King Of Steel is set to have his credentials tested over 10 furlongs following his third-placed finish in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Roger Varian’s Derby runner-up headed to Ascot for a rematch with his Epsom conqueror Auguste Rodin on the back of an impressive victory over course and distance in the King Edward VII Stakes at the Royal meeting.

The Amo Racing-owned colt was sent off the 9-2 second-favourite at the Berkshire track and although faring better than Aidan O’Brien’s dual Classic winner who disappointed, the son of Wootton Bassett was unable to reel in the winner Hukum and runner-up Westover despite travelling powerfully into the home straight.

A drop back in trip is now on the cards and with entries for both the Juddmonte International Stakes at York (August 23) and Leopardstown’s Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes (September 9), there are plenty of big-race options available to the strapping colt, who could quickly provide his owners with more big-race glory after Bucanero Fuerte secured a first UK and Irish Group One victory in the Phoenix Stakes.

“King Of Steel is in good form and Roger is very happy with him,” said Tom Pennington, racing and operations manager for Amo.

“We’re undecided where we will go at the minute and we’ve got a lot of decisions to make.

“He’s in the Juddmonte, he’s entered in the Irish Champion and we put him in the Champion Stakes at Ascot the other day and I think we believe now that 10 furlongs is his trip. He’s not a slow horse by any means.”

A trip to Dublin for Irish Champions Weekend would give King Of Steel an additional two weeks to recover from his Ascot exertions and is slated as the slight favourite at this stage.

And the feeling within the camp is a truly-run race over a mile and a quarter is where he will be seen at the peak of his powers having just faded in the closing stages of the King George.

“All options are open and we need to speak to Roger,” continued Pennington. “At this stage I would say we will probably be leaning towards the Irish Champion Stakes.

“I think we got away with it at Royal Ascot, but as you saw he was keen early in the King George. You could argue coming round into the straight he was the last horse off the bridle and just flattened out the last furlong, Kevin (Stott) said he was running on fumes.

“I think a strongly-run 10 furlongs with an end-to-end gallop is where you will really see him at his best.”

Dane O’Neill is making progress from injuries sustained in a fall at Wolverhampton earlier this month, but looks set to miss the rest of the domestic season.

The veteran rider was unshipped from the Charlie Hills-trained Eagle Eyed Tom in the extended nine-furlong Sky Sports Racing Sky 415 Handicap on July 11, just after the stalls had opened.

The race was abruptly halted and voided, while O’Neill was attended to by paramedics on the track before being stretchered off and taken to Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Shadwell’s number two rider suffered a fractured thoracic vertebra and broken ribs, and is “frustrated” according to Angus Gold, racing manager for Sheikha Hissa’s powerful racing and breeding operation.

O’Neill’s misfortune has been exacerbated by Shadwell’s number one rider Jim Crowley incurring a 20-day ban for overuse of the whip aboard Hukum, when winning a thrilling King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.

Crowley will be ruled out of the Juddmonte International at York in a fortnight’s time and with O’Neill sidelined, the plum ride on the John and Thady Gosden-trained Mostahdaf is now up for grabs.

Gold said: “Mostahdaf, as far as I know, is well, although I haven’t spoken to John yet. We’ll get Goodwood out of the way first.”

Asked if either Frankie Dettori or William Buick may be considered for the ride, Gold added: “I’m not being perverse, but I’ve not even mentioned the subject. Obviously those are two possibilities, but we have literally not had a chat about it.”

O’Neill is on the mend, but he is not likely to return to the saddle in the immediate future.

Gold added: “Dane is mending. I spoke to him on Tuesday. It is frustrating, it’s a long process. Seven ribs (broken), he’s obviously very uncomfortable, poor man.

“Obviously, A – there’s the physical side and then, B – it is fantastically frustrating for him, when the whole point of being second jockey, when the first jockey is hurt or suspended, you want to make the most of the opportunity.

“But the poor fellow is not going to be able to be in a position to capitalise on it. It is very frustrating.

“I doubt he will be riding again this season. I haven’t asked him the question.

“It is the beginning of August and it is going to be another month mending them. I don’t know. He might be able to ride in early October, but that’s when he heads off to Dubai normally. I doubt he will be back here (this season).”

Jim Crowley has been banned for 20 days and fined £10,000 for his winning ride aboard Hukum in Saturday’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

Both Crowley and Rob Hornby, who finished second aboard Westover, were referred to the British Horseracing Authority’s Whip Review Committee following a duel to the line in the midsummer highlight, with Hukum prevailing by a head.

