King George VI & Queen Elizabeth II STAKES

THE SUNDAY TIMES

29 July 2023

What a race. The most deeply competitive King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes in many years was reduced to two tough horses reaching for the winning line with eight others reduced to assorted shapes of also ran.  Hukum beat Westover by a head. But the story was much more than that.

Ballydoyle had fielded a team of four in their quest to get Auguste Rodin to follow grandsire Galileo’s Epsom Derby, Irish Derby, King George hoofprints. King Of Steel was out to turn Epsom tables on Auguste Rodin. Coronation Cup winner Emily Upjohn was set to give Frankie Dettori a farewell triumph. Last year’s winner Pyledriver was back as game and underrated as ever. Westover had boiled over and run riot in this race last year but was here fresh from a big win in France and strode powerfully round the paddock, mature muscle around his lengthy frame. And then there was Hukum. It was a miracle he was here at all.

For after taking the Coronation Cup last June he needed three screws to mend a fracture in his right-hind fetlock and as a Group One winning five-year-old the obvious course for owner Sheikha Hissa would have been to retire him to stud. But here he was, stalking the parade as the very epitome of the gleaming thoroughbred at its best.  It is not “after timing” to tell you that two separate judges besides this one made Hukum the paddock pick.

But looks don’t count when the gates slam open and the Ballydoyle pacemakers rush forward to try and make the pressure count. Pyledriver jumped out with them but was soon settled back in the second row as Point Lonsdale and Bolshoi Ballet did their “domestique” work with back up Luxembourg slotted in on the rail behind them.

At this stage all seemed well with Auguste Rodin, albeit Ryan Moore was on the outside of the pack from his widest draw. But even before Bolshoi Ballet rolled conveniently off the rail to allow Luxembourg through to take control, Moore’s wrists, then elbows then all body was urging Auguste Rodin. The “sculptor” had blown out in the 2,000 Guineas before making amends in the Derby. Moore soon abandoned a hopeless quest.

As we swallowed that moment the real race was gripping. Luxembourg had the lead but King Of Steel was after him, and Pyledriver and the others were swinging out to compete. King Of Steel took it briefly but Westover was with him and Hukum coming widest of all

King Of Steel is a magnificent great brute of a thing, 17 hands at the shoulder, 570 kilos on the weighbridge and just about the best middle distance three year old around. But he could not hold Westover and from the two-furlong marker the question was whether Westover could beat off the Hukum attack.

At the furlong pole Hukum looked sure to nail him. 100 yards out Rob Hornby thrust Westover’s lop-ears level again. But Hukum had him by a head at the line and a triumphant Jim Crowley could say “he never gave me the feeling he would settle for second best.”

Crowley, like his horse and its connections, is living proof of the strength of maturity and long term thinking. 20 years ago he was still a successful but midrange jump jockey with Harvey and Sue Smith while trainer Owen Burrows had been alongside King George winner Golan in his own earlier role with Michael Stoute. Yesterday the pair were at flat racing’s peak.

To nurse and nurture Hukum to this pitch is Burrows’ supreme achievement, just as the colt’s creation is a further posthumous tribute to Shikha Hissa’s father Sheikh Hamdan just a year after Hukum’s full brother Baeed scorched the tracks.

Now there is just one piece of unfinished business. The one star missing from yesterday’s line up was last year’s Derby winner Desert Crown, scratched with a minor infection a couple of days ago. He is on course to bow out in the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe this October. Hukum will be waiting. What a race that would be.

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