, or Mick Kinane in the saddle, and his length-and-a-quarter margin at the line was scant measure of his superiority. The winner of a championship contest, even a 5-2 favourite, cannot often be called so far from the finish.

The pace was furious from the start, as Gamut and Mubtaker set off at a thundering gallop. The wily, experienced Kinane settled Azamour, trying the distance for the first time, at the back, a position he was perfectly happy to occupy until the 12 runners turned to face the long, demanding straight. Half a mile out Kinane eased his reins enough to begin to pick off his increasingly labouring rivals one by one. A classy bit of acceleration took Azamour to the front rank a quarter of a mile out; going to the final furlong Bago, last year's Arc winner, was the last to be disposed of, and finally Kinane asked a bit, and his mount stretched clear.

Bago paid for his efforts in trying to go with the John Oxx-trained crack by being run down close home by Norse Dancer, losing second spot by a short-head. Warrsan came in fourth, five lengths behind, followed by Ace and last year's winner, Doyen, with the others strung out more like finishers in the track's usual annual highlight, the Hennessy Gold Cup, than an élite Flat race.

Azamour's glittering performance in capturing the £408,030 prize was fine justification for the unusual step of his owner, the Aga Khan, in keeping a high-class colt in training at four.

"When they went off so fast in front, I knew they'd pay the penalty," said Kinane. "I didn't want to compete at that stage, didn't want to get into a scrap early on.

"The horse likes to get into a rhythm and I just let him pop where he was happy. There was no set plan beforehand, I just thought I'd make it up as I went along. But it helps when you have no doubts about your horse. When I did make my move he scythed through them and in the end I got there too soon. He is one hell of a horse, high-class over any trip."

It was a second King George success for Oxx, after Alamshar, also for the Aga Khan, two years ago, and a fifth for the 46-year-old Kinane, but for his third different set of connections. He rode Belmez and King's Theatre to victory for Sheikh Mohammed, and Montjeu and Galileo for the Coolmore axis.

Azamour, a son of Night Shift, was previously a top-level winner over a mile, in the St James's Palace Stakes, and twice over 10 furlongs, in last year's Irish Champion Stakes and the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot at York. A repeat at Leopardstown in September is the next date on his dance card, with the Arc, ground permitting, and Breeders' Cup Turf pencilled in thereafter.

Oxx was as cool as Kinane yesterday. "You don't like to hear the commentator say, 'He's going to have to pass them all to win'," he said, "but Mick knows his strengths and I was never really worried.

"When he did make his move he cut through them like a hot knife through butter, in a different league. He was always going to get there once he started his run, but he pricks his ears and dosses in front, and will never win by very much.

"It takes a special horse to win at this level at a mile, 10 furlongs and a mile and a half, and he's proved that he is a special horse."

Azamour has been installed as second or third favourite behind Hurricane Run for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, for which the Aga Khan also has the impressive, French-trained, Irish Oaks heroine Shawanda as a live contender. "He can handle slower ground better now he is older and stronger," added Oxx, "but he would not want it bottomless in Paris."

Of yesterday's other contenders, the seventh-placed Grey Swallow found the ground too fast, and Eswarah, eighth, was thoroughly upset beforehand by a thoughtless burst of applause as the Queen entered the parade ring. The supplemented Policy Maker finished last, with his owner, Alec Wildenstein, commenting, oddly: "The race was run at a snail's pace and it didn't suit him."

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