Flat riders are allowed to use their whip six times in a race, with a four-day ban for going one over the limit and seven days for going two over. Crowley used his whip nine times, which incurs a 10-day ban and is doubled for a class one race.

Had Crowley used his whip four times over the limit then Hukum would have been disqualified.

The rider will be banned August 15-21 and August 23 – September 4, meaning he misses the Ebor meeting at York, where he was due to ride runaway Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner Mostahdaf in the Juddmonte International. He also received the substantial fine due to the class and value of the race.

On Monday the whip rules were tweaked once more by the BHA following a six-month review period and while the changes would not have affected Crowley’s punishment due to the severity of his offence, Hornby has benefitted from the revisions.

He used his whip once above the permitted level, but given he has had more than 200 rides in Britain since his last whip offence, his initial ban was cut to two days. However, that is then doubled due to the calibre of race, meaning he will be out of action for four days (August 15-18 inclusive).

Had the rules not been changed 24 hours previously, Hornby would have had an eight-day suspension imposed.

Owen Burrows feels he has a lot to thank Hukum for as he prepares to send his King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes champion straight to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The six-year-old has won 11 of his 17 career starts and it was somewhat fitting that having provided the Lambourn-based handler with both his first Royal Ascot and Group One winner, Hukum was front and centre once again as Burrows enjoyed his finest hour in the training ranks.

Having downed last year’s Derby winner Desert Crown on his comeback from a career-threatening injury sustained when winning the 2022 Coronation Cup, Baaeed’s brother was at the peak of his powers in the hands of Jim Crowley in Ascot’s midsummer showpiece to tee up a trip to Paris on the first Sunday in October.

As short as 6-1 for the Arc, Burrows is determined to enjoy Hukum while he can as he begins to dream of victory in Europe’s richest middle-distance contest.

He said: “I owe him a lot. He’s been around for a while, he was my first Royal Ascot winner and my first Group One winner.

“We travelled him to Dubai after the sad passing of Sheikh Hamdan and that was a big thing for him to win over there on Super Saturday as well.

“He’s been a tremendous horse in my career and he’ll be very hard to replace, but we’ll enjoy him while we can.”

He went on: “He’s all well this morning. He ate up and he’s been out and had a lead out and a nice pick of grass and trotted up sound, so touch wood all good.

“The Arc is something like eight weeks today and that is the obvious plan now. The plan has always been King George in the summer and then trying to get him to France in the beginning of October and now we can start dreaming.”

All of Hukum’s victories have come on ground no quicker than good and having proven very effective with a little cut in the ground, there are plenty of positive signs ahead of Hukum’s autumn visit to the French capital for a race often run in testing conditions.

Burrows added: “He would go on faster ground and it was pretty quick in the Sheema Classic when he was only beaten a length and three-quarters.

“But he’s obviously had a hard enough race there yesterday and knowing we can get him cherry ripe following a layoff, I don’t think we need to be giving him a prep run.

“I would love to get him to the Arc and I think we would be talking about soft ground. Yesterday Jim (Crowley) felt it was a little bit dead ground, there wasn’t a lot of life in it. He handles most ground, but he obviously handles soft ground very well and we can dream.”

Hukum’s victory came just 25 minutes after another of Burrows’ Farncombe Down string, Aflaila, landed the Group Two York Stakes to give the handler a fantastic cross-card Group-race double.

He has been inundated with congratulatory messages since and admits it did take some time for the achievement to sink in.

“It’s been quite busy and I’m literally sitting down trying to work through all the messages, but it is going to take me a while,” said Burrows.

“I’ll admit yesterday I was a bit shellshocked, but now it is finally sinking in and what a day, what a great day.

“I’ve not been at it too long (training), but it was well documented this horse (Hukum) was injured at Epsom last year and to get him back to this level is a huge team effort. From the guys at Shadwell who rehabbed him, to my guys here at Farncombe, it’s a big big team effort.”

Sport does not always scale the heights anticipated. Yet inarguably, with toes hanging off the edge, this King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes offered an epic view.

One wishes more dare scale the steep, magnificent Ascot grandstand steps to witness such an incredible spectacle of rippling thoroughbred power.

On such occasions, one has a vague idea of what will unfold before the eyes. This was refreshingly different, there was not an inkling what to expect from either racegoers or participants.

“No-one is ducking it,” Hukum’s jockey Jim Crowley succinctly put it beforehand, “which means everyone fancied their chances.”

None more so than him, as it turned out.

