Thursday, July 21, 2011
2011 King George
By Stephen Dwyer
This year’s King George is a triumvirate heavyweight free for all. Workforce Vs St Nicholas Abbey Vs. Rewilding. Two Derby winners and a smashing Ballydoyle colt will contest what promises to be a superb race. At Ascot this Saturday, the second richest race in Britain, the £1,000,000 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes takes centre stage. It has the makings of a classic.
At the head of the market, Workforce previously contested the King George last year as a 3yo. Going into the race, no 3yo had won it since 2003 and Workforce was attempting to emulate Nijinsky, Dancing Brave and Shergar who had all won at 3. It was not to be, a disappointing run saw Workforce finishing a remote fifth of six.
Going into Saturday’s race, the manner of his previous defeat warrants close inspection. On Good to Firm ground, he appeared at odds with the track and conditions. His knee action was very high and he expounded a lot of energy hitting the ground. Compounded with the free way he ran, the colt never settled and when he eventually threw down a challenge, faded badly. The Ascot turf was pocked with Good to Firm patches last year and he was no match on the day for his stable mate and horse of the year, Harbinger.
Still, defeat at odds of 8/11 in last year’s renewal was a minor blot on his copybook. Minor merely as the race came in between winning a Derby and an Arc. This year he is showing a rich vein of form, his last defeat was to Aidan O’ Briens So You Think over a 10f trip and he is surely suited to the 12f distance on Saturday. The question remains, can Workforce perform at Ascot, a place that many consider a specialist track?
The market is certainly speaking volumes. In recent weeks Sir Michael Stoute’s colt had been as big as 20/1 for the race. After pleasing connections with a scorching piece of work last weekend at Newmarket, Workforce has now been cut into 11/8 favourite. David Stevens, a spokesperson for Coral has noted "The support for Workforce, like the Ascot weather, shows no sign of drying up at present and last year's Derby winner is sure to start favourite on Saturday, although it's unlikely he will be sent off odds-on, as he was when disappointing in the race 12 months ago,"
The chance for redemption awaits, if he can handle the undulations of Epsom and win a Derby, he can handle Ascot. With the forecast of Good to Soft conditions underfoot suiting him, Workforce may take all the beating on what will only be his seventh start.
Timeform have also rated Workforce 5lb superior to his main market rival, St. Nicholas Abbey. Although he is a three-time Group One winner and a serious character when at his best, Aidan O’ Briens 4yo has yet to race at Ascot. On his seasonal bow last April, the colt flopped when 4/11f when running in a Listed Stakes at The Curragh. Since then he has since taken the Ormonde Stakes and Coronation Cup in tremendous style. As a 2yo , St. Nicholas Abbey was an emphatic winner of the Racing Post Trophy on Good to Soft and in the King George he is Ballydoyles sole representative. No other horse in the race will have has a longer break between races and is guaranteed to be fresh. Joseph O’ Brien will partner St. Nicholas Abbey as Ryan Moore is retained to ride Workforce.
Godolphin’s four-time Group One winner Rewilding will be ridden by Frankie Dettori . The 4yo lines up with a lofty reputation. He was an even-money favourite for last year’s St. Leger but the race came too soon after he battled to win the Great Voltigeur Stakes. He finished a tired horse in what was a very strongly run renewal. Since the St. Leger, Rewilding has won the 1m 4f Dubai Sheema Classic and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Ascot. Rewilding was also third in the Derby to Workforce. Godolphin's racing manager Simon Crisford has noted that they are keen to make the most of the presence of stablemate Debussy, who will act as a pacemaker;
"The key to Rewilding is that he needs to get into a rhythm. He has such a good turn of foot and that is why we'll probably be running a pacemaker," said Crisford. "He loves quickening up off a fast pace, it's no good to him if they crawl and then sprint. He hates a slow-run race.”
It may be all of fifteen years since Frankie Dettori completed his memorable “magnificent seven” at Ascot but when asked about the chances winning a fifth King , the reply was routinely straight; "Can I make it five on Rewilding? Well let's just say I've got a very good chance in a red-hot race."
The only 3yo in The King George, Nathaniel, was supplemented for the race three days ago at a cost of 75,000 pounds by his owner, Lady Rothschild. Nathaniel is a course-and-distance winner with the added bonus of receiving a 12-pound allowance from his main rivals. He enters the race on the back of an impressive victory in the The King Edward VII Stakes and should he win, he will be the first 3yo to do so since Alamshar in 2003.
The signs are positive that Workforce can claim his first King George but bringing it back to the heavyweight title fight, Dettori said of Rewilding "He's not the biggest - if it were a boxing match, he wouldn't even make the same division as Workforce, who is a monster by comparison - but he loves a battle”
That Derby third to Workforce may yet matter. Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.