Charlie Appleby admits to being excited ahead of Adayar's bid for glory in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes at Ascot this weekend.
The Godolphin trainer has rapidly established himself in the very top tier of his profession, building from high-profile victories towards the end of 2017 courtesy of Wild Illusion, Wuheida and Polarisation to claim a breakthrough success in the following year's Cazoo Derby at Epsom with Masar.
The momentum generated from winning the Derby for the first time has propelled Appleby onto another level entirely in subsequent seasons and 2021 is showing all the hallmarks of potentially being his best campaign yet thanks to Hurricane Lane, Creative Force, Kemari and above all Adayar, who provided the Moulton Paddocks handler with his second Derby victory when striking gold under Adam Kirby last month.
On Saturday the son of Frankel looks to carve out his own slice of history as he aims to become the first Derby winner since Galileo to double up in the King George at Ascot - historically the midsummer showpiece which represents a true clash of the generations.
It seems almost expected that Appleby should have a leading contender for such a race these days, though he'll be stepping into new territory and can hardly hide his excitement over what might unfold after six horses were declared for the Group One feature.
“Adayar is going to be our first runner in the King George," admits Appleby.
"But he’s not just a runner – he’s a Derby winner."
Appleby is a trainer who takes great pride in placing his horses, a fantastic strike-rate at overseas fixtures such as the Breeders' Cup testament to that, and he's quick to point out that running three in this year's Derby wasn't a case of simply getting carried away with the entries.
“Until this year we hadn’t had a runner in the Derby since Masar, we’d had a couple of blank years," he said.
“We didn't win a Group One with our two-year-olds last year but I was happy with them as individuals and as a group. We started this spring with potentially five Derby candidates and we eventually went into the race with three. They all ran creditably.
“I’m not going to hide away from it as Hurricane Lane was the Dante winner and an unbeaten Frankel colt. Thankfully, he’s gone on to justify our view of him at the Curragh and in France.
“One Ruler you had to question a bit on stamina although a few wise heads were keen on Adayar and with the ground the way it was that had to be a good thing for him too. We were just delighted to have the winner.
“As we know, this (Derby-King George double) hasn’t been done since Galileo so for Adayar to turn up there is a huge occasion and a great challenge.
"The Coral-Eclipse has been and gone and St Mark’s Basilica was a very impressive winner so we’ve seen that division starting to be sorted out.
"Now it’s over to the big boys over a mile and a half and it’s going to be a fascinating race."
Appleby has made no secret of the fact Hurricane Lane was his idea of the yard's best chance of Derby success but his subsequent victories in the Irish Derby and Grand Prix de Paris have cast some doubt over the Cazoo St Leger remaining as his long-term, end-of-season target.
When it comes to the pair of them, the King George is likely to have a major bearing on plans going forward.
“Twenty-four hours after the Derby we felt the King George would be the race for Adayar," said Appleby. "We just wanted to give him the time to develop from Epsom.
“Hurricane Lane ran well too and he took the race well, we also felt the Curragh and the track conditions would suit him. In the end the ground was a bit quicker than you might have expected but he went very well on it. The sons of Frankel can go on anything, they like to train and they love to run.
"We are genuinely sitting here getting really excited by what Adayar does and it'll help decide where we run these two good horses for the rest of the season. I’m delighted with his preparation, he looks a million dollars and there should be some pace in the six runners which will suit us.
“Love is going to go off favourite and deservedly so on what she’s achieved, but I genuinely think we should be bang there as well. It’ll be fantastic to watch and whoever wins it will be ‘king of the mile and a half division’ for the foreseeable future.
“We hear it year-in-year-out that it wasn’t a classic Derby but from the Eclipse onwards it always sorts itself out. The Derby as it stands at the moment looks as though it was a good Derby, so I hope some pundits are right when they suggest we should be favourite.
"It’s one of the major races of the calendar year so to have a horse who on the book is looking very competitive is very, very exciting. Let’s hope he can come out on top. It’d be one lovely feather to have in the cap, there’s no doubt about it."
Adayar has yet to encounter quick conditions at all throughout his five-race career but the prospect of fast ground at Ascot isn't overly concerning for Appleby.
He said: "Adayar had his first start at Nottingham and then went back there and won emphatically on soft ground.
"I doubt it will come up really quick at Ascot as Chris (Stickels, Clerk of the Course) does a fantastic job there. It's every Clerk's nightmare when you've got the forecast the way it is (chance of heavy showers) but even on good to firm ground I'd still be comfortable that Adayar will be able to perform at the top of his ability.
"At Sandown when he was second there, it was on the quicker side of good that day too. He's a good-moving horse and I'm not using that as an excuse as we stand.
"Some people said he was a bit unlucky at Sandown but we were happy with the run then we went to Lingfield and I think it’s a great trial race for Epsom. He learnt plenty on the day and perhaps the track did beat him on the day but we were learning ahead of the Derby.
"It’ll be interesting to see what the paddock watchers say on Saturday as I think he looks fantastic. He’s done his routine work and in truth he doesn’t work differently to how he worked before Epsom but he’s just a mature horse now and you probably couldn’t pick him out from the some of the older horses at home."
With Appleby happy with whatever the weather throws up and his horse's well-being too, it could come down to simply whether his horse is good enough in his toughest assignment yet.
“The acceleration he showed in the Derby was what surprised us," said Appleby. "Post-race we’ve analysed it and Hurricane Lane just wasn’t able to quicken the way he did on the day.
“He’s a gentle giant really, he’s a big lad and the team have done a great job with him. These big horses have to be held together as sometimes they’re not the most balanced but Josh (Crane) who looks after him has done a great job.
“Most importantly, this is great for is Highness Sheikh Mohammed as he puts so much into the sport and it’s what we all want, to be competing in these prestigious, historical races."
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