Harbinger steels show with storming success
Stoute's colt produces devastating display as laboured Workforce fails to find form, writes Greg Wood
Grundy versus Bustino it was not. The speculation ahead of yesterday's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes had imagined a duel up the straight between Workforce, the Derby winner, and his stablemate Harbinger.
Instead, Olivier Peslier had time to watch the closing stages on the big screen, as Harbinger came a record-breaking 11 lengths clear of Cape Blanco, with Workforce, the 8/11 favourite, only fifth of the six starters.
Peslier said afterwards that he had been smiling from three furlongs out, as Harbinger loped towards the lead on the tightest of reins. He did well not to laugh out loud, as Workforce was already going backwards and Cape Blanco, the Irish Derby winner, was under pressure too. When the French jockey allowed Harbinger to extend his stride, the lead was soon almost humiliating for his opponents, and though Peslier barely touched him with the whip, his winning time was a record by nearly 0.7 seconds.
The previous record, like most at the modern Ascot, was set after the course was relaid in 2005. There is no argument with an 11-length margin of victory, however, as the old record in the race's 59-year history was seven lengths, achieved by Generous in 1993. Even the mighty Ribot only scored by five.
Cape Blanco, like Workforce, was racing against all-aged competition for the first time, and while he managed to fill the runner-up spot, there was little here to suggest that the class of 2010 is anything but a very average one. Workforce's run, admittedly, was too poor to be true, but amid the exhilaration of Harbinger's performance, it was sad to see the Derby winner so thoroughly beaten.
"We don't put them together at home, so I had no idea which of them had the best chance today," Michael Stoute, winning the race for the second year running and the fifth time in all, said. "We knew Harbinger had progressed since the Hardwicke [Stakes at Royal Ascot] and he just travelled so well.
"Workforce was a little bit too keen, he just didn't relax enough today and I think that the ground may just have been a bit too fast for him. But you have to remember that it was only his fourth run today, and make no mistake, he will bounce back."
Workforce started the day as favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but he had been displaced by Harbinger before Peslier had managed to pull the winner up. Hills go even money (from 8/1), but Coral offer 2/1, which is a striking difference in terms of the percentage chance it implies.
Even so, Longchamp in October always offers a very different challenge to Ascot in July, and the French challenge, in particular perhaps from Behkabad, the Grand Prix de Paris winner, can never be underestimated. The list of Arc winners trained by Stoute, meanwhile, has yet to receive its initial entry.
The one consolation for Ryan Moore, Workforce's disappointed jockey, is that he will be back aboard Harbinger if he turns up in Paris, while an exhilarated Peslier will be content to have added a King George to a long list of big-race wins. "When I saw the big screen in the final furlong, I didn't know where the other horses were," Peslier said. "I turned to see and they were so far behind. I had won a furlong before the marker.
"Harbinger was the king today. He travelled where I wanted him to and when I asked him to go, he just kept going, he was flying. He is definitely a champion."
Aidan O'Brien too has a strong Arc contender in Fame And Glory, even if Cape Blanco's chance in Paris now looks remote. "I was delighted with him,"
O'Brien said. "He ran a great race, right to the line. We wanted the two Derby winners to get together and they went stride for stride, but it was an astonishing performance by the winner.
"I won't mind stepping Cape Blanco back down in trip, but obviously we will go home and talk about it."
Mick Channon saddled Youmzain to finish third in the King George, and will now look towards a fourth attempt to win the Arc with his veteran, probably without an outing in between.
Channon may also be able to dream about a first British Classic winner next season after his Soraaya took the Group Three Princess Margaret Stakes.
Soraaya is a 33/1 chance for next year's 1000 Guineas, though at this stage, the main significance of her win according to the bookmakers is the further evidence for the form of Memory, who beat her with some ease in the Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket earlier this month.
Ryan Moore, Soraaya's rider, left it late to grab Margot Did, the favourite, but did so smoothly enough and may now get another chance against Memory, this time at Group One level.
"My normal route would be to go for the Lowther [at York] and then the Cheveley Park," Mick Channon, her trainer, said, "but Ryan felt she would be better at seven [furlongs]. That means another clash with Memory in the Moyglare [at The Curragh] but we're not frightened of taking her on again."