An Epsom Derby victor meets an Irish Derby winner and one of the best and most progressive older horses in training. That is the essence of what the King George should be. Add in a horse that’s run up the Prix De l’Arc three times; a French filly who’s won the Hong Kong Vase to add some international flavour, and a front runner to ensure there’s no hiding place and that’s precisely we’re being served at Ascot this afternoon.
It’s an enthralling clash with the added dimension that three of the six runners will be setting off from the same Freemason Lodge Stables bidding to emulate another stable companion, Conduit, who won the race last year.
Sir Michael Stoute is the trainer with the happy distinction of fielding half the runners in today’s feature but stable jockey Ryan Moore, who sticks with Epsom hero Workforce, is in little doubt that he’s aboard the right one. Having won the Derby, he also rode Harbinger to a scintillating success in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot but even that performance was not enough to make him contemplate switching allegiance from his first Derby winner.
There’s no need to cover old ground as the fact that the Epsom form has taken several knocks has been well publicised. Amongst all the subsequent defeats and disappointments for the vanquished, however, lurks the fact that the winner won by a sizeable margin and broke the track record in the process.
Those best in the know will attest that Ryan Moore, much like Ruby Walsh on the National Hunt scene, is the best form judge amongst his peers and, while one would allow for a degree of heart-ruling-head syndrome, Moore is not renowned for his sentiment and has made a bold and unequivocal decision to stick with Workforce.
When that filters down to punters this morning and afternoon, it’s almost inevitable that the bookmakers’ decision to oppose the favourite will be met head on by a contingent of grateful punters looking to fill their boots with the highest rated horse in the race.
Getting him beaten will not be easy but hope springs from ground that may be a lot faster than he likes and, for a big horse that, the short straight at Ascot may not afford him the time he needs to accelerate to top speed. Harbinger, though also an imposing animal, has shown an ability to quicken very smartly and there must be a chance that he can get first run on the favourite.
The Aidan O’Brien trained Cape Blanco claimed the scalp of Workforce when the pair met in the Dante on their seasonal debut. Coming from off the pace, he won quite readily but there were excuses for the runner-up and there’s no doubt that the form of Workforce’s Epsom Derby success was a long way ahead of what he showed at York.
That said, it’d be wrong to dismiss Cape Blanco out of hand entirely. He improved to win the Curragh Classic and certainly looked to have more in the locker. That run went a long way to proving that he stays a mile and a half and he won’t be at all inconvenienced by a scorching early gallop.
His only defeat came when ploughing a disadvantaged furrow in the French Derby and he showed before and since and that he’s far better than that. In an eight-runner field, he’d have been the punters’ each-way selection but just two places restrict each-way betting.
Youmzain, for all his consistency, struggles to win races and is unlikely to rediscover the winning thread here while French raider Daryakana was a short head behind Mick Channon’s horse when they met at Saint Cloud recently and needs to improve markedly on all known form.
Workforce is likely to have to sit on the tail of the pacemaker, Confront, to maximize his chance but I’m sure Harbinger’s jockey, Olivier Peslier, will be wise to that move and he’s unlikely to allow his main rival an easy advantage.
The experts believe that the money will come for the favourite and that his stable-companion and market rival will drift. That being the case, it’s time to take a chance on Harbinger causing a minor upset as he has the advantage of experience and is on a steep upward curve.
There’s not a lot between the pair on official ratings and the form of his Hardwicke Stakes victory has been franked on numerous occasions. The colt, now thriving after an interrupted season in 2009, can finally prove himself a genuine Group 1 horse with his fourth success of the season.
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