Nathaniel will bid to retain his King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes crown at Ascot today, but faces some mighty opposition in a simply mouth watering race.

If John Gosden’s four-year-old wins, he will be one of just three horses who have won the prestigious event twice, joining Dahlia (1973, 1974) and Swain (1997, 1998).

William Buick, very much the man of the moment, will once again take the ride and will be hoping that his mount will have improved since battling to Eclipse glory a fortnight ago. Connections felt as though their horse would come on for that season opener and with a fantastic record over a mile-and-a-half, Nathaniel is deservingly the market leader.

Royal Ascot form must be taken into account and Sir Michael Stoute’s Sea Moon won the Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal Meeting last month, beating Dunaden, who reopposes. Stoute will be attempting to become the stand-alone most successful trainer in the history of the race, currently sharing that accolade with Dick Hern and Saeed Bin Suroor, each having won it five times. Sea Moon is one of the smartest types of his generation, having improved at a rate of knots last year and continuing on an upward curve this season. Although connections fly Craig Williams out from Australia to partner Dunaden, a reversal of the Hardwicke form is doubtful. It is likely that Sea Moon will need to improve even more to win this, but such an improvement would be no great surprise at all.

Perhaps the biggest danger to Nathaniel could be St Nicholas Abbey, trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by his son Joseph. He came third in the race last year, before going on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf, beating Sea Moon in the process. He started this year well, finishing just a neck behind Cirrus Des Aigles in the Sheema Classic in Dubai. Last time in the Coronation Cup, this five-year-old was mightily impressive and if in that sort of form, he could take some beating.

It is difficult to see Masked Marvel reversing Coronation Cup form with St Nicholas Abbey, even with the ever popular Frankie Dettori aboard. John Gosden’s second string won the St Leger last year, but has been seemingly below-par since.

A horse who has beaten St Nicholas Abbey before is Danedream, who belied a big price to win the Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe at Longchamp last year. That performance would see her go close this afternoon. Meanwhile, another European runner, Reliable Man, could live up to his name. He was disappointing in the Arc last year, but has been performing well since, including when running a hugely respectable fourth in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes last time. That day saw him finish just three lengths behind superstar So You Think and a reproduction of that over this longer trip makes the French raider an attractive each-way possibility.

Three-year-olds have in the past had an excellent record in the Group 1 contest, but, despite Nathaniel’s win last year, horses aged three have struggled to win in recent years. There is only one three-year-old this year and he comes in the form of Japanese runner Deep Brillante. He will be an unknown quantity, but helps add to the real international flavour of this great race.

Brown Panther and Robin Hood complete the ten strong line-up for the race, which has a prize fund of £1million. It is scheduled for 4.35pm this afternoon.

James Muir

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