Arguably the best middle distance race of the season takes place at Ascot on Saturday.
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is the highlight of an excellent weekend where this race is usually an opportunity for the best of the classic generation take on the older horses over a mile and a half.
However, the only 3 year-old in the line up is the Japanese raider Deep Brilliante. This horse is an unknown quantity but I'm not sure the prevailing softish ground at Ascot will be ideal for him. Despite the lack of support from that age group it's a very classy renewal with last year's winner Nathaniel bidding for a repeat just 14 days after his comeback win in the Eclipse at Sandown. The track suits him very well, though, and his trainer John Gosden couldn't be in better form. It's been reported that the horse has come out of that race well, but it has to be a concern that this race comes quickly after 9 months off. The ground will suit though and all the rain that falls will be up his street too.
I'm just going to favour Sea Moon owing to Stoute's excellent record with older horses.
Quotes of the week
He has to take on Aidan O'Brien's classy St Nicholas Abbey who was hugely impressive in the Coronation Cup at Epsom last time out. He is a really classy horse who looked at his very best at the Derby meeting and a difficult horse to oppose. Sea Moon could be a horse to worry the protagonists though after his win in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot. He oozed quality there and travelled well. His trainer Sir Michael Stoute does phenomenally well with his older horses and he is worthy of plenty of respect. The soft ground will help his cause too and there could be more to come from him.
Dunaden finished behind him in second at Ascot and was unlucky in running. Whether he can reverse the placings though remains to be seen. He is classy having won the Melbourne Cup and in Hong Kong and Aussie jockey Craig Williams renews the partnership in a bid to maintain their 100% record together. Williams was based over in the UK a few years ago so there will be no issues about track knowledge for him. Arc winner Danedream is also on target for the race, but she has to put a disappointing effort in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud behind her, she finished last.
That's a look at some of the leading contenders and I think it's really tough to find the winner. However, at the prices I like Sea Moon (3/1 with Sky Bet) and Dunaden (5/1) ahead of St Nicholas Abbey (2/1) and Nathaniel (5/2). I'm just going to favour Sea Moon owing to Stoute's excellent record with older horses.
The International Stakes is the big betting handicap on the card. The seven furlong race has attracted some familiar names. Last weekend's Bunbury Cup winner Bonnie Brae is entered for David Elsworth, but after that effort on heavy ground he may be worth opposing.
Eton Forever carries top weight for Roger Varian thanks to his win in the Buckingham Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, which was his trainer's first winner at the Royal meeting. The horse is 6lbs higher in the weights here. Cape Classic is an interesting runner for William Haggas if the ground dries out a bit. He has missed the cut in some valuable handicaps and would run off a light weight if he lines up.
Paul D'Arcy's Edinburgh Knight has plenty of weight, but he is still fairly well treated in this handicap after a decent recent effort to finish second to Libranno in the Group 3 Criterion Stakes last time out. This 7 furlong trip suits him ideally and he doesn't mind a bit of give in the ground. I was disappointed that Excellent Guest had to be taken out of the Bunbury Cup last weekend on account of the ground at Newmarket. By all accounts he was in sparkling form at home, so all being well he is still catching pigeons on the gallops and can give trainer George Margarson compensation for missing last week's intended target. Margarson has booked Frankie Dettori to ride and that is another positive.
Carlton House is entered to run in the Summer Mile and he looks the class act in that field. Sir Michael Stoute trains the colt for The Queen and after two runs over a mile and a quarter this season is sticking to a mile for the time being. He should take all the beating to give Stoute a Group race double on the Ascot card.
Yorkshire Summer Racing Festival
There is plenty of racing away from Ascot too with the popular Yorkshire Summer Racing Festival kicking off at Ripon on Saturday. It's the fifth year of this festival in God's Own County which culminates on Sunday 29th and I can recommend a visit to one of the tracks if you are in the area. There are stable visits too which is a great opportunity to take a behind the scenes look at the workings of a racing stables. The full dates of the race meetings are:
Ripon - Saturday, July 21
Redcar - Sunday, July 22
Beverley - Monday (evening), July 23
Catterick - Wednesday, July 25
Doncaster - Thursday (evening), July 26
Thirsk - Friday, July 27
York - Friday (evening), July 27
York - Saturday, July 28
Pontefract - Sunday, July 29
You can get full details on the Welcome to Yorkshire website.
On Sunday there is classic action at the Curragh with the Irish Oaks the feature. At the confirmation stage 11 fillies stood their ground. An interesting addition to the field is the John Gosden trained Lancashire Oaks winner Great Heavens, who incidentally is a full sister to King George hopeful Nathaniel. She is tough and improving and will enjoy conditions on Sunday. Connections have had to fork out E40,000 to add her to this field so it must have been a decision they didn't take lightly and hopefully she can reward them.
Epsom Oaks winner Was will also take her chance for Aidan O'Brien who has 6 of the entries. This is the first outing for Was since her classic win. Hughie Morrison is giving Shirocco Star the opportunity to try and reverse those Epsom placings after her superb effort to finish second there. She has since finished third to another of Sunday's rivals, Princess Highway, in the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot. The latter is trained by Dermot Weld, who by his high standards doesn't have his horses in top form with just 6 wins this month so far (at the time of writing). But for the stable form I'd be really keen on her chances and it may be worth taking a risk on her with Great Heavens an interesting rival.
Sea Moon in the King George @ 3/1 with Sky Bet
Excellent Guest in the International Stakes @ 12/1 with Sky Bet
Carlton House in the Summer Mile
Princess Highway in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh on Sunday