2023 Ascot King George runners: Stellar line-up for race of the season
Ahead of a star-studded renewal at Ascot on Saturday, we’re taking a look at all 11 contenders for King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes glory.
Despite the late withdrawal of last year’s Derby hero Desert Crown, the Group One showpiece looks the race of the season so far, such is the depth of the field.
“The 11 runners in this year’s King George – ranging in age from three-year-old to seven-year-old – have won 14 Group Ones and £11million in prize money between them, so the quality of this renewal is arguably as high as we’ve ever seen in the race,” said Coral’s David Stevens.
“With few of the contenders confidently ruled out, there’s been a good spread of support ante-post, and that looks sure to be the case on Saturday as well, when any one of the first four or five in the betting could yet be sent off favourite.”
Here are the 2023 Ascot King George runners:
Aidan O’Brien’s much-vaunted colt managed to wear down King Of Steel by half a length in the Epsom Derby in early June and again plugged on gamely to see off stablemate Adelaide River in the Irish equivalent.
Although only workmanlike at the Curragh, O’Brien said: “We’re very happy with Auguste Rodin and everything has gone very well since the last day.
“The better the ground, the better it will suit him. We wouldn’t want it getting any worse. We’ll definitely walk the track, obviously. He’s a beautiful mover, he doesn’t raise his feet much.”
Roger Varian’s charge looked set to land the premier Classic when powering into the lead just over two furlongs out and jockey Kevin Stott has been self-critical for possibly kicking on too early.
He did not make the same mistake in the King Edward VII Stakes over this course and distance at the Royal meeting, when King Of Steel produced an impressive late surge to score decisively in that Group Two contest.
“It’s probably the Flat race of the season so far, you’ve got all the best horses in there – proven ones and upcoming ones,” declared Stott. “First and second in the Derby going at it again is obviously a massive thing for everyone.
“It’s by no means a two-horse race. There are some very high-quality horses in there and especially if we are going to have ease in the ground, there are a lot of horses with very good form on slower ground.
“It’s not just a race between the two three-year-olds but I like to think that if it does come down to a battle again from the furlong pole, then hopefully our fella will pull it out.
Bounced back from almost a year on the sidelines to secure a convincing victory over Desert Crown in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown in May and connections will have been delighted to see the recent rain.
The six-year-old, a winner of six of his last eight races, won the 2021 Cumberland Lodge Stakes over this course and distance on soft ground and boasts several notable victories on good going, including last year’s Coronation Cup at Epsom, when accounting for Pyledriver.
Coral ambassador Jim Crowley said: “All I can say is that Hukum is in great form. It is a very, very good race – the best King George I’ve seen on paper for a long, long time, and it is great to be part of it.
“The horse is in great form going into the race and that is all we can ask for. If he is good enough, he is good enough. It is great to be part of it and great to be riding a horse with a chance in it.”
This season’s Coronation Cup star has been given the go-ahead to run following her solid effort when finishing second in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, where she was beaten just half a length by Paddington, who was in receipt of 7lb.
John Gosden said: “After a race like that, you take stock but I couldn’t be more thrilled. She’s in great form with herself, I had to canter her again quickly. I’m very pleased with her.”
The Gosdens are keen to step Emily Upjohn back up in trip and she landed last October’s British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes here by three lengths on good to soft ground.
“She came out of the Eclipse well and she’s going back up in trip to a mile and a half. She won over the course and distance on Champions Day last year, albeit against fillies, whereas this is probably the race of the season, so it’s a different ballgame,” added Thady Gosden
The defending champion conquered German raider Torquator Tasso 12 months ago but was then not seen for 336 days before making a victorious return in the Hardwicke Stakes – which made it three wins from four starts at Ascot.
Past Coronation Cup and King Edward VII Stakes triumphs on good to soft show that he can handle some cut underfoot and punters will be wary of underestimating William Muir and Chris Grassick’s stable star once again.
“It’s a very good race and it’s great to be part of it. Everything has been great since the Hardwicke and we’re looking forward to it,” said Muir. “We’re not worried about the ground and this is what we all live for, to have horses going for these type of races at these type of places.
“They’ve all got great credentials, they’re all horses that have been out and proved themselves this year. They’re all there to go and have a go. We’ll go there and run our race and see how good everyone else is.”
O’Brien’s strong second string has amassed almost £1.2million in prize money and has three Group One wins on his CV, including this year’s Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.
Did not enjoy much luck in running when seventh of 20 in last season’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on his only previous attempt at a mile and a half but still has to prove his stamina at this trip.
“Luxembourg is very straightforward,” said O’Brien. “He’ll love a mile and a half and will get the trip very well. He’s very fit and it’s a race we were always looking at with him and we thought it was going to suit. He’s solid, has had his two runs and he’s ready.
“It’s a great race and that’s what everyone wants all the time, the best horses all together and then let it happen. That’s what we all want to see win, lose or draw.”
Last year’s Irish Derby hero and Arc sixth built on his Coronation Cup second to Emily Upjohn by staying on strongly to justify favouritism in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud for a second Group One success.
There are no stamina doubts about James Ferguson’s gelding, who claimed two Group-class victories last term before going on to finish fourth of 22 in the Melbourne Cup over two miles when sent off favourite.
Was denied a clear passage at crucial moments when fourth behind Pyledriver in the Hardwicke on his seasonal reappearance but still has a bit to find in this elite company.
This popular gelding loves some cut underfoot and has struck in testing conditions at Chester and York this year for William Haggas but stepping up to Group One class will be tough and no seven-year-old has ever won this race.
Returned from a lengthy lay-off to land wins at the Curragh and Chester but appeared to have his limitations exposed when a distant third behind Emily Upjohn and Westover in the Coronation Cup.
The fourth of O’Brien’s 2023 Ascot King George runners put in a solid effort when second of 16 behind Royal Champion in the Wolferton Stakes here at the Royal meeting but looks set to be reduced to pacemaking duties this time.
All odds and market correct at date of publication