We've got a horse-by-horse guide to the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO) at Ascot on Saturday.
The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO) was first run in 1951.
The mile and a half contest quickly established itself as one of the most prestigious middle distance events in the world and regularly attracts the best horses from Europe and further afield with this year's contest seeing Sixties Song travel from Argentina.
Being open to three-year-olds and upwards, the King George presents the first major opportunity for the cream of the Classic generation to take on the best older horses over a mile and a half.
The Classic generation came a cropper in the Coral-Eclipse over 10 furlongs with Barney Roy failing to overhaul Ulysses who now bids to become the first horse to complete the historic double in almost a quarter of century.
The first running was in 1951 and was the richest-ever race run in Britain, worth £25,322 to the winner, and attracted an incredibly strong field, including three British Classic winners and six French raiders, with 19 runners in all lining up, still the biggest field to have gone to post.
Supreme Court was victorious under Charlie Elliott and since then, some of the turf's greats have added their names to the roll of honour with Italian star Ribot a facile winner in 1956, following on from the French-trained Vimy who became the first overseas winner the previous year.
Lester Piggott still holds the record number of King George wins for a jockey with seven wins from Meadow Court in 1965 through to Teenoso in 1984. At the beginning of the 70s Piggott claimed his greatest win in the race when Nijinsky, who subsequently completed the Triple Crown, defeated the previous year's Derby winner Blakeney.
Mill Reef struck in 1971 with his great rival Brigadier Gerard going on to record his only victory over a mile and a half the following season. Dahlia, another French trained winner, became the first dual winner when she was successful in 1973 and 1974.
Dahlia attempted the treble in 1975 but could only finish third in what was described by many as the "Race of the Century". Grundy, who had landed the Derby and Irish Derby earlier in the season, and Bustino, the previous year's St Leger hero, fought out the finish with the former coming out on top in a race record time which was to stand for 35 years.
The list goes on and on through the like of The Minstrel and Troy on to Shergar, Dancing Brave, Reference Point and Nashwan to the lightly raced but undefeated Lammtarra, dual-winner Swain, Montjeu and Galileo to name but a few.
Big race stats from the last 10 renewals
* Four-year-olds have won eight renewals with three-year-olds collecting the other two.
* Favourites have won four renewals; the longest priced winner was 9/1.
* Sir Michael Stoute and John Gosden have trained two winners and Aidan O'Brien three.
* Seven of the last eight winners to have previously contested a Group One had been successful in that grade (Harbinger and Nathaniel were having their first G1 runs).
* Nine winners had won over the distance - the other was trying the trip for the first time.
* Seven winners had finished in the first two in a Group One over the distance; the exception (aside from the G1 debutants) was running over the trip in that grade for the first time.
Guide to the runners
Desert Encounter - Form: 132-123 Trainer: D M Simcock Jockey: S M Levey
Stepped up to Group One company for first time and seemed to excel himself when third behind Ulysees in Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. He stays this trip so there are no stamina worries and proven around here but needs to take another leap forward to win this.
Highland Reel - Form: 212-711 T: A P O'Brien J: R L Moore
Teak-tough and winner of this last year who has gone from strength to strength since, winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf, Coronation Cup and Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. Sure to give his all again but the worry is the ground (good to soft at the time of writing and rain in the forecast) as he’s definitely at his best when he hears his hooves rattle. Always hard to draw a line through though.
Idaho - Form: 21U5-61 T: A P O'Brien J: J A Heffernan
Not only a stablemate of Highland Reel but a full-brother too. He won the Hardwicke over course and distance at the Royal meeting and looks set to have a big say in the good middle-distance races for the rest of the campaign given we haven’t seen the best of him yet.
Jack Hobbs - Form: 13/P3-18 T: J H M Gosden J: W Buick
Looked set for a bright campaign when running away with Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in March but was then all at sea dropped back to ten furlongs on quick ground behind Highland Reel at the Royal meeting. Clearly needs to bounce back but that’s conceiveable back to a mile-and-a-half with give underfoot.
Maverick Wave - Form: 50200-4 T: J H M Gosden J: G Lee
Pacemaker for Jack Hobbs. End of.
My Dream Boat - Form: 554-324 T: C G Cox J: A Kirby
Won the Prince Of Wales’s Stake last season but not been near that level since, including in three starts this term. Hard to make a convincing case for him despite representing top connections.