This season’s search for such a clash of the crème de la crème had reached the rainbow’s end, for this was as close to nirvana as a horse race gets.

There had been very little swinging and missing. Emily Upjohn had won the Coronation, with runner-up Westover subsequently taking the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

Reigning champion Pyledriver had scored with ease on his belated comeback in the Hardwicke, dual Derby winner Auguste Rodin had only been luckless in the 2000 Guineas, and the other young pretender, King Of Steel, had gained compensation for a narrow Epsom defeat by taking the King Edward VII over course and distance. Luxembourg had a Tattersalls Gold Cup in the locker.

All in good form. Connections, to a man, hopeful if not confident, even given the unseasonably good to soft ground.

Superlatives are dangerous things, often inviting contradiction and sometimes scorn. Yet from overture to curtain, what unfolded was a drama for the ages, perhaps not quite on a par with Grundy and Bustino in 1975, yet ovation-worthy, nonetheless.

The bare result saw Hukum beat Westover by a head. King Of Steel was a further four and a half lengths back in third, with Auguste Rodin beaten before the race got started, suggesting something more than the ground was amiss.

Crowley had tasted some extraordinary moments with Hukum’s full brother Baaeed. Yet after a monumental battle with the doughty Westover for the last two furlongs, Rob Hornby’s mount matching the six-year-old blow for lung-busting blow, and having come out on top, the victor knew he had been part of another historic race.

“This was special,” said Crowley. “It was a great race to be part of. I knew going into the race, I wouldn’t swap him – and every jockey in the race said the same about their horse.

“Hence why everybody turned up as we all thought we could win.

“It was amazing, really. Both myself, the horse, Rob Hornby and Westover, were giving it everything. The kitchen sink is thrown in those situations.

“It must have been exciting to watch. To come out on top, it was fantastic, probably the most enjoyable race I’ve ever won. It was a race for the ages – just fantastic.”

Crowley’s ride was masterful. There were plenty in with chances as they swung six abreast round the home turn tracking Pyledriver. While he had to be reminded, Hukum lengthened his stride with a sudden explosive power that is flat racing’s most exhilarating sight.

Pyledriver and King Of Steel both ran their races, but while Crowley was was happily deciding they were beaten, he knew with greater certainty that once Westover had almost drawn upsides, the game could well have been up.

Yet the former champion has been here before and once Westover had served it up, Hukum had locked on to the task in hand and knocked it out of the park.

“The ground had dried out more than I was hoping for, but he is not essentially a soft-ground horse – he just likes good ground,” Crowley added.

“He missed the Hardwicke, which was good to firm and that was a good decision.

“He is just a very good horse who is getting better with age. He is finally coming out of his brother’s shadow now.

“He is just hard as nails, he is chilled, walks round the paddock like he owns the place – he’s a real dude.

“In some ways he’s flown under the radar, as he is a six-year-old, who has just won that one Group One, but if you go through his form, he hasn’t finished out the first three many times. He is a proper, tough horse.”

Hukum will likely be given a break, before being brought back for ParisLongchamp.

“You’d have to say the obvious race would be the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe now,” said Crowley. “He would get his conditions there and you always need a bit of luck round there – a low draw is very important. But let’s enjoy today – this was special.”

His victims offered no excuses, this was just a rare and precious thing – an entirely satisfactory all-aged midsummer highlight, won by the best horse and a great rider. This was as good as it gets.

The famous ladies’ amateur race on King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes day may now be a thing of the past, but success in the contest will always being among the most prized memories of Kylie Manser-Baines.

The event, which was run over seven furlongs, always came with the promise of a prize worth having – formerly a diamond necklace when De Beers were the sponsor and latterly a Longines watch.

Ascot has always been the venue of the race, with the exception of the 2005 renewal when the track was being redeveloped and Newbury stepped forward to host the fixture.

It was this stroke of luck, and the difference in the gradient between the two tracks, that gave Manser-Baines the best day of her amateur career.

Riding for John Best at the time, Manser-Baines was assured her mount, Mine Behind, would not stay the distance but the switch to Newbury’s flat track made all the difference when the horse, historically a sprinter, stepped up in trip.

Manser-Baines said: “I was really lucky that both my second and third rides were winners, so I thought ‘this is easy, I’m going to ride in this big diamond race’, but you had to have 10 rides.

“The first year I couldn’t ride in it, but the second year I said to my boss, John Best, that I was going to ride in it but he said we didn’t have a suitable horse.

“It’s a really hard for an owner to put you up as an amateur, I wasn’t very good but I was very, very competitive and I still am!

