patience could be a virtue for Peter Niven and his stable star Clever Cookie if Ascot is hit by the anticipated rain prior to today’s blue riband King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Having missed a number of high-profile engagements because of unsuitably fast ground, conditions could play to the strengths of the one-time hurdler and negate the brilliance of the Epsom Derby winner Golden Horn, who is now a major doubt for Flat racing’s midsummer highlight after the ground became heavy yesterday.
“Our chances are getting a little better with every minute that it rains,” Malton-based Niven told The Yorkshire Post. “I’m not saying our horse depends on soft ground, but he is likely to be less inconvenienced than most.
“It’s been frustrating that he has not run since York at the end of May. I’ve had a horse that has been very well for a few weeks and you want to run them when they’re right.
“I thought it was a 100-1 shot that we would be running in this, but then the weather turned.
“We could go to the Goodwood Cup next week, and be favourite, but there’s only one King George and only once chance to take on the Derby winner who is a very good horse and whose Eclipse win over The Grey Gatsby is a good yardstick.
“However, his best form has been on fast ground and there were stamina concerns before the Derby. Ascot is a far stiffer track than Epsom. Let’s see.”
Clever Cookie will be ridden by Bedale-based Graham Lee whose finest hour as a Flat jockey came when partnering Ed Dunlop’s Trip To Paris to Gold Cup glory at Ascot six weeks after the defection of Clever Cookie because of the ground.
If the Yorkshire horse does concede 12lb to the favourite under weight-for-age allowances, it would be the ultimate racing fairytale.
Clever Cookie, a durable galloper running over a distance shorter than ideal, was bred by former jump jockey Niven’s mother while Anthony Oppenheimer, John Gosden and Frankie Dettori – the owner-breeder, trainer and rider of Golden Horn – all represent racing aristocracy.
However, some of the pre-race comparisons with the legendary Frankel have been misplaced. The late Sir Henry Cecil’s horse, unbeaten in 14 starts, never raced over today’s trip of a mile and a half while this will only be Golden Horn’s sixth start.
Victorious in York’s Dante Stakes in May, the colt is bidding to become the fourth horse after Tulyar (1952), Mill Reef (1971) and Nashwan (1989) to win the Derby, Coral-Eclipse and King George in the same season.
If Dettori’s mount prevails, comparisons with Sea The Stars – the 2009 champion – will be justified.
However, John Oxx’s Group One hero did win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a challenge that still awaits Golden Horn if he passes today’s test. “We’re asking him major questions at a young age. If he gets beaten, that’s life,” said Gosden who will walk the track today before deciding on his stable star’s participation.