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Is It Time To Consider Moving King George & Eclipse?

Is It Time To Consider Moving King George & Eclipse?

There’s been a lot of talk about the Eclipse, which was undoubtedly a brilliant head-to-head between Paddington and Emily Upjohn at Sandown last weekend, however it was lacking a top class 1m2f older horse.

This Year

There have been three Group 1’s staged in Europe over the same distance for older horses so far this season, the Tattersalls Gold Cup in May, the Prix Ganay at Longchamp and last month’s Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.

None of the first four home in those three races lined up for the Sandown contest.

Given the abundance of quality older horses that Europe has to offer this should be considered a failure in the race programming, not least when the reason put forward by fans for the absence of Mostahdaf, Luxembourg, Adayar, My Prospero and Bay Bridge, the first five home at Royal Ascot is the races proximity to the Sandown feature.

With trainers looking at racing horses less than in the past, particularly the top horses, a gap of three weeks or less between Royal Ascot and the Eclipse pretty much rules it out for older horses who are more likely to miss the bulk of the summer and head straight to York for the International.

The King George

The small field renewal of the Group 2 Princess Of Wales’ Stakes over 1m4f at Newmarket this week doesn’t bode well for the prospects of a decent field size for the King George at Ascot in a few weeks time.

A quick look at the ante-post market for said King George has seen money for Royal Ascot winner King Of Steel and Eclipse runner-up Emily Upjohn with the Irish Derby winner Auguste Rodin on the drift.

While small field contests can be exciting it’s important for the sport to have the best tackling the best at the top level whenever possible, the prospect of top 1m4f three-year-old’s and older horses standing in their boxes while Group 1 races are being run is something that should be avoided wherever possible.

With regards to this years King George the drift for Auguste Rodin probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise as he was hardly impressive in his win at The Curragh while the likes of Desert Crown, a beaten favourite on seasonal debut in May and Adayar, third at Royal Ascot may also miss the race.

With that in mind I’d hope to see last year’s winner Pyledriver and Hukum, two of the best older horses at the trip around in the race while Westover, a disappointing fifth in the race last year would be one who may make an appearance following his Saint-Cloud win last weekend.

One of France’s top middle-distance performers Iresine is out until the autumn but would probably have gone to the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in preference to the King George anyway while Aidan O’Brien’s Savethelastdance is expected to contest the Irish Oaks in a week or so’s time instead.

Possible Move 

There’s no big 1m4f contest in August and the sole open age, open sex Group 1 1m2f event takes place at the Ebor meeting.

A move of the Eclipse to the weekend that the King George currently takes place on and then the King George to the Saturday after Glorious Goodwood would enable the winners of the big 1m2f races for older horses plus the likes of top three-year-old’s like Paddington and hopefully at times the winner of The Curragh’s Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes to clash in the Coral-sponsored Sandown feature.

While last year’s participation of Vadeni at Sandown was the exception rather than the rule the changes made to the French program a number of years ago haven’t helped with these generational clashes with the country’s big three-year-old contest now taking place in mid-July with the French Derby now held over a shorter distance.

The Grand Prix de Paris, the three-year-old race in question, is often the target of Coolmore three-year-old’s with this year no exception given Ballydoyle run Irish Derby runner-up Adelaide River plus Peking Opera and the Andre Fabre-trained First Minister. 

A move to an early August slot for the King George would potentially enable the winners of Europe’s three big 1m4f contests – The Derby at Epsom, the Irish Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris to face off against their older rivals who will have had Group 1 contests of their own at the start of both June (Coronation Cup) and July (Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud).

Bonus 

Looking further ahead, any move of the King George to early August may enable a forward thinking racing authority to offer a bonus to any horse winning the Coronation Cup/Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud/Derby/Irish Derby/Grand Prix de Paris and then the King George and the Arc.

There’d be a real narrative in the 1m4f division with the three-year-old’s and the top 1m4f horses all able to clash before October.

While I appreciate that traditionalists will be against any changes to the schedule, it’s important that these races retain their quality, which is done in part through a strong field.

We’ve seen with the recent renewals of the Irish Derby that often outside of the top two in the race the quality just isn’t there, as evidenced by the third place finish of the 97-rated Covent Garden at The Curragh in 2023.

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