Ulysses - Form: 124-131 T: Sir Michael Stoute J: Jim Crowley
Shed his nearly-horse tag with a smooth-travelling, and battling, win over Barney Roy in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. Stays this far and is a strong traveller who has the ability to play a hand in the finish for all he may not be suited if it became a proper stamina test at the trip in soft ground.
Sixties Song - Form: 521-13 T: Alfredo Dassie J: G Mosse
The star middle-distance performer in Argentina and great to see him line-up but it would be a massive surprise if has what it takes to see off the best of Britain and Ireland on his first outing in this hemisphere.
Benbatl - Form: 13251 T: S bin Suroor J: Oisin Murphy
Respectable fifth in the Investec Derby and dropped in trip and class to land the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last time. He’ll give his all but looks set to fall short in against proven older horses – and the best middle-distance horse of his own generation.
Enable - Form: 1-3111 T: J H M Gosden J: L Dettori
Brilliant winner of the Investec Oaks at Epsom before sauntering clear to win the Irish equivalent at the Curragh. Pedigree offers hope the soft ground won’t be an issue and she looks ready to test her mettle against the males and elders. The suspicion is she could have the legs of them too – but at 11/10 is she a betting proposition?
VERDICT: Enable looks the one to beat but with no form on soft ground and a price around 11/10 she can’t be a betting proposition. The ground has gone against Highland Reel for all he’ll go down with all guns blazing and a chance is taken on JACK HOBBS back up to his optimum trip and on a surface he’ll relish.
What the connections say
Enable and Jack Hobbs
John Gosden: "She took Ireland very well. She got a little cut behind, but that has healed. Her races have been very spread out so far. She has done well physically and this is only a two-week gap, but she has taken her races really well. She skipped clear of some very nice fillies in Ireland. She flew over, so she didn't have the strain of a 15-hour journey through Holyhead on the ferry, either.
"She goes on pretty much most ground. Nobody wants to see it go heavy, but some give in the ground wouldn't bother her at all. Taghrooda didn't go to Ireland, but that year they (Epsom and Curragh) were closer together. We've had a funny year this year because Easter was late so we had no time between the trials and the Classics. There's quite a gap to the Yorkshire Oaks and we feel two weeks should be enough. She's obviously a progressive filly. She had just the one run last back-end. She's always been a beautiful filly since day one, but she has done nothing but improve through her races.
"He [Jack Hobbs] was very fortunate he got that ground in Dubai. He was not that fortunate at Royal Ascot. He is back to probably his best distance and with give in the ground it should play to his strengths."
Frankie Dettori: "She has all the weapons you need. Three times – at Chester, Epsom and in Ireland – she has shown to me and the racing world she has a good cruising speed and great turn of foot. At the back of my mind I knew she would win at the Curragh but even I was taken by the way she did it. I was probably more impressed than at Epsom. Her turn of foot was electric for a stayer."
Highland Reel and Idaho
Aidan O'Brien: "Both horses are well, but the ground is the thing. Idaho has form with ease in the ground, and Highland Reel has a little bit, too. We would be happy with good to soft and hopefully it won't get any worse than that.
"Highland Reel is an incredible horse. He's tactically very quick, he's very like his dad (Galileo). He stays well, but is also very quick out of the gates, very good to get a position and he would absolutely die for you. It's incredible, he's so genuine. He handles fast ground, mile and a quarter to a mile and a half. On the big day in the big races, you see he gets his blood up when he needs to."
Sir Michael Stoute: "We are very happy with him. As far as the trip is concerned he has won a Gordon Stakes and run a very solid race at Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He is more settled this year and relaxes better. That is to his advantage. We go there hopeful and hoping there is not too much rain. His preparation has gone well. I hope the ground will not be too testing."
David Simcock: "He ran very respectably in the Eclipse and the plan was always to go to the King George afterwards. He's an improving horse who handles any ground and stays a mile and a half well."
Saeed bin Suroor: "Benbatl won well at Royal Ascot and is improving with time. His latest piece of work on Monday went nicely and good to soft ground will be fine for him."
My Dream Boat
Clive Cox: "He's not as effective when it's too firm and the recent rainfall has been very welcome. It looks like he will get his favoured conditions. He ran a pleasing race in France last time and, while he is quite laid-back at home, he's been giving us impression he's at the top of his game."