Derby duo highlight 11 contenders in top-class King George

Derby one-two Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel are among 11 runners declared for a star-studded renewal of the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot.

Despite the late withdrawal of last year’s Epsom hero Desert Crown, Saturday’s Group One showpiece looks the race of the season so far, such is the depth of the field.

Aidan O’Brien’s Auguste Rodin saw off Roger Varian’s King Of Steel by half a length in the premier Classic in early June, with Auguste Rodin subsequently completing the Derby double in Ireland, while King Of Steel dominated the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.

There is little to choose between the pair in the betting ahead of a highly anticipated rematch.

Joining them at the head of the market are the Owen Burrows-trained Hukum, a dual winner over the course and distance and too strong for Desert Crown in the Brigadier Gerard at Sandown when last seen, and John and Thady Gosden’s Coronation Cup winner Emily Upjohn.

The latter is the only filly in the line-up and will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, who is chasing a record eighth King George success before his planned retirement later this year.

It is a measure of the strength of the race that defending champion Pyledriver is only fifth in the betting, despite an impressive return in the Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal meeting.

Auguste Rodin is joined by a trio of stablemates in Bolshoi Ballet, Luxembourg and Point Lonsdale.

The other hopefuls are Melbourne Cup fourth Deauville Legend (James Ferguson), last year’s Irish Derby and recent Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud scorer Westover (Ralph Beckett) and five-time Group Three winner Hamish (William Haggas).

With 17 millimetres of rain falling at the Berkshire track overnight, the official going description is now soft, good to soft in places.

At 11am on Thursday, clerk of the course Chris Stickels said: “At the moment, it remains overcast and we are expecting it to turn a bit nicer later with some sunny spells.

“There is a chance of a passing shower – a light shower today and an occasional shower possible on both Friday and Saturday – but we are not talking about much volume of rainfall, so I expect conditions to improve a little, given a breezy and warmer forcecast, with temperatures between 21C and 24C.

“We had a couple of millimetres more than was forecast, but what’s that when you get 17mm.”

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