Five times the King George lit up Summer
The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth stakes has been a Summer highlight of the racing calendar for over half a century and this weekend’s renewal promises to deliver another intriguing clash.
Since its first running in 1951, there have been thrilling finishes and nail-biting moments aplenty, but below are five that stick out in our minds as the best of the best.
1975: Grundy vs Bustino
Where better to begin our top five than the race dubbed ‘the Race of the Century’?!
As the old boxing expression goes “styles make fights” and the racing styles of the two protagonists, dual Derby winner Grundy and the previous year’s St Leger hero Bustino, certainly contributed to a truly epic tussle.
Bustino’s strength was in his stamina and his legendary trainer Dick Hern sought to make full use of this by inserting two pacemakers into the field to ensure a relentless gallop. The pace ended up being so furious that by the time the principals turned for home the last of the pace setters were already an afterthought as they backpedalled through the the field.
Having been left out in front much earlier than intended Bustino kicked on for home under jockey Joe Mercer, but the late great Pat Eddery had his every move covered on the three-year-old Grundy.
The final stages of the race saw the gutsy Derby winner reel in his older rival before passing him with half a furlong to go and, despite a small fightback from Bustino, eventually win by half a length. The race set a course record of 2 minutes 26.98 seconds which went on to stand for a further 35 years.
2001: Galileo vs Fantastic Light
The turn of the century saw a vintage clash between dual Derby winner Galileo and Godolphin’s globetrotting four-year-old Fantastic Light.
Trained by Aidan O’Brien the three-year-old Galileo had barely broken sweat in both of his Derby victories and was sent off the hot 1/2 favourite to take first prize. Given an excellent ride by the ice-cool Mick Kinane, Galileo travelled into the Ascot straight with a dreamy run up the rail and looked poised to once again burst away from the field as he had done at Epsom and Curragh.
But Frankie Dettori and Fantastic Light had other ideas and having taken a wide run came with a strong challenge on the outside to eyeball the Derby winner with a furlong to go.
The two then fought stride for stride before the younger horse pulled away to win decisively by two lengths. The tables would be turned later on in that season with Fantastic Light beating Galileo in a brutal renewal of the Irish Champion Stakes.
2012: Danedream vs Nathanial
Officially the joint smallest margin of victory in race’s history, the 2012 King George saw a big win for the girls over the boys as German heroine Danedream got up late to collar 2011 champion Nathanial by a nostril.
Despite coming into the race as the previous year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, Danedream was considered an easy to back 9/1 shot; while Nathanial was sent off at 5/2.
A furlong and a half out from the finish Nathanial hit the front with a strong run and looked set to become the first horse to land back-to-back King George wins since Swain in 1997/98. However, the best was yet to come as the Arc heroine came flying down the outside to challenge close to home and beat Nathanial on the nod. The post-race slow-motion replays show brilliantly just how close it was!
1995: Lamtarra vs Pentire
A landmark moment in the history of the great race as the 1995 Epsom Derby winner Lamtarra scored a first victory in the King George for the powerhouse Godolphin operation under a young Frankie Dettori.
Coming into the home straight, the favourite Pentire looked all set to claim the race with a withering run down the centre of the track but Lamtarra’s will to win was something that Pentire and Jockey Michael Hills hadn’t factored in.
Despite being passed by Pentire two furlongs out, the gutsy Lamtarra stuck gamely to the task and rallied well to get up to the line and win by half a length. Remarkably it was just Lamtarra’s third career start; he would go on to win that year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and retire unbeaten.
Pentire would have his moment in the Ascot Sun one year later as he’d go on to win the 1996 renewal.
2015: Postponed vs Free Eagle
The 40th Anniversary of Grundy and Bustino’s ‘Race of the Century’ saw a nostril finish that served as a most fitting tribute.
The build-up to the race had been dominated by the speculation around whether the 2015 Epsom Derby and Eclipse winner Golden Horn would participate. Sadly the heavily rain-softened ground saw him withdrawn on the Saturday morning and left the race looking a little devoid of a headline act.
The worry that 2015 would be a less than memorable King George was put to bet in dramatic style though as Postponed and Free Eagle went head-to-head in the final furlong.
Postponed knuckling down to get his head in front right on the line after looking beaten with 50 yards to run.