Highland Reel and Argentinian superstar Sixties Song among 42 entries for £1.15 million King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO)
Five-time G1 winner Highland Reel (Aidan O'Brien IRE) and Argentinian superstarSixties Song (Alfredo Gaitan ARG) feature among 42 entries (up from 39 in 2016) for the G1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO), worth £1.15 million and staged over a mile and a half at Ascot onSaturday, July 29.
First run in 1951, the highly-prestigious contest is part of the QIPCO British Champions Series and offers the first G1 chance for three-year-olds and older horses to take each other on over a mile and a half. There are 16 three-year-olds among the 2017 entries, headed by the winners of the 12-furlong Epsom Downs Classics, Wings Of Eagles(Investec Derby) and Enable (Investec Oaks).
Highland Reel, one of 11 entries for Ireland's champion Flat trainer Aidan O'Brien, could attempt to become only the third horse to win the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO) twice (following Dahlia (1973 & 1974) & Swain (1997 & 1998)), following his length and a quarter victory over Wings Of Desire (John Gosden) in 2016.
The five-year-old son of Galileo subsequently landed the G1 Breeders' Cup Turf and looked as good as ever last time out at Epsom Downs on June 2, when defeating the Godolphin pair of Frontiersman and Hawkbill (both Charlie Appleby) in the G1 Investec Coronation Cup.
O'Brien, who has sent out four King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO) winners, has 11 entries in total. There are split into six three-year-olds and five older horses. The former include the first two home in the Investec Derby, Wings Of Eagles and Cliffs Of Moher, plus Investec Oaks runner-up and third, Rhododendronand Alluringly. His older horses include last year's G1 Gold Cup winner Order Of St George.
This year's renewal of the G1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO) is set to see history made with the first runner from South America in the shape of Sixties Song, born on September 23, 2013.
A son of the 2006 St Leger winner Sixties Icon, Sixties Song is a dual G1 winner in South America, having taken the continent's premier all-aged 12-furlong contest, the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano over a mile and a half on turf at Valparaiso, Chile, in March and the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini over the same distance and surface at San Isidro, Argentina, in December.
Alfredo Gaitan walked the course at Ascot yesterday (Tuesday, June 13) and commented: "I may not have travelled the world, but I have been to Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, yet I have never been to a racecourse like Ascot. It is incredible, absolutely amazing.
"We walked the track on Tuesday morning and Chris (Stickels - Clerk of the Course) said it was good ground. That would be perfect for us on King George day.
"The track is beautiful, but obviously it is a very undulating track, which is a bit of a worry, if only because our horse has not really encountered it.
"However, we do know that we have a good horse and we hope he can show it when he comes over. I don't really know the opposition, even though I have watched the Derby, so I have seen Wings of Eagles and Cracksman.
"This is a great opportunity and a real honour and we are grateful to everyone who has made this possible. No horse from South America has ever attempted to come over and run in a race like this and we are all very excited. It is something unique and very special."
Another trainer with a strong hand in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO) is John Gosden. In addition to last year's runner-up Wings Of Desire, the Newmarket handler's seven entries also include impressive Investec Oaks heroine Enable, Godolphin's Jack Hobbs, successful in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic earlier this year, Investec Derby third Cracksman and last year's G1 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes scorer Journey.
The Royal colours were carried to victory in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes 63 years ago by Aureole and The Queen could represented this year by Dartmouth (Sir Michael Stoute), who was third in 2016, gained a course and distance success in the G2 Hardwicke Stakes last year at Royal Ascot and won the G2 Betway Yorkshire Cup over 14 furlongs on his first start of 2017 last month.
Sir Michael Stoute is jointly the most successful trainer in the history of the race with five winners and, in addition to Dartmouth, may be represented by 2016 G2 King Edward VII Stakes scorer Across The Stars, Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf heroine Queen's Trust plus Midterm, Poet's Word and Ulysses.
Godolphin's Saeed bin Suroor has also trained five winners of the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and has made four entries in 2017, the three-year-olds Benbatl and Best Solution, who were fifth and eighth in the Investec Derby, plus Thunder Snow, runner-up in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, and Racing History, a lightly-raced five-year-old half-brother to Farhh, who was a close fourth in the 2015 QIPCO Champion Stakes.
There are two entries from France - dual G1 victor Erupt (Francis-Henri Graffard), who was fifth last year, and Tiberian (Alain Coutetil), a G3 winner on his latest start.
Other entries include My Dream Boat (Clive Cox), who enjoyed his finest hour when taking the 2016 G1 Prince of Wales's Stakes over 10 furlongs at Royal Ascot, and Investec Derby fourth Eminent (Martyn Meade).
There is a scratchings' deadline for the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO) on Tuesday, July 11, with the five-day confirmation & £75,000 supplementary entry stages following on Monday, July 24.