Saturday 1 October 2016

Horn seeks to blow Ascot theory out of the water

John Gosden is taking a route with Golden Horn that others are tending to avoid

Ian McClean

Published 19/07/2015 | 02:30

Frankie Dettori celebrates winning the Epsom Derby aboard this year’s three-year-old pin-up Golden Horn
Frankie Dettori celebrates winning the Epsom Derby aboard this year’s three-year-old pin-up Golden Horn

It may seem a bit churlish to begin a feature on next Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes with a question about the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but bear with me. There is a robust body of opinion that suggests the last thing you want to do if your ambition is to win Europe's most prestigious middle-distance prize in October is to compete in the UK's most prestigious middle-distance prize in July. Yet that is precisely what this year's three-year-old pin-up Golden Horn is attempting to achieve.

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It is not impossible to do the double, as Dylan Thomas proved in 2007, but the trainer who knows most about winning the Arc is plainly not a fan of the approach. André Fabre, champion trainer in his native France for 21 consecutive years between 1987 and 2007, has won the Arc seven times. His last victory in the race was in 2006 with Rail Link.

The following season he was gifted another gilt-edged Arc candidate when Manduro scorched away with the Prince of Wales's at Royal Ascot. He has long contended that it is impossible to have a horse peak in midsummer, and still be at their best again on the first Sunday in October.

So when asked in 2007 at Royal Ascot about Manduro returning in July for the King George, Fabre quickly poured eau froid on the idea by highlighting, with dismissive Gallic incredulity, that he was preparing the horse for the Arc.

Nor is Fabre alone in the camp. This year's winner of the Prince of Wales's, Free Eagle, would appear a natural for the King George. Yet, with the Arc as that colt's proclaimed target, the King George interestingly was never even a faint consideration for no less a judge than Dermot Weld. A rest, followed by Irish Champion in early September, is the more expeditious route to Arc glory it would seem in the Rosewell House worldview.

Having a financial tie-up, past or present, with Ascot apparently has a habit of blurring the lines. How ironic is it that the Oppenheimer family, for so long synonymous with the renowned mid-season feature through the De Beers sponsorship which ran from 1972 until 2006, should now own the odds-on favourite outright in Golden Horn. The De Beers legacy is so strong that some industry insiders still call the race the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes - the moniker granted by special royal consent in 1975, three years after the sponsorship arrangement was first signed. The closest Sir Philip Oppenheimer (father of Anthony) ever came to laying a hand on his company-endorsed prize came in 1978 with a share in the victorious Ile De Bourbon so the temptation to win the race so deeply intertwined with family history is understandably hard to resist for the owner of Golden Horn.

But is the romantic lure of Ascot's midsummer jewel compatible with winning the Arc?

If De Beers supported the Ascot feature with sponsorship in the past, since 2014 it has been the turn of QIPCO to step into the breach. The Qatari intention following the announcement in June of the extension of the sponsorship portfolio was to immediately commit their box-office defending Arc champion Treve to the King George "if she shows us she likes Ascot". As it happened, she failed to fire in the Prince of Wales's at the Royal meeting last year, came back unsound and was therefore forced to miss the King George before ultimately returning to record a famous back-to-back victory in the Arc.

One can only speculate whether the Arc win was because she skipped Ascot or in spite of it. What is certainly significant is that having sensationally reversed the decision to retire Treve to the paddocks at the end of the last campaign in pursuit of a record three Arcs in a row, her 2015 programme never at any time entertained the notion of including Britain's sparkling midsummer event.

Golden Horn is aiming to emulate Tulyar, Mill Reef and Nashwan in adding the King George to the Derby and Eclipse. With respect to the Prix de l'Arc, Mill Reef went on to victory in France, while Nashwan retired after defeat in the Prix Niel and Tulyar ended the season with victory in the St Leger.

As we close in on next Saturday any Arc talk will dissipate and the focus will return to the threats to Golden Horn retaining his unblemished record.

While Sir Michael Stoute launches a serious resistance party including last year's second Telescope and Hardwicke winner Snow Sky; and Golden Horn's trainer John Gosden himself supplies an enemy within in the shape of Eagle Top, it may well be that ultimately the biggest threat of all to the favourite is the whether a fifth run in 14 weeks is just one trip to the well too many.

Sunday Indo Sport

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