Saturday, 24 July 2010

A brief history of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is a Group 1 contest run over one and a half miles. Open to thoroughbreds aged three years and older, it takes place each year at Ascot in late July. Compared with many prestigious races in Britain it has a relatively short history,

with the inaugural running taking place in 1951 won by Supreme Court. Its name came about through an amalgamation of two separate races held at Ascot, a two-mile event for three-year-olds founded in 1946 named after King George VI and a one-and-a-half mile contest formed in 1948 and named in honour of Queen Elizabeth. In its first year, to commemorate the Festival of Britain, it was titled the "King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Festival of Britain Stakes".

The great Lester Piggott managed to ride the winner on seven occasions, the most number of wins by any jockey in the history of the race. Dick Hern and Saeed bin Suroor each share the distinction of winning the race five times, a record among trainers. Some truly outstanding horses have graced the Winner’s Enclosure in years past, including all time greats such as Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard Shergar and Dancing Brave. Special mentions must also go to Dahlia and Swain who remain the only two horses to have won the race twice.

The “King George” has seen 13 Derby winners announce themselves as not only the best of the three-year-old generation but true champions of the turf in completing the historic double. The last horse to do so was Galileo, trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien, in 2001. Today, all eyes will be on the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Workforce, who is having his first run since romping to victory in course record time at Epsom.

Sir Michael Stoute, who saddled the first three home in last year’s King George, is also responsible for today’s likely second favourite, Harbinger, unbeaten in three races this year and winner of the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last month. Owned by Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, victory would confirm that syndicate-owned horses can compete successfully at the very highest level.

Also in today’s star-studded field is Aidan O’Brien’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby winner, Cape Blanco, who missed Epsom in favour of a European Classic campaign culminating in success at the Curragh. Cape Blanco will be looking to become the 12th Irish Derby winner to follow up at Ascot and has already beaten Workforce this year.

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