John Gosden insists Coral-Eclipse hero Nathaniel has plenty on his plate as he aims to secure a quick-fire Group One double in Saturday's King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
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The Galileo colt was an impressive winner of the Betfair-sponsored showpiece 12 months ago, his second course and distance victory after his triumph in last season's King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.
He signed off for the year by finishing fifth in the Champion Stakes and looked better than ever when scoring on his four-year-old debut in the Eclipse.
However, this year's King George arrives just a fortnight after Sandown and Gosden admits his charge faces a real fight to defend his crown, tackling proven top-class performers like St Nicholas Abbey and Sea Moon.
"It's only a two-week gap and I can't emphasise how tough that is for a horse. He had a hard race at Sandown but he has eaten well, he looks well and has been scoping great and you need to have a go at these top races," said the Clarehaven handler.
"We always felt that whatever he did last year, he was going to do better this year. It all points towards that now. As the season progresses, I think he will get better."
"St Nicholas Abbey won the Breeders' Cup Turf well, he didn't look like he did much at the Curragh and then his run in the Coronation Cup was good.
"It's nice to meet him, and these races need the form horses. Sea Moon sets a solid standard too, and it looks a good race."
Gosden's stable jockey William Buick is respectful of the opposition and believes Nathaniel is still open to further progress.
"It's a very good King George this year. St Nicholas Abbey is a better horse than he was last year. You've got Sea Moon, Dunaden. They are all there," he said.
"He's a late-maturing horse, mentally and physically, and that was always going to be the case.
"We always felt that whatever he did last year, he was going to do better this year.
"It all points towards that now. As the season progresses, I think he will get better."
Sir Michael Stoute's Sea Moon scrambled home when long odds-on for his seasonal reappearance at Goodwood, but was far more impressive in the Hardwicke Stakes.
He has ground to make up on St Nicholas Abbey on last year's running of the Breeders' Cup Turf and Stoute is "hopeful rather than confident" of securing his sixth King George triumph.
"It's a very competitive renewal, that's for sure - Nathaniel, St Nicholas Abbey and there are others too who are very decent Group One horses," he told Sky Sports News.
"Historically it's been a race that's run up a lot of champions, a lot of excitement and I love the race. He's got a shot but it's a very, very tough race and we're hopeful rather than confident."
Sir Michael Stoute
"But we're glad to be in there having a shot at it because he's come through the Hardwicke well and he's pleasing us in his preparations.
"Historically it's been a race that's run up a lot of champions, a lot of excitement and I love the race.
"It's one of the great middle-distances races in the calendar in Europe.
"He's got a shot but it's a very, very tough race and we're hopeful rather than confident."
Instead of hoping for improvement on Sea Moon's Royal Ascot performance, Stoute would be satisfied to see his colt run to the same level.
"The Hardwicke was probably his best performance to date," he told British Champions Series TV.
"He was very workmanlike at Goodwood. He'd made the running for the first time in his life and Ryan said that didn't suit him and he had to improve to win the Hardwicke, which he duly did.
"He travelled really well and we were always really hopeful from a long way out.
"Maybe I'd be satisfied with another Hardwicke performance but he's entitled to go for the race.
"I haven't asked him (whether he's improved) because I don't need to.
"I'd like to think if I can get him at the same pitch (as at Royal Ascot) he could be competitive off that. He might not be able to win, but run very well."
St Nicholas Abbey was a champion juvenile for Aidan O'Brien, but a disappointing performance in the 2000 Guineas proved to be his sole appearance as a three-year-old.
Results were mixed the following season, but he was a scintillating winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf at the end of the campaign.
A hugely impressive performance in the Coronation Cup at Epsom last month suggests he is a much better horse than when third in last year's King George.
The trainer's son and jockey, Joseph, said: "It's a good race and we're looking forward to it.
"He has a very good turn of foot and we know he's very effective on fast ground. But there's nothing we can do about conditions and we'll play with the cards we're dealt."
"He won well the last time and he seems to be in good enough form.
"There are a few more runners than last year, so hopefully there will be something forcing the pace, we go a nice, even gallop and the best horse wins.
"Hopefully the ground will dry out - it wouldn't be ideal for it to be too soft. He has a very good turn of foot and we know he's very effective on fast ground.
