The 2023 running of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot looks like being well and truly deserved of the race’s ‘mid-summer championship’ tag with seven individual Group 1 winners and a further two horses that have registered seconds at the highest level among the 11 runners.
Just two three-year-old colts have won the race since 2003, yet Epsom Derby one-two Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel are likely to dispute favouritism, in no small part to the 11lb weight-for-age concession they get from the older horses.
Despite that sobering statistic the history books and the official ratings give us reason to believe that this year’s edition will go the way of the Classic generation.
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Stage set for Derby form to hold sway
As noted above, three-year-old colt winners of the King George this century have been rare, with a total of just four (Galileo in 2001, Alamshar in 2004, Nathaniel in 2011 and Adayar in 2021).
However, reading back through the list of those to contest the race, it’s evident that seldom since the early years of the century have the best of the season’s male Classic horses actually turned up.
Since the great Galileo did the Derby-King-George double in 2001 only three other winners of the 1m4f Classic have even turned up to take on their elders. Kris Kin was third in the Ascot race in 2003, Workforce (2010) was ninth and Anthony Van Dyck was 10th, 39 lengths behind Enable in 2019.
This year’s Derby form appears to be working out nicely with both AUGUSTE RODIN and King Of Steel scoring since. The former added the Irish Derby to his Classic tally, while the colt that chased him home at Epsom scored with authority in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Ascot.
Both are in receipt of a massive 11lbs from their elders. This gives them a substantial advantage at the weights as the pair aren’t far off the 124 official rating of top-rated runner Pyledriver as it is – Auguste Rodin has a mark of 123, King Of Steel’s is 120.
Splitting them is no easy task, with Roger Varian’s Epsom second having just the fifth race of his career at Ascot. However, preference is for Aidan O’Brien’s dual Derby winner.
The son of Deep Impact was well on top of King Of Steel at the line at Epsom, having reeled him in inside the final furlong and reinforced the impression that he’s a very strong stayer at the trip when breaking stablemate Adelaide River’s spirit at the Curragh.
Ascot’s stamina-sapping uphill crescendo looks tailormade for him to wear down his Classic generation rival.
Best bet: Auguste Rodin @ 3/1
Strong stayer can pick up the place pieces after battle royal up front
This is one of the best King Georges for ages with no fewer than six of the bumper 11-runner field rated 120 or more.
Alongside the two three-year-olds mentioned above, last year’s winner Pyledriver, Hukum, Emily Upjohn and Luxembourg round out the sextet. All are sure to have their backers, but none make huge sense from an each-way perspective as they’re likely to go off at single figure odds with just three places to shoot at.
An alternative angle, which unlocks bigger priced plays is to entertain the very real possibility that several members of the 120-plus brigade lock horns in battle up the Ascot straight. As the majority cry enough they could be passed by a strong stayer up the run in and HAMISH looks just the type.
The seven-year-old has won Group 3 races over 1m5f and 1m6f on his two starts this term and his run of four wins and two close seconds in six races starting in May 2022 includes a three-quarters-of-a-length second to Kyprios in the Group 1 in the 2022 Irish St Leger.
Further back in his career he has winning form over Hukum too, having beaten Owen Burroughs’ classy but capricious animal over this trip back in September 2021.
Each-way play: Hamish @ 50/1