CHESHIRE trainer Tom Dascombe feels Michael Owen’s Brown Panther is competing in the world’s best race of the year over one mile and four furlongs today.
Rather than obvious King George choices Nathaniel and St Nicholas Abbey, Dascombe believes Sir Michael Stoute’s Sea Moon is the one to beat in the Ascot showpiece.
Dascombe’s Brown Panther is a 25-1 outsider for this afternoon’s prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in which seven of the 10 runners have already landed a Group One prize.
Along with Sea Moon and Robin Hood, Brown Panther is yet to taste success at the highest level but Dascombe reports his charge in rude health – 27 days on from his facile Pontefract triumph.
Following a disappointing run in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester in May, the four-year-old resumed his upward curve with a seven-length success at the Yorkshire track and Kieren Fallon keeps the ride for today’s Group One assault.
Dascombe expects a decent showing – one that might belie his charge’s big odds – but the trainer knows the contest is a red hot one and an event that will be incredibly difficult to win.
“It’s probably the best race run this year in the world isn’t it?” said Dascombe.
“Over this trip that is.
“You’ve got Group One winners throughout the race and it’s a very, very good race.”
Brown Panther looked to have little chance of being sent on a Group One assignment following his miserable run at Chester in May when he trailed in a 20-length last of four behind Aidan O’Brien’s Memphis Tennessee.
Dascombe simply puts the Chester flop down to his horses being out of form at the time which is not the case now.
The Chester handler has sent out a steady flow of winners during the last week and says his stable star has been in fine fettle at home.
“With Chester, at the time, some of our horses just weren’t running quite as well as they might.” said the Manor House Stables handler.
“He just fitted into that category. Now he seems very fit and very well and all the horses in the yard are running well at the moment, which is a bonus.
“All in all, we are really, really happy with him.
“Last year, he just improved with every single run and obviously this year he ran very disappointingly first time.
“But he ran much better at Pontefract last time, though, realistically, he is going to have to improve another 10lb on that run to be competitive on Saturday.”
Brown Panther approaches today’s contest with an official rating of 117 with German raider and last year’s Arc winner Danedream actually coming out ahead on the figures with a mark of 128.
Peter Schiergen’s charge has it all to prove after a deplorable run in France last time with most judges selecting either recent Eclipse winner Nathaniel or Coronation Cup victor St Nicholas Abbey as their tip for glory.
However, a general 3-1 co-favourite with that trio is Sir Michael Stoute’s unexposed Sea Moon and while he is another horse yet to win a Group One race, Dascombe believes the recent Hardwicke Stakes scorer is the one to beat.
“Ultimately, Brown Panther has got nine very good horses to beat,” said Dascombe, whose charge is owned by football star Owen and Betfair co-founder Andrew Black.
“But if I had to swap him for another horse, I think I would probably take Sea Moon.
“Nathaniel is obviously brilliant but he had a very hard race just two weeks ago and he’s got to get over that.
“The Aidan O’Brien horse (St Nicholas Abbey) is probably a little bit better going left-handed but, at the end of the day, all we’ve got to worry about is our horse.
“He’s run very, very well over a mile-and-a-half at Ascot before and there won’t be any complaints. He’ll run the best race he can. Obviously, it’s just nice to have a runner in a Group One at Ascot.”
Connections of today’s winner will take home £567,100 and Sea Moon’s trainer Stoute is “hopeful rather than confident” of securing his sixth King George triumph.
“It’s a very competitive renewal, that’s for sure,” said Stoute. “There’s Nathaniel, St Nicholas Abbey and there are others, too, who are very decent Group One horses.
“But we’re glad to be in there having a shot at it because he’s come through the Hardwicke well and he’s pleasing us in his preparations.
“Historically, it’s been a race that’s run up a lot of champions, a lot of excitement and I love the race. It’s one of the great middle-distances races in the calendar in Europe.
“He’s got a shot but it’s a very, very tough race and we’re hopeful rather than confident.”
Reflecting on Sea Moon’s impressive June success in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, Stoute added: “The Hardwicke was probably his best performance to date.
“He travelled really well and we were always really hopeful from a long way out.
“Maybe I’d be satisfied with another Hardwicke performance but he’s entitled to go for the race.
“I’d like to think if I can get him at the same pitch (as at Royal Ascot) he could be competitive off that. He might not be able to win, but run very well.”
Nathaniel’s trainer Gosden, meanwhile, has voiced concerns about his stable star attempting a second prestigous prize in the space of two weeks.
“It’s only a two-week gap and I can’t emphasise how tough that is for a horse,” said Gosden.
“He had a hard race at Sandown but he has eaten well, he looks well and has been scoping great and you need to have a go at these top races.
“St Nicholas Abbey won the Breeders’ Cup Turf well, he didn’t look like he did much at the Curragh and then his run in the Coronation Cup was good.
“It’s nice to meet him, and these races need the form horses. Sea Moon sets a solid standard too, and it looks a good race.”
Nathaniel’s jockey, the in-form William Buick, is in more confident mood, warning that the late-maturing Nathaniel is still open to more progress.
“He’s a late-maturing horse, mentally and physically, and that was always going to be the case,” said Buick. “We always felt that whatever he did last year, he was going to do better this year.
“It all points towards that now. As the season progresses, I think he will get better.
“It’s a very good King George this year. St Nicholas Abbey is a better horse than he was last year. You’ve got Sea Moon, Dunaden. They are all there.”
Completing the ‘big three’ at the head of the market is Irish raider St Nicholas Abbey with jockey Joseph O’Brien hoping for both a decent pace to the race and drying ground.
“It’s a good race and we’re looking forward to it,” said the young pilot. “He won well the last time and he seems to be in good enough form.
“There are a few more runners than last year, so, hopefully, there will be something forcing the pace, we go a nice, even gallop and the best horse wins.
“Hopefully the ground will dry out – it wouldn’t be ideal for it to be too soft.”