Donn's Articles » Clash of the generations

Clash of the generations

When Adayar won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes Qipco Stakes last year, he became the first Derby winner in 20 years to win the Ascot mid-summer feature.

It used to be a given that the Derby winner ran in the King George.  It was the next test for the newly-crowned king of the new generation, pitched in against the best of the older horses in an examination that would go a long way towards determining the quality of the class of that year.  

The wheel turns and things change.  Tastes change, fashions change.  In the 20 years that ran up to Galileo, the King George was won by a three-year-old 10 times, six times by the Derby winner.  Teenoso, Reference Point, Nashwan, Generous, Lammtarra, Galileo, following in the hoofprints of the greats of the decade that had gone before, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Grundy, The Minstrel, Troy, Shergar.

In the 20 years since Galileo, however, the King George has been won by a three-year-old just five times, and just once by the Derby winner.  Adayar stands alone.  So when Sir Michael Stoute nominated the King George as the next target for last month’s Derby winner Desert Crown, when his was the first name that you saw on the list of 15 horses that were left in the race at Tuesday’s confirmation stage, there was a sense of a return to history.

Early indications are that the 2022 renewal of The Derby was a strong one.  The Juddmonte colt Westover, third in the Derby, went to The Curragh next time and won the Irish Derby by seven lengths.  Fifth-placed Changingoftheguard won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot next time, in which he beat Derby 11th Grand Alliance by a short head.  So far, however, we have had only intra-generational clashes.  The Derby horses have yet to be tested against their elders.

We did have a clash of the generations in the Eclipse at Sandown last Saturday, when the two three-year-olds in the six-horse race, Vadeni and Native Trail, finished first and third respectively.  As a piece of evidence, however, it wasn’t conclusive.  Vadeni, the Prix du Jockey Club winner, is obviously high-class, and he showed a smart turn of foot, but he was the beneficiary of a superb ride from Christophe Soumillon.  The five-year-old Mishriff didn’t have a lot of luck in-running, and he was beaten just a neck.  The six-year-old Lord North, a 33/1 shot, was beaten just a length.

It looks like Mishriff is an intended runner in the King George too a week from next Saturday, and John & Thady Gosden’s horse would add strength to the race.  His best form is over 10 or 10 and a half furlongs, he won the Juddmonte International at York last year by six lengths over that trip, but he stays a mile and a half too, as he proved when he won the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in March. 

Torquator Tasso, last year’s surprise Arc de Triomphe winner, was impressive in winning a Group 2 contest at Hamburg last Saturday, and the Aidan O’Brien-trained Broome put up one of the best performances of his life in making all to win the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last month, while last year’s Coronation Cup winner Pyledriver is reportedly well and on track.  It looks like there will be a strong group of older horses in the King George to truly test the Derby winner. 

That said, Desert Crown’s most potent challenger in the King George could be his contemporary Westover.  Ralph Beckett’s horse finished two and three-quarter lengths behind Desert Crown in the Derby, but he didn’t have any luck in-running at Epsom.

Common consensus was that the best horse on the day won the Derby, that Westover didn’t have the pace to go with Desert Crown when he quickened, and that Richard Kingscote eased up on the winner close home.  However, there is no doubt that Westover was unlucky not to at least finish a lot closer than he did.

He was squeezed out of it on the run to the two-furlong marker when West Wind Blows moved to his right, and his misfortune was compounded when Hoo Ya Mal moved up on his inside as he tried to build momentum again.  By the time he got out and got going, Desert Crown had flown, but the strength with which Westover finished off his race suggests that it would have been close if he had had a clear run.  He was 0.44secs faster through the final furlong than the winner.

Add that to the authority with which Westover won the Irish Derby under Colin Keane and, if Westover is confirmed for the King George, it will be an intriguing re-match.

There are synergies here with 1986.  That was the year that Sir Michael Stoute won his second Derby with Shahrastani, with the Juddmonte horse Dancing Brave finishing an unlucky-looking second.  This year, Sir Michael Stoute has won the Derby with Desert Crown, with the Juddmonte horse Westover finishing an unlucky-looking third.  

Shahrastani and Dancing Brave both lined up in the 1986 King George, with Dancing Brave exacting his revenge, winning by three parts of a length from Shardari, with Shahrastani back in fourth.  And we’re back to history again.

© The Sunday Times, 10th July 2022