Saturday 25 November 2017

Postponed brings cheer after Diamond washout

Postponed ridden by Andrea Atzeni (behind) beats Eagle Top ridden by Frankie Dettori in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Postponed ridden by Andrea Atzeni (behind) beats Eagle Top ridden by Frankie Dettori in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Ian McClean

Precisely 40 years has elapsed since the staging of the popularly-dubbed "Race of the Century" in which Grundy famously outgunned Bustino in a thrilling 1975 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. Coincidentally it was the very first year the sponsors De Beers gained special royal dispensation to include the word "diamond" in the race inaugurated back in 1951.

It is therefore even more ironic that the diamond in yesterday's renewal - Derby winner Golden Horn - was disappointingly withdrawn before racing on account of the 35mm of rain that deluged Ascot the previous day. One tweet doing the rounds called Friday "a day for bog snorkelers".

Only twice in the last 30 years has Ascot turned up soft on King George day, but yesterday proved third time unlucky for the pin-up of the 2015 campaign so far.

Golden Horn's removal robbed the race not only of its star attraction, but also its only three year old and also the only horse with the chance of matching history in becoming only the fourth to win Derby, Eclipse and King George in the same season.

It also meant the UK's anchor midsummer all-aged middle-distance championship was not only lacking Golden Horn, but in the absence of A-listers the likes of Treve, Jack Hobbs and Karpino it was marooned without any horse to have previously won a UK Group 1 in open company. The hiss of disappointment at the announcement amongst the enormous expectant crowd was palpable.

Whilst not entirely forgiven, the withdrawal may well have been forgotten by about 3.55 because the race for yesterday's edition of the King George produced as exciting a conclusion as any before, one in which Postponed fought back to edge out nemesis Eagle Top in a grudge rematch by the minimum margin.

John Gosden may have withdrawn the favourite, but the trainer together with Frankie Dettori still contrived to supply the favourite in Eagle Top come post time. Last year's King George fourth became embroiled in a much-publicised barging match with Postponed as they wrestled for track position in the Hardwicke at the Royal meeting behind the largely unhassled Snow Sky out front. That day it was widely accepted that both had compromised their chances by the distraction of the spat, but it was equally perceived that the prevailing soft conditions would far better suit the Gosden horse yesterday.

It may or not be further ironic, but Gosden's no-nonsense criticism of Postponed's jockey in the Hardwicke may have had some influence on Andrea Atzeni replacing Adam Kirby on the Luca Cumani horse for yesterday and the fact Postponed and Eagle Top were separated by a demi-pixel at the death may cause the trainer to wonder what might have been if only Kirby had retained the ride.

As it unfolded, it may well be that track position more than anything determined the ultimate outcome. Postponed raced much more prominently yesterday while Frankie Dettori was happy to bide his time in rear on Eagle Top. As Postponed attacked the pace-setting Romsdal on the home turn, Dettori was forced wide of the paddling Italian challenger Dylan Mouth to deliver his effort.

Nonetheless Eagle Top had the tools to join and even pass the Cumani runner inside the last furlong only to succumb to his rallying arch-rival in the final strides.

Postponed's victory was the first King George winner for Luca Cumani who had previously trained the second on three separate occasions. Perhaps it was the honourably defeated Gosden who summarised the race best when he declared it "a re-run of the Hardwicke without the hard luck stories". On reflection, connections' decision to withdraw the odds-on favourite on the eve of the race was controversial, and the decision must have been a marginal call. It will be even harder to swallow given the contest was run in a time just over two and a half seconds above standard - a time reflective more of good-to-soft ground than the bog snorkelers previously mentioned. However, if ever John Gosden decides to pack in training, a glittering career in the PR of repackaging bad news is assured. Gosden did a memorably remarkable job in the moment of representing in the most reassuringly intelligible terms to the public what was happening when Rewilding was fatally injured in the latter stages of the King George four years ago to the day on live television.

And this in the same moment he had just trained the winner Nathaniel. Yesterday, his elucidation of the case for withdrawing Golden Horn was equally consummate. Golden Horn, trigger-cocked, does not have many bullets left to fire in his tapering career. Next stop now is the International at York where Gosden will be praying the Knavesmire does not live up to its name.

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