How will the Ascot rains affect Saturday's King George VI?
Ascot was pelted by rain on Friday, resulting in a deterioration of the course condition to "soft" and raising the question of "who benefits?" in Saturday's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1).
Let's begin with the warning label: at this writing, we don't know how soft it's going to be tomorrow. Assessing the course condition is a moving target, and somewhat in the eye of the beholder. While jockeys on Friday felt that it was riding soft, the Racing Post's own Dave Edwards strenuously disagreed and thought that it was really no worse than good to soft.
And that discrepancy is in real time, never mind forecasting almost 24 hours hence. More rain is expected, so chances are that the course may be no better than soft. And possibly worse.
If so, the prevailing conditions could play a significant role in Ascot's midsummer clash of the generations.
Undefeated Derby (G1) and Eclipse (G1) hero Golden Horn, the odds-on favorite, has yet to race on going this soft. The closest he came was in his debut at Nottingham, which was labeled "good to soft." That also happened to be his narrowest margin of victory -- a scant head. Before jumping to a hasty conclusion, though, he picked up really strongly after a slow start, and the margin likely has more to do with his inexperience than anything else. The ground couldn't have been too bad, since he set a juvenile course record.
Golden Horn has since held sway with authority. But remember that owner/breeder Sir Anthony Oppenheimer had a doubt about his staying 1 1/2 miles, which is why he didn't originally enter him in the Derby and had to supplement him. The John Gosden trainee showed that he had the stamina at Epsom, but a boggy Ascot will present a different sort of test. Although he's the one to beat, and enjoys a 12-pound weight concession from the older males, he would hold a lot more appeal in quicker conditions.
Snow Sky, who exits a career-best victory in the Hardwicke (G2) over this course and distance, handles all types of ground. As a juvenile, the Juddmonte homebred actually sluiced home by 11 lengths in heavy going at Salisbury. While he began to look one-paced last season, he delivered a sparkling turn of foot -- that caught connections by surprise -- in the Hardwicke, thereby becoming yet another example of a "Sir Michael Stoute improver" as an older horse. Granted, he dictated on the front end in a tactically messy race, but his change of gear was no illusion.
In contrast, fellow Juddmonte homebred Flintshire is adversely affected by softish ground. The Andre Fabre charge was accordingly withdrawn Friday.
Of the two who finished second and third behind Snow Sky in the Hardwicke, Eagle Top and Postponed, Eagle Top may be likelier to enjoy the rain. Like stablemate Golden Horn, Eagle Top hasn't competed on this soft a surface, but his pedigree screams mudlark. He nevertheless excelled on a fast surface when bolting up in last summer's King Edward VII (G2) at this track and trip, beating Adelaide, and wasn't disgraced when fourth in this race.
I had really liked Postponed in the Hardwicke, and he gets a positive rider switch to Andrea Atzeni, who had struck up a great partnership with him last year. If you ignore the messy Hardwicke, Postponed has very strong form in the book. The one caveat is that trainer Luca Cumani has previously indicated that he wants firmish ground.
The third of Gosden's trio, Romsdal, is proven on soft, and the slower surface could help him get closer to Snow Sky than he did at York in his latest. Still, he was drubbed in the 2014 King George, and as last year's St Leger (G1) runner-up, I think he'd prefer a longer trip.
The crafty David Simcock has two entered, soft-ground lover Madame Chiang and the upwardly mobile The Corsican (an Arlington Million [G1] possible). Madame Chiang is 60-1 on the morning line in the Brisnet International PPs, but she's just 16-1 over there, and eligible to crash the exotics if it's a swamp. Both of her major wins have come in similar conditions, notably the British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) at this course and distance last October. The Corsican was a terrific fourth in the Prince of Wales's (G1) last out over 1 1/4 miles, but stays this trip and has been effective on good-to-soft.
Former hurdler Clever Cookie is becoming a market mover at this point (down to 9-1), given his profile as a bona fide soft-ground performer who's razor-sharp at present. The catch is that his strongest form is over longer.
Italian shipper Dylan Mouth is indifferent to ground conditions, but he's got to be happy that a couple of his top rivals may be inconvenienced by the soft. Nine-for-10 lifetime, he suffered his only loss when bombing out here last summer -- which also happens to be his only venture outside Italy. Trainer Stefano Botti believes that the more mature Dylan Mouth won't pull and wreck his chances as he did then.
Ahead of post time of 10:50 a.m. (EDT) Saturday, pay close attention to the official description, and the chatter, on the state of the ground.