“I said I was going to ring the owner of Mine Behind because I knew the horse and looked after him at home. I said he was the only horse that could run in the race even though it wasn’t his trip. They said ‘oh he’s been running rubbish anyway, just enter him!’.

“It was the year that Ascot was being done up, so it was held at Newbury – if it was held at Ascot he definitely wouldn’t have got the trip. It’s seven furlongs and everyone thinks the track is flat at Ascot but it’s a bit of a stiff finish, I was lucky that it was at Newbury which is an easy, flat, galloping track.

“He was such an easy horse, you could canter down to post on the buckle end. My boss didn’t come that day, he was at another meeting, so my friend drove the box and the owner was there.

“My boss said to me ‘just keep hold of him or he won’t get home, it’s too long for him’ and I jumped out of the stalls, he never pulled, he was the best ride ever, but he was wanting to get to the front and I thought if I kept tucking him away he was going to get the hump.

“So I kicked on from miles out, it was very untidy, very scruffy. Luckily he held on, but the boss said ‘you kicked too soon’. The owners were over the moon, it was my first time riding in it and I got really lucky, everything fell my way.”

Manser-Baines graduated from amateur to apprentice, selling the necklace to fund the car she used to travel the country during her riding career.

She said: “The necklace was beautiful, but I have to admit I did sell it to buy a car. I kept the car for years and years and it got me around the country when I was riding. It was a beautiful necklace, but I couldn’t wear it every day as I didn’t dare and I really needed a car!

“I stopped riding in 2012, I was never the best jockey and my ability and my weight definitely held me back. It was great fun and I miss it a lot. I have two very good jobs now but nothing compares to it really.”

The two jobs in question are vastly different as Manser-Baines retains her racing connection by retraining and rehoming racehorses but is also a full-time firefighter.

She found the retraining work came to her effortlessly after her riding career ended and she gained a reputation as being a skilled horsewoman that would ensure the horses in her care were responsibly rehomed, whereas the firefighting followed when she decided to balance her time on the yard with another profession.

“People think that we don’t care about them after racing, which is absolute rubbish. We have the horses at home and it is lovely, it’s all I’ve ever wanted but it is hard work,” she said.

“Twelve years ago it was really hard to rehome an ex-racehorse, no one wanted them and the amount of people doing what I do was in the single figures. Even the worst rider in racing can still really ride, whereas outside of racing people often can’t handle them and as they were the cheapest horses you could get, they could end up in unsuitable homes.

“Now there are a lot of people doing what I’m doing, which is a good thing, there’s lots of people that want thoroughbreds and lots of people to retrain them. Trainers aren’t giving them away and they shouldn’t because they have got a value.

“I really care about where they end up so I’m probably the worst retrainer in a way! The best from a trainer’s point of view but the worst from a business point of view because I care so much about where they go.

“I’ve still got all my racing contacts and I get a nice, steady trickle of horses, and each year I also have a broodmare and try to breed a decent racehorse.

“I’ve got a mare called Bungledupinblue, by Bungle Inthejungle, who has been covered by Sergei Prokofiev. He was a Coolmore horse who will have his first runners next year.

“This year I was watching how all the Bungle Inthejungles were doing, next year I’ll be watching how all the Sergei Prokofievs are getting on.

“It’s nice to have an interest, I’ve got a lot of friends in racing still and it’s lovely to follow the racing and have a connection with it.”

Michael Tabor, owner or co-owner of six King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes winners, can be forgiven for having a somewhat clouded memory.

He first won the the all-aged, midsummer middle-distance showpiece in 2000 with a horse blessed with the most scintillating change of gear.

“The one King George I really remember is Montjeu,” said Tabor. “He won on hock-deep ground at Chantilly in the French Derby and at Ascot it was a very hot day, on firm ground, and not that it surprised me because I thought he would, but he just coasted in.

“That is my really big memory of the King George – I’m just trying to think of what others there were…”

Like a lot of other things, you always remember your first King George win, no matter what else follows. In this case, Galileo (2001), Hurricane Run (2006), Dylan Thomas (2007), Duke Of Marmalade (2008) and Highland Reel (2016).

Whether Tabor will lift the laurels for a seventh time this year, only time, and possibly his dual Derby winner Auguste Rodin, will tell.

It is not hard to see why the images of Montjeu, sauntering past his six rivals with jockey Mick Kinane sitting as motionless as if he were a statue atop a plinth, would not be the ones still burning brightly in Tabor’s mind.

