A Look Towards the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot

source: Ascot

Following the wondrous 2017 Royal Ascot meeting at the Berkshire track, the next installment of top class Ascot racing takes place at the end of July, with the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes being the undoubted highlight.

First run in 1951, the twelve furlongs contest rapidly established itself as one of the most prestigious middle distance events in the world and attracts some of the top thoroughbreds from Europe and beyond. As the race is open to three-year-olds and upwards, the King George offers the first major chance for the best of the current Classic generation to take on the leading older horses over a mile and a half.

This year’s renewal looks to be another fantastic race in prospect – provided the leading contenders stand their ground, with less than two weeks till the big race.

Money-machine

Irish super-trainer, Aiden O’Brien has a multitude of stable stars, but the globetrotting money-machine that is Highland Reel, must surely be at the top of his list. Owned by Derrick Smith, Mrs John Magnier & Michael Tabor, the son of Galileo has accumulated almost six million pounds in prize money – and the current ante post market leader for the King George could mop up another huge prize here. Following a below-par effort in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan back in March, the return to British racetracks has seen Highland Reel back to form with wins in Epsom’s Coronation Cup (1m4f) and Ascot’s Prince Of Wales’ Stakes over ten furlongs. One note of caution for favourite backers is that the five year-old has never won on any going worse than good ground.

Youthful chance

John Gosden’s Enable surely holds the best three-year old chance of claiming the King George after two highly impressive wins in the English and Irish Oaks. The Khalid Abdullah owned filly saw off the well-backed Rhododendron at Epsom with an eye-catching performance of speed and stamina. Most recently at the Curragh, Enable landed the Irish equivalent at short odds by spread-eagling the field to win by five and a half lengths. Following the Curragh victory, Gosden intimated that Enable “would take on the colts at some stage, but she has come back with a nick on the outside of her off-fore and we’ll have to check that out.” Gosden now has a race against time to get his star filly ready for Ascot, but the veteran trainer has several other race options to consider.

Improving colt

Following his recent Sandown victory in the Coral-Eclipse, the Sir Michael Stoute trained Ulysses has since seen plenty of ante-post market support for the King George. Ulysses rewarded trainer Stoute’s patience and faith by edging out Barney Roy in a thrilling finish to a great clash between the generations at the Esher venue, and Ascot could be next on the agenda for the improving four year-old. After finishing around a length and a half behind Highland Reel in the Prince of Wales’ Stakes, Ulysses – another son of Galileo – will have to show improvement to challenge the Coolmore horse if he is to mount a serious challenge.

Best of the rest

The likely Aiden O’Brien second string could be Idaho, who proved his wellbeing by landing the Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal Ascot meeting last month. Ridden by Seamie Heffernan, the four year-old stayed on well after claiming the lead, and now deserves his chance again at open Group 1 level. John Gosden may also be double-handed in the race with Jack Hobbs, who must put a disappointing performance behind him in Prince of Wales’ Stakes at Ascot. Godolphin’s best hope of victory could lie with Frontiersman, who put in a career best effort despite defeat to Hawkbill at Newmarket recently.

More Than a Horse Race: The King George Festival at Ascot

The King George Festival at Ascot is one of the most important weekends on the British Flat racing calendar and the atmosphere is always lively and colorful. Next weekend’s signature race, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (or the “King George” as it is informally called), commemorates Her Majesty The Queen’s late parents and typically attracts many of horse racing’s most acclaimed champions. This year will see 2015 winner Postponed attempt to become only the third dual winner of the event after Dahlia (1973, 1974) and Swain (1997, 1998). The Luca Cumani-trained colt looks primed for the feat after besting the field by 4 ½ lengths at the Queen Elizabeth Coronation Cup at Epsom on June 4.

A Short History of The King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes

In 1946 a 2 mile race for 3 year olds was established at Ascot and named for King George VI. Two years later a second event, named after the King’s consort Queen Elizabeth, was created. It was held at Ascot in July and covered a distance of 1 ½ miles. In 1951 Major John Crocker Bulteel, Clerk of the Course at Ascot, was keen to create a 1 ½ mile race for horses aged 3 years and older. He wanted this race to have international significance and attract only the top horses. As such he combined the King George VI with the Queen Elizabeth and The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes were born.

In its early days the race was not commercially sponsored. That changed however in 1972 when De Beers began what would become more than 30 years as primary sponsor of the event. In recognition of De Beers’ sponsorship, and with Queen Elizabeth’s consent, the name of the race was changed in 1975 to The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. When the De Beers sponsorship run came to an end following the 2006 festival the name of the race resumed its traditional configuration.

With a purse in excess of £1,000,000 the King George is the second richest horse race in Britain (after the Epsom Derby), the de facto European mid-season, middle distance championship as well as an integral part of the Breeder’s Cup Challenge series.

The Festival

King George weekend at Ascot is more than a single race however. While it doesn’t have quite the panache of Royal Ascot in June it is nonetheless a major social event and one of great heritage and prestige. With Windsor Castle a scant 6 miles from the venue, members of the Royal Family regularly attend and the global thoroughbred community is also well-represented.

As July is typically the warmest and sunniest month of the English year King George weekend presents the perfect occasion for a picnic on the lawn amid tranquil breezes and fresh air. The dress code is smart and conservative – jacket, collared shirt and tie for men; no bare chests, shorts or trainers for anyone – as is fitting for the traditional English garden party setting. Of course glamorous, high fashion hats abound.

  • Friday this year will see a six-race card which includes the prestigious John Guest Brown Jack Stakes (named for the legendary winner of 7 different Royal Meetings) and the Listed Woodcote Stud Valiant Stakes. Guests will also enjoy a wide variety of fine dining experiences including à la carte luncheons and afternoon teas as well as 5-Star dining in the Royal Enclosure.
  • Saturday is highlighted by the annual running of the Group One King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Before and after the race guests will enjoy pitch-perfect entertainment amidst a relaxed and inspired atmosphere to make for a day none will soon forget.

The Race

Far be it from us to offer horse racing tips but this year’s King George is shaping up to be one for the ages. 39 top-class entries are scheduled to vie for the winner’s circle including 14 3-year olds, a slew of 4-year olds and last year’s champion the now 5-year old Postponed; who seeks to postpone retirement by becoming only the third dual champion in the history of the King George.

Ireland will be well-represented with 14 entries lead by Investec Derby champion Harzand who aspires to become the first colt to capture the Derby/King George double since Galileo accomplished the feat in 2001.

Saddling paddock at Royal Ascot on race day.

Saddling paddock at Royal Ascot on race day. Copyright Karen Foley.

Perpetual contender Khalid Abdullah is represented this year with 3 entries, including last year’s Prix du Jockey Club winner New Bay and up-and-comer Exosphere.

Other horses to watch include Gold Cup favorite Order of St George, 2,000 Guineas winner The Gurkha and impressive filly (and Epsom Oaks victor) Minding with her blazing speed and signature 4 white socks. The Grey Gatsby, Elite Army, Eagle Top and Wings of Desire will also make their bid for thoroughbred immortality.

The King George Festival offers something for every lover of top-class, traditional entertainment from 5-Star dining to world class racing to the fun and flair of fashion. Don’t miss July’s premier social and sporting event: The King George Festival at Ascot: July 15 & 16.

 

Article by Chris Herbert who is a guest writer for SBAT.com.