Connections of Westover were left “devasted but delighted” following his narrow defeat in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot.
Last year’s Irish Derby hero disappointed as a hot favourite for Ascot’s midsummer showpiece 12 months ago, but was this time carried out on his shield.
Turning out just three weeks after doubling his Group One tally in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, the Ralph Beckett-trained four-year-old was a 7-1 shot in the hands of Rob Hornby and moved to the lead early in the home straight.
Westover and Hukum engaged in a titanic duel with two furlongs to run and while the latter secured top honours by a head, the runner-up lost little in defeat.
“What a horse, what a horse race. We’re devasted but delighted,” said Barry Mahon, racing manager for Westover’s owner-breeders Juddmonte.
“He’s run a career-best in what was being touted beforehand as the middle-distance race of the year and he went down gallantly. I felt he was even battling back again at the finish.
“He put it all on the line and he’s doing what we thought he’d do this year. Last year he was big and immature and he’s mentally and physically grown up.
“To break the track record the last day in Saint-Cloud was a big performance and to back it up with a run like that three weeks later is unbelievable.
“We haven’t really thought about what’s next. We’ll see how he comes out of it and make a plan in a couple of weeks’ time.”
Hornby similarly had mixed emotions, saying: “This race deserves a spectacle like that and to have an ovation for this horse, coming second like we did, was special.
“It is tough to take, but I’m really proud of him. It is always tough when you are just denied like that and it was such a heroic battle.
“He stays very well. He rolled around twice and I pulled my stick through and corrected him. When he got into a head to head, he was tough all the way to the line and he was just edged out unfortunately.”
King Of Steel, runner-up in the Derby at Epsom before landing the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, emerged best of the rest in third for Roger Varian.
“I think he ran a great race, he lost nothing in defeat and came there with a great chance. He has been beaten by two mature, good, older horses,” said the Newmarket handler.
“I’m not sure he got home as well as the first two. We have always got the option of coming back to 10 furlongs, but he had some great horses in behind him, two very good ones in front of him, and it’s only his fifth run, so he can only improve can’t he?
“He has the scope and is a big horse. I’m sure he needs a little time between races. He’s had a tough race today, but he’s like a teenager, still.
“He is a good horse. We’d be happier if he’d won, but we think he ran a great race.
“We got beat, but it was a super race – a championship race. He turned up and really ran his race.”
The disappointment of the contest was Aidan O’Brien’s Auguste Rodin, who narrowly denied King Of Steel Derby glory at Epsom last month before following up in the Irish Derby.
He was the 9-4 favourite to follow in the hoofprints of Ballydoyle great Galileo by adding the King George to his two Derby wins, but was under pressure a long way from home and was eased right down in the end by Ryan Moore to finish last of 10.
O’Brien said: “There are no excuses. Whatever happened, the power ran out and it ran out early.
“That is the unusual thing. The race wasn’t even started.
“He was calm in the paddock, we were very happy with him. There is obviously a reason and we’ll find it. It is frustrating, but that’s the way.”