As Qatar Glorious Goodwood lingers in the near distance next week, first, Saturday sees King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes at Ascot.
Set to become one of the highlights of the flat season – despite the latest withdrawal of Desert Crown – the Group 1 marquee contest over 1m4f pits many of this campaign’s star turns against one another.
So who are the main contenders for this weekend’s big clash?
Auguste Rodin – 10/3 Betfred
As the rain has continued to dribble down this week, so too have the chances of Auguste Rodin in the King George betting stakes.
Now installed as the likely pre-race favourite, punters are fully bought in to his run in the 2000 Guineas as being nothing more than a blip.
Indeed, since that no-show at Newmarket in May, a landmark Derby double either side of the Irish Sea has confirmed the Irish contender’s calibre.
This will be the first run-out at Ascot for the son of Deep Impact, which could raise a few questions.
However, with three Group 1 wins to his name, Auguste Rodin will love the going and with a little more rain on Saturday, would be the rightful market leader.
King of Steel – 11/4 BetVictor
Despite having lost favour in the markets, King of Steel could, though, live up to his name and challenge.
A glorious winner of the King Edward last time out, one of the younger runners on the slate will hope youth can prevail.
Just four career races leave a certain dash of uncertainty and beaten twice by Auguste Rodin, this particular King has much to prove to take the crown.
Still waiting for a marquee win, could trip number five be fantastic?
His victory margin on his prior trip to Berkshire suggests a big showing is possible.
Hukum – 9/2 William Hill
The two lead runners are followed by Shadwell hopeful, Hukum.
Having established himself with a Group 2 win at Meydan in early 2022, Jim Crowley rode the Owen Burrows-trained 5yo to victory in last year’s Coronation Cup.
Returning from a year-long absence at Sandown in May, Hukum is one of few runners who can claim a win over Desert Crown.
Three of the last four winning trips have all been on the good however, so might there be a slight doubts over his chances in just a second run this season?
Emily Upjohn – 9/2 PariMatch
Upstaged by the dominant Paddington in the Coral Eclipse last time out, Emily Upjohn will look for a return to winning ways.
Not only that, the lone filly in the race won at Ascot on her last run in Berkshire on QIPCO Champions Day at the end of last term.
As Frankie Dettori returns after missing the trip to Sandown, that factor should not be played down.
Flat last in this race 12 months back, Emily will be keen for redemption but the ground might just scupper her chances.
Nevertheless, in the pack of the elite front-runners, Emily Upjohn can make her mark with a third Group 1 win.
Pyledriver – 15/2 William Hill
The story of this bay continues to delight fans across the board.
Coming from rags to riches, a 6yo shunned for being an awkward type, Pyledriver has rewarded his owners and how.
His erratic win – which prompted a lengthy steward’s enquiry – of the Hardwicke was rather part-and-parcel for this rebellious horse, but the facts show William Muir and Chris Grassick get the best at Ascot.
Yet, the winner of this race 12 months ago, Pyledriver may find the turf a lot less sure than in previous trips.
However, with no less than three Group 1 victories to boast, this very awkward but very likeable character can retain his crown.
Westover – 12/1 BoyleSports
Fresh from a win at Saint Cloud, the oft-forgotten Westover has a more than decent shot at a good price.
Ralph Beckett has trained his 4yo to back-to-back runner-ups beforehand – beaten only by Emily Upjohn in the Coronation Cup on Derby Weekend.
It’s also worth remembering that Westover lost only to Longchamp-bound Equinox in the Dubai Classic earlier this term.
Fifth in this contest last year, the turf should be a quite a bit softer which may suit the British colt.
Having started the week at 20s, Westover may go off at half that; a worthy consideration.
Luxembourg – 14/1 QuinnBet
Nor can the final of the lead seven, Tattersalls Gold Cup winner, Luxembourg.
A 2/1f for last month’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes, another Aidan O’Brien’s hopeful here has won just one of his last four outings.
That might explain the double-figure tag.
However, as the best of the rest to the stunning Mostahdaf at Royal Ascot, Luxembourg’s chances are being overlooked.
Just a second run at Ascot this weekend, Luxembourg has already proved his liking for these surroundings; a step up by just one place in result will see a mighty, but not wholly unexpected result.
The outsider: Hamish – 66/1 Betfred
The remaining four of Saturday’s King George betting field will fetch a tidy value upwards of 25s, but somewhat hard to grasp at 66/1, Hamish looks a massive shout.
A horse who has three outings at Ascot, Pat Dobbs rode the 7yo to victory in the Cumberland Lodge last October and here looks set to hand the reins to Tom Marquand.
With four wins in his last six, the races the gelding of William Haggas has lost have seen a runner-up double.
All four victories since May 2022 have come on the soft or good to soft with the ground set to dry up somewhat before the weekend.
Claiming the Ormonde Stakes at the May Festival in Chester, Hamish comes here with John Smith’s Silver Cup bragging rights also.
Surely, he has a chance of running a huge race?