Adam Houghton previews Saturday's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and has picked out an each-way bet.
"He has looked a work in progress in four starts for the John Gosden yard this year and defied his inexperience to grind out victory in the Dante..."
The Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday is Britain's most prestigious all-aged race in the Flat calendar and provides one of the first opportunities for the three-year-olds to meet their elders at the highest level.
Derby winner Grundy and the previous year's St Leger hero Bustino served up one of the best finishes of all time when going head-to-head in the 1975 renewal and, having seen off the attentions of Eagle Top in a similarly pulsating battle 12 months ago, Postponed will be back to try and defend his crown this weekend, and cement his standing as the leading middle-distance horse in training.
Postponed is currently long odds-on as he bids to become just the third horse to win back-to-back renewals of the King George and comes into Saturday's race on the back of a thoroughly dominant success in last month's Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom. The form of his earlier top-level victory in the Dubai Sheema Classic gave him obvious claims that day, but it was still hard not to be impressed with the way he dismissed some very smart rivals, travelling smoothly into contention as the field entered the final two furlongs and pulling four and a half lengths clear of the Breeders' Cup winner, Found, without being asked for anything like maximum effort by jockey Andrea Atzeni. That form puts him 8 lb clear of his nearest rival on ratings here and - a far better horse than when edging out Eagle Top in 2015 - Postponed is fully deserving of his place at the head of the market.
Dartmouth was supplemented at a cost of £75,000 on Monday and, given the huge progress he has made in his first three outings of the current campaign, it is not difficult to see why. A useful three-year-old in 2015, he showed improved form to land Group 3 contests at Chelmsford and Chester on his first two starts this season and maintained his unbeaten record for the year when getting the better of Highland Reel in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes over this C&D last time. That high-class performance identified him as a horse capable of making his presence felt in this company and he is certainly in the right hands to do so, representing a trainer that has a fine record with similarly late-maturing types, and who saddled Harbinger to do the Hardwicke/King George double in 2010. Indeed, it has to be a positive that Sir Michael Stoute sanctioned the idea to supplement him here and Dartmouth is among those best placed to take advantage should Postponed fail to fire.
Dartmouth will attempt to give the Queen a first winner in the King George since Aureole in 1954 and is expected to uphold Royal Ascot placings with Highland Reel. He was a far better three-year-old than his Hardwicke conqueror, enduring a busy campaign that started in May and ended with a second victory at the highest level in the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin in December. That he was able to hold his form right through to end of the year says plenty about his constitution and his Ascot effort was as good as any he has produced in a lucrative career to date. However, the balance of his form suggests he is a bit below the standard required to win this race and, having already finished behind Postponed and Dartmouth in three starts this season, Highland Reel appears to have it all to do on Saturday, and will have better chances to add to his tally when sent on his travels once again later in the year.
The three-year-old Wings of Desire is more interesting on the back of a creditable fourth in the Derby at Epsom. He only made his debut at Newmarket's Craven meeting in April, but made giant strides in the month that followed and booked his place in the Derby line-up with a cosy success in the classic's premier trial, the Group 2 Dante Stakes at York. He ultimately failed to make the progress necessary for him to be involved at the finish on Derby day, but stayed on nicely on ground softer than he would have perhaps liked and shaped as if the return to a more galloping track would be in his favour. He is bound to have learnt plenty from that experience and, having had four races in the space of two months, the break since his latest outing is likely to have done him the world of good. He could yet prove better than he was able to show at Epsom and the 4 lb Wings of Desire has to find with Dartmouth and Highland Reel on ratings doesn't look insurmountable.
Erupt also features quite prominently among the group in the considerable shadow of Postponed on ratings, but he has had his limitations exposed at this level in the past and will have to improve on the form he produced to finish second in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time. He has found life difficult since landing a weak renewal of the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp last year and is expected to come up short again on Saturday, a comment that also applies to Western Hymn. He has recovered well from colic surgery to finish placed in three group races since the turn of the year, but remains without a win in six attempts at this level and that is unlikely to change at Ascot.
In conclusion, the odds of 1/2 currently available on Postponed make little appeal at this stage and, while the top-class form he has shown in an unbeaten five-year-old campaign to date marks him out as comfortably the most likely winner, the suggestion is to look for some each-way value elsewhere in the field.
Dartmouth is respected after a similarly impressive start to 2016, but marginal preference is for the relatively unexposed Wings of Desire. He has looked a work in progress in four starts for the John Gosden yard this year and defied his inexperience to grind out victory in the Dante. The form of that effort has been boosted since (runner-up Deauville won a Grade 1 in America) and, with a mile and a half on a galloping track likely to be right up his street, Wings of Desire appears to offer the best value as he attempts to emulate his brother Eagle Top by finishing placed behind the horse currently established as the best middle-distance horse in training.
Back Wings of Desire each-way in the King George