By Richard Griffiths
Emotional, impressive, and memorable. No one had really expected much from this year's renewal of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot on July 27. Perhaps that is why it moved us so. Incredibly, the high-class, high-summer, middle-distance clash was deprived of any 3-year-olds, mainly because of Aidan O'Brien's decision to hold fire with his dual Derby winner High Chaparral. The race was further emasculated by the late withdrawals of three horses, among them Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) runner-up Sakhee, because of the ground. That left only nine runners in the field. But there could not have been a more fitting winner than Golan, who in a finish to rival anything in the King George's rich 52-year history, edged out Nayef by a head. Golan's owner, Lord Weinstock, one of the great European owner/breeders of the last few decades, died July 23 at the age of 77. The race also confirmed the astonishing talent of Michael Stoute, who became the first trainer to win the King George with a horse making its seasonal debut. It was testimony, too, to the phoenix-like skills of Kieren Fallon, whose career was nearly ended three years ago with a fall at this course that left an arm hanging from his shoulder like a broken twig. Fallon has an ability to swat away adversity and ride like a demon: his latest distraction seeing him having to take legal action against a newspaper that alleged he had a friendship with Hong Kong triads. Fallon was superb on Golan. He grounded the 4-year-old right at the rear of the field and stuck intently to the inside rail. Turning into the straight, few jockeys would have kept their cool the way Fallon did, riding hard, but waiting for the right gaps to appear. When they did, there was no hesitation. "Brilliant," Stoute said of the ride. "He was very cool. He was patient and took what was the right route." Even with no runner in the King George, Coolmore boss John Magnier still ended up a winner as he bought a stake in Golan prior to last year's Derby (Eng-I), in which the colt finished second to Galileo. He will retire to stud in Ireland at the end of his racing career, but Golan will continue to carry Weinstock's colors on the racecourse. It is not yet clear what will happen to Weinstock's other horses and to his breeding stock at his fantastic Ballymacoll nursery, also in Ireland. The King George was not without controversy following the disappointment of Godolphin's runner, Grandera, who finished fifth. His jockey, Frankie Dettori, blamed the course's decision to water overnight--in an abortive attempt to lure Godolphin into running their other entry, Sakhee--for ruining Grandera's chances. "The horse was slipping and stumbling because the ground was false," Dettori said. "It is not fair on a champion like Grandera."
Bits and Pieces
Sakhee, withdrawn from the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes because of the ground, may line up next for the Prix Gontaut-Biron (Fr-III, Aug. 10) at Deauville, prior to a return to group I competition in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Sept. 7... As early as it seems, there has been a shake-up in the betting for next year's One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) in May following two impressive performances from fillies at Ascot. Russian Rhythm, a daughter of Kingmambo trained by Michael Stoute for Cheveley Park Stud, quickened well before pulling clear to win the Princess Margaret Stakes (Eng-III) by 1 1/4 lengths on King George day. She could be aimed for Newmarket's big autumn test, the Cheveley Park Stakes (Eng-I, Oct. 2), where an intriguing clash with Khulood awaits. Khulood is bred to compete at the highest level, being a daughter of Storm Cat and a half-sister to high-class sprinter Elnadim and the Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) winner Methaaf. Although starting at 9-1, Khulood made an eye-catching winning debut at Ascot on July 26...Among the colts, Godolphin sent out an interesting newcomer in Royal Dignitary, a U.S.-bred son of Saint Ballado, who won his seven-furlong maiden at Sandown by only a neck, but is expected to be considerably fitter next time out.