The Aga Khan’s second-string Raypour set a clear early pace, with the owner’s iconic green and red epaulets colours also sported by Coronation Cup winner Daliapour, who tracked him until taking it up three furlongs from home.

Held up with Fantastic Light at the back of the field, the John Hammond-trained Montjeu made progress to two furlongs out, before he cruised to the lead a furlong out and quickly went clear, with Mick Kinane barely moving a bushy eyebrow in astonishment at the ease of victory.

To those watching from the stands and the six poor souls aboard the also-rans, the length-and-a-half victory margin felt like the distance of the M5 motorway, such was the imperious display from the four-year-old son of Sadler’s Wells.

He entered the mile-and-a-half showpiece with five Group Ones already to his credit, so little wonder he was sent off the 1-3 favourite.

“That is the one that really stands out,” said Tabor. “I did have good bet on him. I bet 5-2 on, I remember. I beat the SP, but it is not hard to beat the SP when you are having a big bet.”

Bred in Ireland by Sir James Goldsmith, who died in 1997 before the colt began his racing career, Montjeu’s ownership passed into the hands of Laure Boulay de la Meurthe, mother of two of Goldsmith’s children.

He won both starts as a juvenile for Chantilly-based Hammond, including the Listed Prix Isonomy, where he beat subsequent Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner Spadoun.

“We saw Montjeu run in France as a two-year-old and we liked him,” said Tabor. “I suppose like a lot of people she adopted the attitude that if I sell half of it, which she did, I’ll be a winner both ways.”

Montjeu proved to be a brilliant three-year-old. Along with winning two French Group Twos, he took the French and Irish Derbys. Yet it was his majestic romp in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, where he showed his electric turn of foot, that stamped him into the annals of racing history.

“I remember him winning the Prix du Jockey Club and it was hock-deep that day,” added Tabor. “I was standing there and he was coming down the top bend, just cruising.

“Sheikh Mohammed was about 30 yards to my right. He just turned and as he walked past me, he just said, ‘well done’. I remember that distinctly,” he laughed.

“Also, I remember when he won the Arc. El Condor Pasa, the Japanese horse, sort of went clear and he picked him up in a matter of strides. He was brilliant.”

Hurricane Run was the other King George winner to carry Tabor’s famous royal blue and orange disk silks to victory in an equally memorable Arc, six years later.

“I don’t remember Hurricane Run’s King George win particularly well, or Galileo’s – it was a long time ago,” admitted the 81-year-old. “Didn’t he beat Fantastic Light?” He did, by two lengths. “I remember that. I remember his Derby run better, though.”

It is easy to forget Montjeu was not an easy horse to train, with Hammond surmising he was “an eccentric genius”.

He had a stunning CV. Voted the Cartier Three-Year-Old European Champion Colt, he also topped the International Classification in 1999. The six-time Group One winner became a leading sire for Coolmore and produced four Derby winners – Motivator, Authorized, Pour Moi and Camelot.

Though Tabor would admit that money and knowledge can reduce the risk when purchasing bloodstock, success still comes with an element of luck. Bookmaker, gambler and shrewd businessman, he has always backed himself – and most times has won spectacularly.

From humble beginnings, his entrepreneurial flair, work ethic and later, his fortune, helped shape and solidify the future of the Coolmore breeding empire, and has brought him astounding success as an owner.

Rarely is his judgement anything other than razor-sharp, as jockey Kieren Fallon found in the parade ring at Longchamp in 2005.

“There weren’t many runners in Montjeu’s Arc, whereas in Hurricane Run’s Arc, there was a big field,” said Tabor.

“I never say anything to jockeys and tell them what to do and what not to do, but on this occasion, I think Kieren said, ‘I’m drawn on the inside’.

“So I just said, ‘Kieren, for me, you just stay, stay, stay on the inside. It will open up, it will be a fast-run race and the thing is, if you get locked up, they’ll call you an idiot and if you stay there and win, you’ll be a genius! So, I would stay there’. And that was it.”

Fallon did as he was advised and the Andre Fabre-trained three-year-old won by a comfortable two lengths, a victory that even Tabor will not forget in a hurry.

Desert Crown remains in contention for the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes after producing a “pleasing” piece of work under Ryan Moore at Newmarket on Wednesday morning.

The Saeed Suhail-owned 2022 Derby winner was beaten narrowly by Hukum in the Brigadier Gerard at Sandown on his return to action in May following a year on the sidelines with an ankle injury.

