A star-studded lineup featuring Epsom Derby (G1) winner Auguste Rodin and six other Group or Grade 1 stakes winners in a field of 11 is set for the $1.6 million King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) at Ascot Racecourse on Saturday.
The winner earns an automatic spot, with all fees paid, in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 4 via the BC challenge series.
Auguste Rodin is one of four entries from trainer Aidan O’Brien and could go off as the favorite. The 3-year-old colt will be ridden by Ryan Moore. O’Brien’s other runners are Luxembourg, Point Lonsdale, and Bolshoi Ballet.
The 1½-mile race over what is likely to be soft ground also includes the last three winners of the Coronation Cup (G1) in the filly Emily Upjohn, Hukum, and Pyledriver, who also won last year’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Auguste Rodin, facing older horses for the first time, comes into the race off a victory in Irish Derby (G1) on July 1.
“Auguste Rodin is from the last crop of Deep Impact and has always been a special horse,” O’Brien said. “The minute he won the Derby the plan was always to come back to Ireland for the Irish Derby and then going on to the King George if everything was OK.”
Luxembourg won the Irish Champion Stakes (G1) last year, while Westover captured the Irish Derby (G1) in 2022 and won the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) in his latest start.
The only other 3-year-old in the race is King of Steel, who won the King Edward VII Stakes (G2) at the Royal Meeting at Ascot after running second by a half-length to Auguste Rodin in the English Derby.
“It was great that he could back up his performance in the Derby at Ascot,” trainer Roger Varian said. “There was a lot of pressure on the horse going into Royal Ascot. He confirmed what a good horse he is and what a good horse he can be for us.
“We are looking forward to the King George. There is no reason to think he won’t handle soft ground.”
Pyledriver has had only one start since last year’s win in this race, capturing the Hardwicke Stakes (G2) at Royal Ascot in June.
“He has come on for his race and I couldn’t be happier with him,” said William Muir, the 6-year-old’s co-trainer with Chris Grassick.
Frankie Dettori has the call on Emily Upjohn, who finished second by a half-length to stablemate Paddington in the 1 ¼-mile Coral-Eclipse Stakes (G1) three weeks ago.
Rebel’s Romance, the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner, is back in the U.S. and the 8-5 favorite in Sunday’s $250,000 Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga.
A field of 10 was entered for the 1 3/8-mile inner turf test, with Rebel’s Romance making just his second start of the year for trainer Charlie Appleby.
After winning the BC Turf at Keeneland last year (his only other start in America in 13 career races), the gelding made his 5-year-old debut in March, finishing an uncharacteristic seventh in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1). The Godolphin-owned Rebel’s Romance breaks from post 9 under jockey Richard Mullen.
“He’s a well-traveled horse; Germany, Keeneland, England and Dubai,” Appleby’s assistant Chris Connett said. “He’s traveled this trip pretty well and he’s settled in good shape. He’s a typical (son of) Dubawi, he’s got better with age. He’s a big horse that’s really grown into his frame. Hopefully, we’ll get to see him at his best on Sunday.”
Soldier Rising, seeking a first graded stakes win, is the 4-1 second choice for trainer Christophe Clement. Jose Ortiz gets the call leaving from post 5. The 5-year-old gelding has second-place finishes in his previous two races – both Grade 1s, the Manhattan and the Man o’ War.
Never Explain is the 6-1 third choice and will be ridden by Luis Saez out of gate 3. At 8-1 are The Grey Wizard and Highest Honors.
The Grey Wizard, trained by Graham Motion, comes into the race off a runner-up finish to another Appleby horse, Siskany, in the 2-mile Belmont Gold Cup (G2) on June 9.
“We’ve kind of pointed for this race for a while,” Motion said. “He seems like he keeps improving every time I run him. I wish this was a mile and a half – the distance is what really helps him.”
Also in the field is 2020 champion turf horse Channel Maker, leaving from post 8 under Manny Franco. The 9-year-old gelding is looking for his first win since topping Soldier Rising in the 2022 Grand Couturier at Belmont.
The picks: Rebel’s Romance, Soldier Rising, Rockemperor
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.