It is one of the standout races of the mid-summer calendar, and the feature renewal of a top-class King George VI Ascot meeting this weekend. It is this eponymous races, celebrating the marriage of George and Queen Elizabeth, that will have punters dancing in the stands if bookmakers’ favourite Dartmouth comes home first.
Dartmouth’s hopes of winning Saturday’s feature race were enhanced following the late withdrawal of ante post favourite Postponed, the outstanding Roger Varian five-year-old that won this very race last year and who was strongly fancied to do so again after a compelling showing in the Coronation Cup last time out in June.
But a respiratory infection means that a new name will be inscribed on the trophy come Saturday afternoon.
It is perhaps fitting that the Queen’s jolly, Dartmouth, now heads the market at 2/1. The four-year-old was impressive in victory in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last time out, coming home by a head from Highland Reel, also in the field here, at 10/1.
There was controversy that day though, with a steward’s enquiry after Seamie Heffernan, on board Highland Reel, dropped his whip. Without that perhaps the Aidan O’Brien trained horse would have taken the tape first, although question marks regarding his stamina (two wins from five attempts over 12f) ensure a more meaningful conclusion cannot be sought.
But in Dartmouth we have a proven stayer that has won each of his last three outings. With the Queen in her ninetieth year, it would be fitting if one of her charges picked up the win here. Remarkably she has only one prior victory in this renewal to her name – way back in 1954 – but with Sir Michael Stoute on board she possesses a proven King George VI champion; he has five wins to his name.
On a Wing and a Prayer
The King George VI is an all-ages race, which means that this is the first time for talented three-year-olds to meet competitors who are slightly older and more experienced than them. But often the fearlessness of youth can play a hand – two of the last five champions here have been three-years-old at the time of entering the winner’s enclosure – and so it is well worth having a ‘youngster’ on side.
Perhaps the most appealing of these is Wings of Desire, who has enjoyed a fine breakthrough campaign in which he won the high standard Dante Stakes before settling for fourth at the Epsom Derby. He may have frustrated his supporters on Derby day by finishing outside of the money, but that was on soft ground that day and the impression is that a return to firmer footing will be to his advantage.
He will have to find 4lb to catch up with Dartmouth and others on ratings, but that looks a probable rather than possible task. Trainer John Gosden has previous in this race, with victories courtesy of Nathaniel in 2011 and Taghrooda in 2014.
Wings of Desire was available at 10/1 in the ante post reckoning, but since Postponement’s withdrawal has slipped into 4/1. That, given his big race pedigree and suitability for the likely conditions, is very much worth a second look.