Ascot King George winners: 11 of the greatest horses to prevail
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot is one of the highlights of the flat racing season and has produced some memorable races down the years.
Ahead of Saturday’s 2023 showdown, which has attracted a stellar line-up, we look back at some of the greatest Ascot King George winners of all time.
The dual Arc winner used the Gran Premio di Milano as his prep race for the King George, which was set to be his hardest race to date.
The going was sticky, and the 2/5 favourite looked uneasy at one stage, with jockey Enrico Camici urging him to go with the leaders.
The pacemaker Todrai, did his job and led Ribot into the straight, but it was only in the last furlong that the champion showed his real worth.
Some argued that the win was unimpressive; the horse’s record, though, speaks for itself: 16 runs, 16 wins.
Vincent O’Brien’s triple crown winner was another easy addition to the list of King George winners. The son of Northern Dancer had already captured the 2000 Guineas, the Derby and the Irish Derby, and started at odds of 40/85 at Ascot.
Nijinsky was the only three-year-old in a field of six that included the previous year’s Derby winner, Blakeney, and Coronation Cup winner Caliban.
Caliban provided the early pace, but it was soon apparent that Nijinsky was in a different league. He cruised past his rivals on the bridle and left Blakeney for dead. Lester Piggott couldn’t have had an easier winner.
MILL REEF (1971)
Ridden by Geoff Lewis, he was nicely settled in third as they entered the straight. He pulled to the front a furlong from home and ran away to win by six lengths.
He sealed a brilliant year by routing a top-class Arc field by three lengths.
He won the Prix Ganay and Coronation Cup as a four-year-old, but sadly injury curtailed his career soon afterwards and the great rematch with Brigadier Gerard never happened.
Two pacemakers were thrown in by Bustino’s trainer, Dick Hern, and they set up the race nicely for an epic duel in the final half-mile.
Bustino was clear by three into the home straight, but Grundy was gradually eating into his lead. They fought all the way to the line, and Grundy looked beaten at one stage. Yet, he dug deep, and just prevailed in a thrilling finish.
We mustn’t forget also that the brilliant dual winner Dahlia was a distant third.
Such was the courage both horses had to show that, not only did the race-record time stand until Harbinger in 2010, but neither managed to win again.
He was a warm favourite to beat the older generation at Ascot. A surprisingly slow pace was set and initially, the Aga Khan-owned colt was boxed in.
But as the field straightened for home, Light Cavalry came off the rails and Walter Swinburn seized the opportunity to take the 2/5 favourite through the gap in style.
The race was settled with two furlongs to run; he drew away to win decisively by four lengths from Madam Gay.
However, it was Willie Carson on Petoski who caused the upset. In victory, he also brought an end to Oh So Sharp’s unbeaten run, which also included the 1000 Guineas.
Steve Cauthen blamed the very fast ground at Ascot and interference by Infantry two furlongs out for the great filly’s defeat.
But Carson rode a patient race on Petoski, switching the colt to the outside close to the finish to beat Cauthen’s mount by a neck.
DANCING BRAVE (1986)
Rated 141 at the time (somewhat controversially amended to 138 in 2013 but still the highest-rated of the King George winners), he possessed great speed, and a lightning turn of foot that left his rivals for dead.
He started the King George as the 6/4 second favourite, behind the 11/10 shot Shahrastani, who had famously beaten him in the Derby.
With Pat Eddery on board, this time ‘the Brave’ took revenge, with his Epsom conqueror disappointing in fourth place.
Dancing Brave went on to achieve further glory with a dazzling win in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the autumn.
It was a slow gallop for the seven-runner field in the King George, which soon developed into a tactical affair as Willie Carson sat and waited on Nashwan.
It wasn’t until the last two furlongs that the race truly developed, with Nashwan the first to commit, and he was soon joined by the Derby third, Cacoethes.
They were locked together inside the final furlong and in a pulsating finish Nashwan showed he had the courage to match his undoubted class as he got home in front.
The 1999 Arc de Triomphe winner only had six rivals to beat, as the Classic generation stayed away. In truth, it was a sub-standard renewal – but it wasn’t meant to be a walkover. However, it felt like one.
Sent off at 1/3 – the shortest-priced favourite since Nashwan – he had 11lb plus in hand on official figures. Michael Kinane sat patiently on the colt, and when asked to quicken two furlongs out, the horse cruised home stylishly.
Kinane didn’t need to do much; the horse guided him home that day.
Confront performed his duties as pacemaker for his stablemates Workforce and Harbinger and led until the home turn, at which point Epsom Derby hero Workforce and Irish Derby winner Cape Blanco tried to assert their authority.
But they were merely sitting ducks for Olivier Peslier and Harbinger as they effortlessly took up the running inside the final two furlongs and rocketed clear.
The handicapper raised him from 123 to 135, making him the best in the world at the time, but his career was cruelly cut short the following month when he shattered a cannon-bone in a routine spin on the gallops in Newmarket.
In the wake of his retirement, Sir Michael Stoute was asked how much further Harbinger could have gone.
“Who knows?” he wondered. “If he had kept at that plateau, we’d have a world champion.”
ENABLE (2017, 2019, 2020)
Having already bagged the Coral-Eclipse on her return to action, Enable was sent off the 8/15 favourite to regain her Ascot crown with injury preventing a title defence in 2018.
Crystal Ocean had finished runner-up to Poet’s Word in her absence and the race was widely expected to boil down to a duel between the top older horses.
Few could have expected such an epic finish, though, as the pair went toe-to-toe for the best part of two furlongs, with Crystal Ocean finding generously when it looked as though Enable would go on.
It was nip and tuck all the way but Enable just poked her head in front on the line to triumph by a neck, with future Arc winner Waldgeist just under two lengths back in third, with a further seven lengths back to the next home in what was a race for the ages.
Enable became the first three-time member of the Ascot King George winners club when romping home by five and a half lengths from Sovereign the following year.
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