THIS Saturday sees the 65th running of one of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, one of the most prestigious Gr1 flat races in the English racing calendar, writes LISA BARRETT.
Major John Crocker Bulteel, Clerk of the course at Ascot during the 1950s was a keen horseman, and he wanted to create an internationally recognised race which would be run over 1.5 miles for horses 3 years and older, and the idea for the race was born.
Originally conceived on the back of the amalgamation of two races at Ascot in 1946 & 1948, the race has grown greatly in prestige over the years, and has featured some of the greatest horses of this century as its winners. Run over a mile and four furlongs (2414 metres), many of horses that have participated in the race, have subsequently gone on to compete in the Prix de la Arc de Triomphe later in the year.
When it was first run in 1951, the race coincided with the Festival of Britain, and to honour the current monarch of the time, King George VI, the race was titled the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes race. In the 70s the race began its long association with the diamond giants De Beer, and in 1975 the current Queen Elizabeth II gave permission for the word Diamond to be added to the title, making it the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes.
In 2006 De Beers ended their sponsorship of the race, and for three years the race sat in limbo without a sponsor, until in 2009 when the betting giant Betfair took over and the prize money was increased from £750 000 to £1 000 000, making it the second richest race and second only to the Epsom Derby in terms of prize money. In 2011 the race become part of the Breeders Cup Challenge series, and the winner earns an automatic berth to compete in the Breeder’s Cup Turf in America.
It’s a testament to the toughness of the race and quality of the fields over the years, that only two horses have ever won the race in consecutive years – the great mare Dahlia in 1973 and 1974, and Swain in 1997 and 1998. The great British jockey, Sir Lester Piggot has won it an incredible seven times. Over the years, several of the great horses of this current century have won the race, from Mill Reef (1971), Brigadier Gerard (1972), the ill-fated Shergar (1981), Montjeu (2000), Galileo (2001), the now Drakenstein-based Duke of Marmalade (2008), Nathaniel (2011), along with the brilliant mares Danedream (2012) and Taghrooda (2014) respectively.
This year’s renewal could be the most interesting in years, with the withdrawal due to a respiratory infection of the top Dubawi colt Postponed. The Roger Varian runner was in top form after his impressive win in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, and was looking to make it back-to-back wins and become only the third horse to achieve this feat in the race’s history.
Now Dartmouth (also by Dubawi), and owned by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is looking to give the monarch her first win in the race since Aureole won in 1954. Dartmouth has provided the monarch, a keen bloodstocker and horsewoman with one of her most memorable moments, when he won a thrilling Gr2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last month.
Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, the colt is in top form having won all of his “prep” races earlier in the season. Although he won’t be facing Postponed, Dartmouth is likely to face stiff competition from Highland Reel, who is not only a globetrotting Group One winner, but his second place behind Dartmouth in the Hardwicke showed that he is a tough competitor and you discount an Aidan O Brien runner at your peril!
Another horse who could provide Dartmouth with a good fight is the John Gosden entry Wings Of Desire who won the Group 2 Dante Stakes on only his third appearance at the races. It’s a great pity though that Coral Eclipse winner Hawkbill is not running, his owners preferring to save him for the Juddmonte International in August at York, as he would have provided tough opposition for Dartmouth, after the manner in which he won the Eclipse earlier in the season.
Whichever way the race pans out on Saturday, you can be assured that it will be a top class display by some of the most exciting current crop of young horses – a right royal race!