Saturday's big race at Ascot boasts one of its best fields in recent years says Mark Milligan as he recommends two bets at the Berkshire course...
"Adayar is a big, rangy colt who’s clearly taken a while to strengthen into his large frame, but he really came of age when slamming an up-to-scratch field at Epsom."
When I was growing up in the mid-80s, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes was the pre-eminent middle-distance race in Europe, routinely attracting the best 3-y-os and older horses.
The likes of Dancing Brave, Reference Point, Nashwan and Mtoto produced some of the most memorable performances of my childhood and cemented racing as my absolute passion from an early age. Fast forward a few years and we see the roll of honour contains such prestigious names as Swain, Montjeu and the recently deceased super-sire Galileo.
Come the mid-2000s, the race hit something of a flat spot.
Trainers seemed to give up running their best three-year-olds and we saw a few fallow years in terms of truly top-class performers.
However, the stunning victory of Harbinger in 2010 seemed to signal something of a resurgence - his performance (while achieving an astonishing Timeform rating of 140) something to behold.
The following year Nathaniel became the first three-year-old since Alamshar in 2003 to take the race, and he went agonisingly close to doing the double the following year when nabbed in the dying strides by Danedream.
Oaks winner Taghrooda quickly followed before the stage was set for Enable to record the first of her record three successes in the race, the latest coming in an uncompetitive three-runner affair last year.
One of the best line-ups for years
If the 2020 King George lacked something in competitiveness, this year's renewal appears to be the polar opposite, attracting one of the best line-ups in recent years.
Where else to start than with Love? What a fantastic filly she's been since winning the 1000 Guineas last year.
Her follow up in the Oaks, when slamming Ennistymon by nine lengths, was seriously impressive, and she had little trouble completing the hat-trick in the Yorkshire Oaks at York in August.
That win rounded off her 2020 campaign, but she shaped as if as good as ever when returning in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot last month. Dictating her own pace, Love took care of Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Audarya by just under a length without Ryan Moore ever having to get too serious with her.
One could argue that Love has yet to beat a genuinely top-class rival, although the manner in which she's taken care of inferior opponents suggests that she'll be more than capable of that when the situation demands it.
This will undoubtedly be Love's biggest test to date, facing Charlie Appleby's Derby winner Adayar, Saudi Cup and last year's French Derby winner Mishriff, along with recent Irish Derby runner-up Lone Eagle and dual Group 1-winning filly Wonderful Tonight.
Love's stable companion Broome makes up the field and it says something about the strength of this race that he's a general 25/1 shot.
Adayar is a big, rangy colt who's clearly taken a while to strengthen into his large frame, but he really came of age when slamming an up-to-scratch field at Epsom. That form has been franked in no uncertain terms, with the third there Hurricane Lane (also trained by Appleby) going on to win the Irish Derby and Grand Prix de Paris.
Even further back that day, favourite Bolshoi Ballet (who suffered a cut in the race) came out and won a Grade 1 in the USA recently.
The concession of the weight-for-age allowance to a progressive three-year-old such as Adayar will be a tough one for all the older horses in this race.
There's a case that Mishriff is over-priced on his best form, though there is also the suspicion that the Group 1s he's been winning haven't been that strong. However, John Gosden seems adamant he'll step forward from his recent Eclipse showing behind St Mark's Basilica, although he'll probably need to.
The Irish Derby looked ripe for the taking for Lone Eagle as he strode clear in the straight, only to be collared late on by the aforementioned Hurricane Lane. Taken literally, that form would seem to give him a bit to find with Adayar, though a similarly enterprising ride could see him go close again.
With a potential breakdown in the weather coming this weekend, any appreciable rain would be a massive boost to the chances of Wonderful Tonight. A filly who thrives when the mud is flying, she becomes a serious player if Ascot receives anything towards the upper limit of the forecast precipitation.
However, I'd be much cooler on her chances if the Berkshire track misses the worst of thunderstorms.
In summary, this could well be a race for the ages.
Love is a worthy favourite based on everything she's shown so far, though Adayar arguably ran to a similar level to Love's best when winning at Epsom.
As previously mentioned, he's big colt and may not yet have shown all he's capable of. With the prospect of more progression to come, and Charlie Appleby's runners carrying all before them in Group 1s this year, he's taken to make the most of the weight-for-age allowance and come out on top.
Fantastic bet in the 14:25
Our other bet on the Ascot card comes in the Porsche Handicap at 14:25.
Fantastic Fox is still unexposed after just four starts and is readily forgiven his most recent outing when well beaten at the Royal meeting.
Stepping up to a mile and a quarter for the first time, this speedily bred son of Frankel (a half-brother to top sprinter Dream Of Dreams) was simply too free out in front on soft ground and understandably failed to get home.
His previous form, notably when third in a red-hot maiden behind pattern-class performers Snow Lantern and Derab, makes him attractively handicapped off an unchanged mark of 94 here.
He'll need to settle better than last time, but the drop back to a mile is very much in his favour, and I'd be surprised if there's anything in this field possessing his sort of potential.
Fantastic Fox rates a confident selection at around the 4.3100/30 mark.
Over at York, The Group 2 Skybet York Stakes features a fascinating clash between recent Royal Ascot winner Mohaafeth and a pair of very good older rivals in Armory and Juan Elcano (also a winner at the Royal meeting).
Unbeaten in four starts this season, Mohaafeth skipped the Derby in favour of the Hampton Court Stakes last time, where he beat Roman Empire convincingly enough despite drifting late on.
This will be his biggest test to date, although as with Adayar in the King George, the weight-for-age concession likely tilts things in his favour. This will be no gimme, however, and I wouldn't be desperate to get involved at a short price.
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