|Saturday, 21 July 2012
: Natasha Coates takes a look at the best winning performances in the Betfair-sponsored King George since 1970...
The King George roll of honour reads like a who's who of racing greats, and it's a shame that greatest of all according to Timeform
, Frankel, won't be adding his name to this particular celebrated list as his sire Galileo did, successful in a gripping renewal in 2001. Though he beat another top-notcher in Fantastic Light that day, Galileo's performance still doesn't rank amongst the Timeform top five for King George winners since 1970. Let's run through the legendary horses that do qualify:
GRUNDY (1975) The winner of what even now, almost 40 years on, is often referred to as the 'race of the century', Grundy achieved a Timeform rating of 137 for his defeat Bustino in an epic battle. Despite two Derby wins, at Epsom and in Ireland, Grundy's ability to stay a mile and a half was still questioned by some, and intent on testing him to the full on that score, Dick Hern, trainer of Bustino, who'd won the St Leger the previous year, entered not one but two pacemakers at Ascot to ensure the emphasis was well and truly on stamina. It was indeed a strongly-run race, and Bustino kicked for home half a mile out. Urged on by Pat Eddery, Grundy caught up with a furlong to go, and thus ensued one of the most memorable finishes in the history of racing let alone the King George, the pair fighting head to head, until Grundy got on top late on, by half a length. Back in third was Dahlia, the French-trained mare who'd won the previous two renewals. The course record time set by Grundy that day would stand for 35 years.
GENEROUS (1991) Like Grundy, Generous was a three-year-old who came to Ascot a dual-Derby winner. The opposition, headed by Saddlers' Hall (won King Edward VII at the Royal Meeting) and Sanglamore (1990 French Derby winner), wasn't so strong as in other years, but the sheer distance by which Generous outclassed them earnt him a Timeform rating of 138. Turning into the home straight, Alan Munro took up the lead on Generous and continued to go away from the field, coasting in the end to a seven-length win, beating the previous record-winning margin of six lengths, held jointly by Dahlia and Mill Reef.
REFERENCE POINT (1987) Following in the footsteps of his sire Mill Reef 16 years previously, Reference Point took the 1987 King George by storm, posting a Timeform rating of 139- the best of his illustrious career. In a strong field, which included the Coronation Cup winner Triptych and Irish Derby winner Sir Harry Lewis, Reference Point, under Steve Cauthen, gave a true front-running masterclass. It was the first King George to be run on soft ground for 30 years, which admittedly suited the Henry Cecil-trained colt, but his timefigure that day- Timeform's time-based calculation of performance- wasn't bettered all season.
MILL REEF (1971) At 139, Mill Reef achieved an even higher rating in winning the King George than his son Reference Point. Following Nijinsky's Triple Crown success the year before, opinion was divided at the time as to which horse was better, but in terms of performance in the King George, Mill Reef blew Nijinsky out of the water- Nijinsky had only managed a rating of 131 against a similar standard of opposition the year before. Much like Grundy, doubts about Mill Reef's stamina remained even after his Epsom Derby win, but he answered that question emphatically with a resounding defeat of two other Derby winners, namely Ortis (Italian) and Irish Ball (Irish).
HARBINGER (2010) Grundy, Generous, Reference Point and Mill Reef might all have achieved more in their careers, but, regarding the King George itself, none matched the rating recorded by Harbinger, who unfortunately didn't get the chance to prove his class on different stages subsequently, injured and retired soon after Ascot. What took the breath away was the sublime manner in which he cruised up to Cape Blanco- whose King George trouncing was sandwiched between easy wins in the Irish Derby and Irish Champion Stakes- and Workforce, who was himself between big-race wins in the Derby and the Arc. In striding clear, 11 lengths at the line, Harbinger broke race records for both winning margin (from Generous) and time (from Grundy). Winning rider Olivier Peslier said: "Today, Harbinger is king." According to Timeform, Harbinger wasn't just the King George king that day; he's the King George king of the last four decades.
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