"But there's nothing we can do about conditions and we'll play with the cards we're dealt. Hopefully he'll run a nice race."
Fourth in the betting is Mikel Delzangles-trained French raider Dunaden. Last year's Melbourne Cup and Hong Kong Vase hero has not won in three starts so far this season, but there has been progress on each occasion.
The six-year-old met trouble in running when second behind Sea Moon last month and David Redvers, racing manager for owners Pearl Bloodstock, is keeping his fingers crossed for a clearer run this weekend.
He told At The Races: "He's thrived since the Hardwicke, he thrives on his racing. If you saw him in the paddock at Ascot, you couldn't fail to be impressed by his physical well being and it would appear he's come on again according to Mikel.
"He's thrived since the Hardwicke, he thrives on his racing and it would appear he's come on again. I'm capable of saying silly sounding things but I'm not actually worried about the opposition."
"He's just a fantastic horse to have anything to do with.
"I'm capable of saying silly sounding things but I'm not actually worried about the opposition. I'm worried about him getting a clear run because he has to come from off the pace as that's his style and it would be cruel if he ran into trouble again.
"That said, he's had a couple of blissful runs in Melbourne and Hong Kong when everything went absolutely right so it will swing back in his favour.
"I just think he's a tough, battling horse and if he's in the right place at the right time, he'll outbattle anything. The long-term plan is definitely the Arc.
"Sheikh Fahad's (owner) father is very much involved in the sponsorship of the Arc and I know he'd very much like to try to win some of his father's money."
In an international line-up, Dunaden is one of four challengers from overseas.
German trainer Peter Schiergen saddles last year's Arc heroine Danedream, who was last of four in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last month.
Schiergen feels the stronger gallop she ought to get in Britain will bring about a better result.
He said: "It was a slow pace in her last race and she doesn't like it. I hope the pace is better on Saturday and she will run better.
"I don't think the ground is a problem. She's run on good ground, soft ground and heavy ground, so the going is soft and it shouldn't be so bad.
"It's a strong race and I hope she can run well. Her last work in the morning was good. I hope she is in top form."
"The three-year-old Japanese horses this year are quite competitive and he is one of the best ones among them."
Joining Dunaden on the cross-Channel journey is Alain de Royer-Dupre's Reliable Man.
The grey was fourth behind So You Think in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at the Royal meeting and his trainer feels the four-year-old will benefit from stepping back up from 10 furlongs to a mile and a half.
He said: "He finished his last race very strong and with the longer distance, maybe he can have a better place in the race and can finish in the same way.
"He won a Group One at three, but he has come back very well and he has a chance to be competitive in a race like this.
"I think it is a tough race, but 12 furlongs is longer and he likes Ascot.
"He ran very well in the Prince of Wales's and the extra distance could be better for him."
Making a much longer journey from the Far East is Japanese hope Deep Brillante.
The son of Japanese great Deep Impact won the Derby in his homeland on his latest appearance and is the only three-year-old in Saturday's feature event.
Racing manager Keita Tanaka said: "The three-year-old Japanese horses this year are quite competitive and he is one of the best ones among them, so it is quite interesting to see how he goes against the very best horses in this country.
"He won a Group Three as a two-year-old last year at Tokyo racetrack in Japan on very heavy ground and he won the Japanese Derby last month in the fastest time in the race's history.
"He can handle soft ground to heavy ground, the ground does not matter to him."
"I was reading this morning that our jockey is quite confident, so that was nice to see! He's a lot more experienced than I am when it comes to these big races."
Tom Dascombe's Brown Panther won over the course and distance in last year's King George V Stakes and went on to prove himself at the highest level when second in the St Leger at Doncaster.
He ran abysmally on his seasonal return at Chester, but bounced back with an authoritative victory in lesser company at Pontefract, earning him a step back up in class.
"He's all ready to go and I'm very happy with him going into the race," said Dascombe.
"I was reading this morning that our jockey is quite confident, so that was nice to see! He's a lot more experienced than I am when it comes to these big races.
"It's an extremely good race, but the course, the distance and conditions are all in our favour and I'm sure he'll run as well as he's able to.
"I think he should be a bit sharper than he was at Pontefract. After such a disappointing run first time out, I didn't want to push him too hard before he went to Pontefract and he should be better now."