Two weeks on from his gutsy victory in the Coral-Eclipse , Nathaniel returns to defend his crown in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in one of the greatest renewals of the race ever seen. Heading ten rivals whose career earnings total to a staggering £14million, Nathaniel looks to continue the hot streak for John Gosden and William Buick and become a millionaire race horse in the process of propelling John Gosden to the top of the British Trainers Championship. Slow to return to the track this year due to minor injuries, Nathaniel not only renews his King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes rivalry with St Nicholas Abbey but also faces winners of the Melbourne Cup, Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe and various European Classics. In his toughest race yet, Nathaniel surges into this race on form, off the back of an impressive performance when reportedly needing the run at Sandown Park and with much more to show Europe. Still frighteningly unexposed after just eight stars, winning this race would show him as the best older mile-and-a-half horse in Europe at this time with just Camelot - the Champion Three Year Old Elect - standing in his way and see Nathaniel achieve an unfathomable summer double after only returning to the track for his seasonal appearance two weeks ago.
From Ireland, St Nicholas Abbey arguably comes into this year's renewal as a much better horse; The Breeders Cup Turf and Epsom Coronation Cup have both been taken down in impressive style by the son of Montjeu since his third-placed finish in last year's race and a close second-place in the Dubai Sheema Classic behind Cirrus des Aigles also further enhances his reputation. However, one notable piece of form is that St Nicholas Abbey hasn't won a race going right-handed since 2009, when he won the Group 2 Beresford Stakes over a significantly weak field. If St Nicholas Abbey were to final transform his left-handed form to a track like Ascot he would be exceptionally hard to beat.
A renewed rivalry with Sea Moon looks to be one of the focuses in the race on Saturday; Victory in the Breeders Cup Turf by O'Brien's son of Montjeu saw Sea Moon having to settle for second but his ascendancy since that race is similar to that of Harbinger - Sir Michael Stoute's impressive eleven length winner of 2010. Stoute's record in this race is unparalleled; With five victories to his name including that of Harbinger and the dual-Breeders Cup Turf winner, Conduit, Stoute certainly knows what it takes to win this race. Following a similar path to that of Harbinger, Sea Moon (above) comes into this race off of an impressive victory in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot From France, Dunaden returns to Ascot a month on from his flying second-place in the Hardwicke Stakes behind Sea Moon. Seemingly under pressure from a long way out and dropping back faster than Trinniberg in the Kentucky Derby, Dunaden discovered a second wind in the final stages of the Hardwicke Stakes - which is run over course and distance - to claim second-place close home over his old adversary, Red Cadeaux. A further Melbourne Cup rematch does not take place in this renewal of the race but Dunaden does reunite with Craig Williams for the first time since that win. Williams jets in from Australia for just one ride this Saturday and it could prove a fruitful trip on the son of Nicobar who looks to be improving with every single run he gets under his belt. Reliable Man - who is far from reliable - doubles the French challenge this year but has been lacklustre in performance since victory in the 2011 Prix du Jockey Club and victory in this race would be very unlikely despite his likening for all kinds of ground conditions.
From Germany, Saturday sees the first visit of the 2011 Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe winner, Danedream, to British shores. Following up from a disappointing performance in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time out , Danedream faces perfect ground conditions and will relish any further rain that the precipitation-ridden skies of England may provide before race time on Saturday. A line can be put through herlast performance on a track which has struggled to show her ability on two attempts now and any performance similar to that of last year's Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe could see Danedream throw down a significant performance that could see her rivals struggle.
It's not just Europe getting on the bandwagon of this scintillating renewal of the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes; Japanese Derby (Tokyo Yoshun) winner Deep Brilliante ships in with regular race rider, Yasunari Iwata, with firm hopes of acquiring Japan's first success in the race. Having traded blows with rival Gold Ship in most of his races to date, Deep Brilliante excelled in the Japanese Derby towards the front end before narrowly holding off the rapidly closing Fenomeno. A son of Deep Impact, Deep Brilliante has never finished outside of the first three in his races but this is a much tougher test for him. However, with the report that Deep Brilliante travelled perfectly, his connections are exceptionally confident of a big run and their charge receives a weight allowance of eleven pounds from all rivals bar one - that being Danedream who gives just eight pounds - and the prospect of a Japanese winner with these conditions taken into account could be a previously unfathomable possibility in a year that Japan could also win the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe with their stylish raider, Orfevre.
If England were to throw up a shock result it could come from the Michael Owen-owned and bred, Brown Panther. Famous for his European football skills, Owen now owns the Manor House Stables at which Tom Dascombe continues to excel. Ridden by Kieren Fallon, Brown Panther was seen back to his very best last time at Pontefract when scooting away to a seven length success in soft conditions over Lost In The Moment and Sir Henry Cecil's consistent type, Jet Away. Brown Panther harbours course form in his six-length King George V Stakes victory at last year's Royal Ascot. Ironically, Brown Panther's mother - Treble Heights - was trained by John Gosden for Owen just nine years ago; Could this story be written in the stars? Could Brown Panther deny his mother's trainer from ascendency to the top of the table? An unlikely possibility but anything is possible in such a stellar renewal of the race in which very few can be categorically ruled out.
The 2011 St Leger victor Masked Marvel - who is on somewhat of a redemption mission given his poor form since that victory over Brown Panther - and the Aidan O'Brien pacemaker Robin Hood complete the line up in a King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes jam packed with talent and a field which has won almost every race this side of the Atlantic between them.
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)