Telescope set for step up
View from connections ahead of Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
All eyes will be on Telescope as the much-vaunted colt finally gets the chance to fulfil his destiny when he goes for Group One glory in the QIPCO- sponsored King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.
Some of his ardent supporters would have expected the talented colt to have had the opportunity sooner in his career, preferably in last year's Derby, but trainer Sir Michael Stoute is renowned for his patient approach.
When the Epsom Classic in 2013 was ruled out after Telescope suffered a setback, Stoute has been firmly focused on doing his utmost to ensure the horse reaches his full potential.
The son of Galileo took a giant stride to repaying his connections' faith when running away with the Group Two Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal meeting.
Sights have been firmly set on the King George since then and Harry Herbert, racing manager to owners Highclere, cannot wait to see Telescope strut his stuff in the mile-and-a-half contest.
"Given the size and pedigree of him, there was every chance he would be reaching his peak about now. It is what Sir Michael excels at and Telescope ticks a lot of those boxes," he said.
"Last year it got everyone rattled and annoyed. He became a talking horse.
"He couldn't line up for the Derby and I realise how frustrating it was for everyone, especially ante-post punters, but he had a legitimate excuse with an infection in his pastern which stopped him running in the Dante and then he did a lacklustre bit of work at Lingfield.
"The Hardwicke was the first time since the Voltigeur that we've seen him on decent ground and could use that stride that we know he's got.
"He's got a phenomenal action. The ground was bad at Sandown and Chester and that just stops the flow of the horse. Take nothing away from Noble Mission, he's proved beyond a shadow of doubt that he's a proper Group One horse and a tough nut to crack, especially in soft ground over a mile and a quarter."
Telescope has certainly not been frightened away the opposition, with several smart rivals taking up the challenge.
The King George has been famous over the years for its clashes of the generations and this one is no exception with Taghrooda, impressive winner of the Investec Oaks, defending an unbeaten record.
The decision to run Taghrooda caught many by surprise but owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum's sporting policy has to be applauded.
In receipt of 15lb from Telescope, John Gosden's charge will be no pushover.
"John Gosden said, particularly if she is going to retire at the end of the season, she's not going to have many more races, so why don't we have a go at a big one with her?" said Angus Gold, Sheikh Hamdan's racing manager.
"She's a Classic winner and it's not like a stallion we're trying to promote. We're going to be keeping her to breed from, so I think Sheikh Hamdan felt he'd like to be adventurous and have a go at a big one."
It was expected Mukhadram would be Sheikh Hamdan's main hope and, despite Taghrooda's presence, the Coral-Eclipse winner still gets the chance to step up to a mile and a half for the first time.
"Mukhadram is fine, he is in good shape. We had a little blip last week with a minor foot problem but he seems well now," said trainer William Haggas.
"I have been anxious to step him up to this dist ance for a while, but now that the day gets closer I am not so sure. Saturday will tell us everything.
"He should get his ideal conditions - a nice warm day and fast ground, which he loves - so we will just have to see what happens.
"I haven't had a runner in the race since Shaamit (in 1996). In the old days it was the natural race to go on to after the Derby, but Shaamit was very sore after Epsom and had only just come back to himself in time for the King George.
"He still managed third behind two very good four-year-olds, but if I trained him now I would probably have waited with him.
"It's quite hard to find a horse good enough to run in it with a chance. Our stable has only recently grown in strength and in the future we hope to be more consistent in having opportunities to take part in races like this."
A mile and a half and fast ground should be ideal conditions for the Aidan O'Brien-trained Magician, who career best performance to date arguably came in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita in November.
"He's in good form and the ground should be lovely. I'm looking forward to seeing him run," said O'Brien.
The other Irish handler represented is Jim Bolger, who saddles last year's Irish Derby hero Trading Leather and the rank outsider Leitir Mor.
Trading Leather chased home Novellist in this race 12 months ago and only found Mukhadram too good in the Eclipse three weeks ago.
That was his second run since having eight months off and his rider Kevin Manning feels there is more to come.
"I think he'll improve a bit from Sandown. I think he'll come on for the run and I think there's a bit more there, so I'm expecting a big run on Saturday," Manning told At The Races.
"I think he's pretty versatile from a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half. Probably his best performance was in the Irish Derby at a mile and a half, but I think it comes down the way the race unfolds."
Bolger is unfazed by the prospect of Trading Leather reverting to a mile and a half in trip.
He told www.godolphin.com: "Trading Leather came out of the Eclipse very well and has been training well since then.
"He travelled over to England on Thursday and had a canter on Friday morning, which went very well. He seems very happy at the moment.
"Racing over a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half is all the same to him and I am happy enough about returning to a mile and a half.
"He does need fast ground and it looks like he will get it at Ascot."
Flintshire, who finished second in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, has been ruled out due to an elevated temperature.