Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel aim for racing immortality at Ascot

It’s the Race of the Season! Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel aim for racing immortality when they duel again at Ascot on Saturday 

  • Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel set for sensational rematch in the King George
  • Three-years-olds can enhance their reputation by wining at Ascot on Saturday
  • Trainers Roger Varian and Aidan O’Brien believe they have unearthed gems

Time moves on and fashions change but one indisputable fact of racing is that a three-year-old colt or filly cannot be described as truly special until it has beaten older opposition.

That is why what Derby 1-2 Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel can achieve in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot is one of the most fascinating aspects of the race of the Flat season.

Dismissing your peers only goes so far. You need more evidence before the crown sits comfortably on the head. It is a bit like the kid who dominates primary school sport’s day. He may be exceptionally talented but perhaps his classmates are a below-average bunch of athletes or less physically mature. Until the youngster takes on opposition from another school, it is impossible to put his ability in perspective.

Through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, a string of three-years-olds burnished their reputations with wins in the King George.

Nijinsky (1970), Mill Reef (1971), Grundy (1975), Troy (1979), Shergar (1981), Dancing Brave (1986), Reference Point (1987), Nashwan (1989), Generous (1991), St Jovite (1992) and Lammtarra (1995) is a who’s who of racing greats who were three-year-old King George winners. 

Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel set for sensational rematch in the King George at Ascot

Only six three-year-olds have won the race this century but among them are Galileo in 2001, who went on to become one of the most influential stallions the sport has seen, and the brilliant dual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable, who took the King George as a three-year-old in 2019 before winning it again the next year.

Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel, the only three-year-olds in the 11-horse line-up, certainly have some good yardsticks.

Their opponents include last year’s King George winner Pyledriver, the 2022 Irish Derby winner Westover and the Eclipse Stakes runner-up Emily Upjohn. But the noise coming out the camps of both horses has long suggested they think they have unearthed gems.

Auguste Rodin’s trainer Aidan O’Brien is not averse to publicly polishing the reputation of his horses — it makes good commercial sense for his Coolmore Stud backers — but the superlatives have arrived by the bucketload when he has spoken about his son of the Japanese champion racehorse Deep Impact.

If Auguste Rodin hadn’t put in the only below-par run of his career in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket over an inadequate mile, he would have his sights on the St Leger at Doncaster and becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky.

Back at a mile-and-a-half, he cut down King Of Steel in the Derby after his rival had poached a lead of more than two lengths, and it would be folly to read too much into his less impressive win from Adelaide River in the Irish Derby, described as a ‘messy race’ by his jockey Ryan Moore.

After Auguste Rodin’s Epsom win last month, O’Brien said: ‘I remember Ryan sitting on him in the February of his two-year-old year and saying, “This is very special”. He has ticked all the boxes all the way.’

Trainers Roger Varian (L) and Aidan O’Brien (R) both believe they have unearthed superstars

On the face of it Roger Varian-trained King Of Steel faces an uphill task but there are reasons for optimism. For one, his Derby run was his seasonal debut, a disadvantage against race-fit rivals, especially as King Of Steel is a giant of a racehorse who will not reach full maturity until next year.

Since Epsom, the son of Wootton Bassett has easily won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot over the same mile-and-a-half he will face on Saturday.

Jockey Kevin Stott said: ‘I have a lot of faith in my horse. To turn around the Derby form would be brilliant, but Aidan O’Brien is the master and, even though Auguste Rodin’s win in the Irish Derby wasn’t as visually impressive as his win in the English Derby, he is one of the nicest horses that Aidan has trained.’

Stott also stressed that the King George is no two-horse race. He is right, but if either of the three-year-olds wins, they will put their names alongside some of the greats of the sport. Their reputations will be set in stone.

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