Another minor setback prevented him from running in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and while subsequent scans proved negative, trainer Sir Michael Stoute suggested last week that he may not have enough time to line up in the all-aged showpiece at Ascot on Saturday week.

However, confidence in the camp is growing that the son of Nathaniel will take on this season’s English and Irish Derby winner Auguste Rodin, Epsom runner-up King Of Steel, last year’s King George winner Pyledriver and his Sandown conqueror Hukum in the Qipco-sponsored 12-furlong highlight after all.

The owner’s racing manager, Bruce Raymond, said: “He worked this morning and Ryan rode him.

“Michael was very pleased with him and I think there is a good chance he will go to Ascot.

“He worked nicely. It was a pleasing gallop. I can’t say he is certain for the race, but everyone was very happy with him. There’s a good chance he will go to Ascot.”

Desert Crown is currently a 10-1 chance with Coral for the King George, with Auguste Rodin their 9-4 favourite.

Emily Upjohn has been given the go-ahead to run in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 29.

Trainers John and Thady Gosden were reluctant to commit the four-year-old filly to the midsummer highlight in the immediate aftermath of her meritorious run in the Eclipse last weekend.

She was beaten just half a length at Sandown by Aidan O’Brien’s three-year-old colt Paddington, who was in receipt of 7lb.

The Gosdens are keen to step her back up in trip and have seen nothing this week that should prevent her from heading to Ascot, which was the scene of her only disappointing run to date in the race last year.

Gosden senior said: “After a race like that you take stock, but I couldn’t be more thrilled. She’s in great form with herself, I had to canter her again quickly.

“I’m very pleased with her and there’s no reason at the minute why she wouldn’t go to the King George.”

But one horse who might miss the King George is last year’s Derby winner Desert Crown, who was absent from Royal Ascot after a setback.

His trainer Sir Michael Stoute said: “We don’t know if we will get him ready in time (for the King George). He is back in fast work, so we will decide closer to the time. It’s a little bit tight time-wise.”

Gosden also had news of Mostahdaf, such an impressive winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“He goes to the International, he should enjoy York as he likes to play around before the races like Stradivarius used to!” he told Racing TV.

“We’ve had to space his races, he ran in the Neom Cup in Saudi which he won in February, he came back and then went to the Sheema Classic in March, in which he took on the world champion in Equinox and tried to race with him, which is a mistake.

“He came back to a mile and a quarter and showed us what he could do in the Prince of Wales’s in which he was very impressive. He came out of it super, he’s very full of himself every morning.”

Deauville Legend could take on defending champion Pyledriver in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, with trainer James Ferguson confident he will take “a huge step forward”.

Fourth in the Melbourne Cup on his previous run at Flemington, the lightly-raced four-year-old produced a fine run on his return from a 235-day break when beaten just under three lengths by Pyledriver in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.

A head runner-up in last year’s King George V Stakes, Deauville Legend went on to take two Group races and his Newmarket handler is happy to meet Pyledriver again in the all-aged Group One contest at the Berkshire track on July 29.

“That was huge after an extremely long lay-off,” said Ferguson.

“We knew it would be a tough ask and he just went for his girths half a furlong from home, and he will probably take a huge step forward from that.

“Deauville Legend will probably go to the King George. He’s had two solid runs at Ascot now and it is a track he obviously likes.”

Zoology almost made it a meeting to remember for the young trainer, the three-year-old stepping up on his fourth-placed effort in the Greenham to run Age Of Kings to a length in the Group Three Jersey Stakes on vastly different ground.

He stayed on nicely inside the final furlong to claim the runner-up spot under Oisin Murphy, and Ferguson feels he may be ready to go up in trip.

He said: “I’ve always been confident in the horse and I’m very grateful to have a Zoustar of his calibre.

“He has just done better with age and he’s developed mentally as well as physically. He looks a different horse to the one we had six months ago – he’s changed that quickly.

“I thought he ran really well and potentially he could step up to a mile.

“The Greenham at Newbury was on terrible ground. He is genuine. That’s Zoustars for you – they are genuine and very honest. But I can’t tell you where he will go next.”

Likewise, Canberra Legend, who was beaten three lengths by Waipiro in the Hampton Court, could also be upped in trip next time.

A son of Australia, he had previously disappointed in York’s Dante Stakes, finishing ninth of 11 to The Foxes.

Ferguson was happy to see him bounce back to something like his best at Ascot and has pencilled in the Group Three Gordon Stakes at Goodwood on August 3 for his next outing.

