ASCOT, ENGLAND // Frankie Dettori is searching for his fifth victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes today, and Godolphin's first jockey is adamant that the 60-year-old Group 1 contest has lost none of its lustre.
Detractors have been queuing up to take a dig at Ascot's premier middle-distance test, with several publications pointing out that the French races of the Grand Prix de Paris, run nine days ago, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in the autumn have taken the gloss away.
Only five horses have made the line-up at Ascot today, headed by Workforce, owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; St Nicholas Abbey, who hails from Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard; Dettori's mount Rewilding, a colt who is quickly assuming the mantle of Godolphin's standard-bearer; Rewilding's stablemate, Debussy; and Nathaniel, the only three-year-old in the line-up.
"It is a great race and is one of the biggest races of the summer," Dettori said.
"We have last year's Derby favourite in St Nicholas Abbey, and Workforce has won two of the biggest races around in the Derby and the Arc. We're not too badly off with Rewilding, who has won the Dubai Sheema Classic and Prince Of Wales's Stakes. It's a great contest."
Rewilding staged the shock victory of the summer at Royal Ascot in winning the Prince Of Wales's Stakes over So You Think. Dettori was quick to point out that O'Brien's Australian import went on to beat Workforce in the Eclipse earlier this month.
According to Timeform, the respected English ratings service, both horses clocked the best performances among thoroughbreds in the world over middle distances this year. The organisation also rates the King George a better race than the Arc over the past decade.
Today's clash, therefore, must surely crown the best colt on the planet over 2,400m.
Dettori last won the King George in 2004, when Doyen held off the challenge of the American raider Hard Buck. The Italian is in the form of his life at the age of 41. Last weekend, his ride on Blue Bunting, when winning the Irish 1,000 Guineas, was inspired. His performance went some way to erasing the memory of dropping his hands on the filly when the pair trailed in fourth in the English equivalent at Epsom.
Despite widespread criticism there was one man who took defeat on the chin, the owner, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
"Of course, he is very competitive, but of all the people I know in racing he is the best loser I have ever met; he knows how to deal with it," Dettori said. "We don't see him as much as we used to, because his responsibilities are huge, but he is just as intensely involved with the training and still knows every result and what the horses are doing. At heart, he is a man who really loves his horses, and 17 years on I'm still with him."
With such a prize on offer, Dettori probably cannot afford a similar mistake today.