Front-running Ektihaam can add to growing reputation
TRADING LEATHER will bid to emulate St Jovite's famous 1992 pillar-to-post triumph when he tackles today's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes for Jim Bolger.
Like St Jovite, Trading Leather arrives at Ascot on the back of an Irish Derby win, albeit one that was slightly less emphatic than his predecessor's momentous demolition of Dr Devious.
Placed in the Dante Stakes and Irish 2,000 Guineas en route to Curragh glory, the Teofilo home-bred is clearly a horse of significant talent.
However, since Alamshar also complemented an Irish Derby victory here in 2003, the marquee Group One has gone the way of the Classic generation just once.
Trading Leather has the potential to buck that trend over a 12-furlong trip that he relished last time, but the three-year-olds in general are falling short at this exalted level.
Hillstar is the only other three-year-old on duty. For all that Michael Stoute felt justified in coughing up £75,000 to supplement him, his King Edward VII Stakes defeat of Battle Of Marengo was of the grinding rather than prodigious variety.
Cirrus Des Aigles sets the standard for everything else to reach, while the presence of an insatiable Johnny Murtagh on German raider Novellist is also significant.
On his Saint-Cloud reappearance, Cirrus Des Aigles wasn't punished when fifth to Novellist.
He runs well at Ascot and is certain to improve for his seasonal debut, but neither is there much juice in odds of 6/4 about a horse that has his limitations. Given Novellist's superiority over the French raider last time, the 9/2 that can be had about him delivering Murtagh a fourth King George has bundles of each-way appeal.
That all said, the front-running Ektihaam is fancied to defy all-comers under Dane O'Neill. Since 2000, four-year-olds have won the 10 King George renewals that three-year-olds haven't, and Ektihaam and Novellist both fall into that bracket.
Of course, last year's Classic crop have gone down as one of the worst in aeons, but Ektihaam is on a steady upward curve.
The pick of Roger Varian's colt's four turns at three was his Dante second, the promise of which he has started to fulfil this term. On his Sandown return, he raced keenly over 10 furlongs before just going down to Al Kazeem – form that reads distinctly better now than perhaps it did at the time.
Then, on stepping up to this trip for a first time at today's venue in May, he slammed Thomas Chippendale by six lengths, before fortune deserted him at the royal meeting.
The son of Invincible Spirit again set out to make all in the Hardwicke, and had everything on the stretch when he unseated Paul Hanagan at halfway after slipping badly. However, he still managed to emerge with credit, as Thomas Chippendale went on to win.
That was a huge compliment for Ektihaam, and then the third home, Universal – which reopposes now – went on to win a Newmarket Group Two in style.
As another that likes to set the pace, Universal certainly has the potential to spoil Ektihaam's tactics here.
Still, he couldn't touch Ektihaam early on in the Hardwicke, so it's worth speculating that O'Neill's mount can finish the job now. Odds of 8/1 about him are far too big.
Of the three other Irish-trained runners at Ascot, David Marnane's Zalty can go close at a price in the Deloitte Handicap.
Ger Lyons' Machete Mark has a chance in this as well after finishing sixth to Roca Tomu over course and distance in June.
Nonetheless, the form of Zalty's fifth to Lyons' Lightnin Hopkins over an inadequate seven furlongs at Fairyhouse has stood up especially well, with the second and fourth, Bronte and Toccata Blue, both winning since.
Back over a more suitable mile now, the unexposed Zalty ought to go very close off a 1lb lower mark.
At York, Paul Hanagan rides Mukhadram in a Group Two rather than Ektihaam at Ascot.
William Haggas' colt is odds-on to prevail, but he has had a couple of hard races in defeat against Al Kazeem.
The American import Grandeur is a viable alternative, having run well behind Universal on his European bow at Newmarket.