“Just put a line through the Dante,” he insisted. “We saw the real Canberra Legend this time and he will probably step up to a mile and a half. He will probably go to the Gordon.”

Derby-winning jockey Martin Dwyer has admitted he will not be fit to ride Pyledriver in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes as he continues his recover from a knee injury that has seen him sidelined for 15 months.

The Liverpool-born jockey, who turns 48 on Wednesday, partnered Sir Percy to Epsom Classic glory in 2006 for Marcus Tregoning and was preparing to ride Pyledriver in last year’s Dubai Sheema Classic when hurt riding out for Brian Meehan.

Dwyer severely twisted his knee when a leather iron broke and he suffered a torn ACL in March 2022.

A length recovery process has still not been completed and Dwyer said it was “tough” watching the William Muir and Chris Grassick-trained Pyledriver’s victory in Saturday’s Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“I had an operation to remove scar tissue about six weeks ago. It has helped, I’m moving forward. I’m going back to see the surgeon this week and get a bit more of an update,” said Dwyer.

“I got on a rowing machine last week, which was a massive step forward, then my knee swelled up.

“The surgeons are happy and mechanically it is working. He has kind of fixed it, but it is a bit like when you have a horse with an injury. You think, ‘he’s so much better now, we’ll give him a canter,’ but when you canter him he’s lame the next day. That’s where I am, to sum it up.”

Pyledriver was having his first run since his King George success under PJ McDonald last July.

The six-year-old, who had been off the track for 336 days with injury, took his earnings to just shy of £2 million in beating West Wind Blows in Saturday’s Group Two contest.

He has taken his race well, according to Muir, who said: “He’s grand this morning. He’s really good, come out of it like a gazelle. He went up there as good as he did yesterday morning, so I’ve got no bothers there at all.

“He trotted out well, looked a picture and it’s brilliant.”

He now looks set to defend his title on July 29, with McDonald again likely to deputise for Muir’s son-in-law.

“I would love to be fit for the King George, but that’s long odds-against to happen,” said Dwyer.

“It was tough watching again yesterday. I was delighted for the team.

“It was brilliant and great to see him bounce back like that. William has done a great job, as it was touch and go there for a while that the horse would ever run again.

“It was mixed emotions, watching him run, but delighted for everyone.”

Dwyer, who has split his time between providing his expertise as a TV pundit and Lambourn’s Oaksey House rehabilitation centre, is not openly entertaining thoughts of retirement and praised the care he has received.

“Even just to get back to normal life, being able to run for a bus – I’ve been throwing the kitchen sink at it in rehab,” added Dwyer.

“I just have to focus on that and just get back to normal life and walk the dog.

“They are great at Oaksey House. The physios have been superb. Jerry Hill, the BHA doctor, speaks personally to my surgeon, they communicate and try different things, so I could not be better looked after.

“The physio at Oaksey House even came with me to see the surgeon. We are leaving no stone unturned, trying everything and let’s hope it works.”

Hukum, who bypassed Royal Ascot because of the fast ground, will now be aimed at the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Trainer Owen Burrows decided to withdraw Sandown’s Brigadier Gerard winner from the Hardwicke Stakes, after the ground tightened up throughout the week.

Hukum beat last season’s Derby winner Desert Crown in his scintillating return to action following a year off, having sustained a potentially career-ending hind-leg fracture during his victory in last year’s Coronation Cup at Epsom.

Connections felt they did not want to risk him in the race won by last year’s King George hero Pyledriver.

However, Shadwell’s longstanding racing manager Angus Gold is keen to take on the Hardwicke winner in the 12-furlong highlight on July 29.

“Hukum will run if and when we get some rain,” said Gold. “It was a touch and go situation yesterday.

“We were longing to run him, but Owen just felt in the end that while we could run him and he could win it, he might come back a bit sore after it and we’d all look silly.

“We kept him in training and spent a lot of time getting him right again after his injury last year and he just felt it was too big a risk. It is frustrating but sensible.

“Very much the idea is the King George. If the ground was good or even if it was good to firm, we might have to take a chance. That’s the big day. We will see how we are going nearer the time.”

Meanwhile, Burrows’ Prix d’Ispahan winner Anmaat is being primed for the Coral-Eclipse on Saturday week, although Prince of Wales’s Stakes hero Mostahdaf will swerve the race.

Gold said: “We had a winner which was a very important winner. Touch wood, Mostahdaf has come out of it very good. I spoke to John Gosden yesterday and he says he is bouncing.

“John is absolutely right and said that we know this horse is good fresh. He has run plenty of horses back two weeks later, thinking you have had plenty of time, and they come out and run flat.

“Particularly as we have done that with Al Asifah, I think we will be sitting still with Mostahdaf and hopefully get him to York in the same form in August.”

He added: “The Eclipse is off the cards for Mostahdaf. We still have Anmaat in, ground permitting. If he’s in good form and conditions look suitable, hopefully we will go there with him.”

Promising three-year-old filly Al Asifah, who won her first two starts, including a runaway success in a Listed 10-furlong contest at Goodwood earlier this month, will be held back after a disappointing sixth to Warm Heart when odds-on for the Ribblesdale Stakes on Thursday.

Supplemented for the Group Two contest for her first try over 12 furlongs, just 11 days after her second start, she raced wide but did not pick up when jockey Jim Crowley asked the question.

Gold said: “Everyone has different opinions on Al Asifah, but to me she was just flat.

“Jim said he was never really happy with her, never really comfortable. I see all the experts saying she didn’t stay – she wouldn’t have won at a mile and a quarter.

“I don’t care what anybody says, at Goodwood she ran right through the line and here she was struggling from two out.

“She had only had two runs before, but she was just a bit more on her toes before. It was only 11 days after her previous run and everything has happened quite quickly for her. It could be a combination of things, but for me, she didn’t run her race.

“When you see how she picked up and ran through the line at Goodwood, she didn’t pick up and run anywhere at Ascot. It was fairly obvious it wasn’t the same run.

“We’ll give her a break now and get her back in the autumn. I still think she will be a very nice filly. We haven’t even discussed targets. We will give her some gentle downtime, three weeks or so, then bring her back and take it from there.”

Similarly, Mutasaabeq, who won the Group Two bet365 Mile at Newmarket on his return to action before a three-length defeat in the Lockinge at Newbury, will be given more time after finishing with just one behind him in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday.

“Mutasaabeq is a funny horse,” Gold said of the Charlie Hills-trained five-year-old. “He runs well fresh.

“We tried to hang on to him this time to see if that helped, but it almost seemed he sulked and just went nowhere.

“We’ll see what there is for him, but we will just give him a bit of time now. He’s had three runs relatively quickly, but he’s the sort of horse who could easily come out and win another Group Two later in the year.”

King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Pyledriver is on course for the defence of his title and could use the Hardwicke Stakes as a stepping stone as he nears a return from injury.

William Muir and Chris Grassick’s stable star has not run since taking the all-aged midsummer Group One highlight last July.

He was being prepared for a tilt at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe when he suffered setback and plans for a return to the Dubai Sheema Classic, in which he finished fourth in the spring of 2022, were similarly scotched when he met with an injury to his near foreleg.

Pyledriver, who runs in the colours of the La Pyle Partnership, also won the Coronation Cup in 2021 and finished second in that race to Hukum last year.

Muir is hopeful the six-year-old can return to Ascot for the Group Two Hardwicke on June 24.

“Pyledriver is just starting to come along now,” he said. “He did his first piece of work on Friday.

“We have brought him along nice and gently this time and he’s doing it really nicely. He is doing plenty of cantering.

“He did his first gallop on Friday and he swims every night, which is something a bit new, because we have not done that before, but we thought we would try to get him to the Hardwicke, which is just under three weeks away.

“He swims like a natural. It scares me, because I don’t like going swimming, but he doesn’t mind it.”

However, the Lambourn trainer is mindful the gelding’s primary targets are towards the end of the year and the option of missing his King George prep is still on the table.

“It is not a big issue if he doesn’t go there, but he’ll only go if I’m happy he’s 90-95 per cent straight fitness-wise,” Muir added.

“Those type of races are big races. The object was to go to the King George again, then prioritise getting to the Arc. Then you have all these international races at the back-end of the year.

“The Hardwicke, though it sounds stupid to say it, is a race to bring him on for the King George.

“The best races for him, and for the prize-money, are later on in the year, so the longer I wait now, he won’t be over the top when we get to the end of the year.

“You can over-do it by racing a lot, and when you get to internationals like Kong Kong and the Breeders’ Cup, you can go past your best.

“If in the next two weeks we can get him where we want him – which we can do, as when we were getting him ready for Lingfield I thought I was struggling to get to the Winter Derby, he had two gallops and then ‘bang’ he was there and he was bouncing – if he says to me ‘yes’, he’ll be there.

“And if he says ‘no’, he won’t be. We’ll see how he gets on, but there’s no big issue if he doesn’t go to the Hardwicke.”

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