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Luca Cumani hoping Second Step can surprise

21 Jul 2016

Trainer says his King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes contender needs to put best foot forward

Second Step, right, will attempt to give Cumani another King George triumph. Picture:

Luca Cumani says his prospects of training a second successive King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner at Ascot on Saturday hinge on Second Step recapturing his best form.

The Newmarket-based trainer took the spoils with Postponed last year, a horse who was subsequently switched to the yard of Roger Varian.

Postponed was odds-on to successfully defend his King George crown until being ruled out by a respiratory infection yesterday.

“Unfortunately, horses are always prone to things going wrong,” Cumani said. “I’m sad for Roger that this is the case with Postponed, and that his hopes and expectations of winning a King George have been thwarted just a few days before.

“Now that Postponed is out it’s worth having a shot at. On form Second Step hasn’t got the best chance but his owner is keen to run and the horse is in good form.

“We hope he puts his best foot forward and runs a good race.”

Second Step won a Group One contest in Germany last summer and had an official rating of 118 at the start of this season, just 1lb inferior to the top-rated pair on Saturday – Dartmouth and Highland Reel.

However, his mark has dipped to 110 after a couple of below-par efforts this year. On his latest start he was fifth in the Princess Of Wales’s Arqana Racing Club Stakes at Newmarket, having previously filled the same position behind Postponed in the Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom.

“Ratings are subjective, it’s a question of somebody’s opinion,” Cumani said. “He has not been running up to that mark [118], but let’s hope he does on Saturday.

“There have been some excuses this year but he hasn’t been sparkling. He needs a strong pace and the favourites to underperform.”

Recalling his emotions of 12 months ago, Cumani said: “It’s a very happy memory. On the day I could not have been happier.”

The Queen also has a King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner to reflect on (the race is named in honour of her parents) although Her Majesty could be forgiven for being a little hazy about all the details as it was achieved in 1954 through Aureole, who had finished second the previous year.

Her French Oaks winner, Highclere, also finished runner-up in the 1974 renewal.

On Saturday, she will be represented by Dartmouth, who was supplemented for £75,000 on Monday and will attempt to give Sir Michael Stoute a record-breaking sixth win in the race.

“The horse is in exceptional form and the trainer has been delighted with his progress since Ascot,” said John Warren, racing manager for The Queen. “To race in Group One events you need to be genuine and consistent and the one thing you can definitely say about this horse is that he is genuine.”

Stoute added: “Dartmouth has kept improving. He started the year on 101 and has improved with every race (now 119). He is very consistent and will run a good, solid race on Saturday.”

Dartmouth provided the Queen with her first Royal Ascot winner in three years when landing last month’s Hardwicke Stakes by a head from Highland Reel.

The globetrotting runner-up, a grade one winner in America and Hong Kong trained by Aidan O’Brien, renews rivalry and will be ridden by Ryan Moore, who has already won five races in the QIPCO British Champions Series this summer.

O’Brien is also represented by Sir Isaac Newton, who won the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot last month and followed up in a Group Three contest at the Curragh eight days later.

Three-year-olds dominated the King George between 1975 and 1995 but, since then, only four have triumphed.

John Gosden has been responsible for two of them – Nathaniel (2011) and Taghrooda (2014) – and tries to repeat the trick with Wings Of Desire, who finished fourth in the Investec Derby last month after scooping the Dante Stakes at York.

He is a brother of Eagle Top and, like last year’s narrow runner-up, is owned by Lady Bamford. The champion trainer is also represented by the consistent five-year-old Western Hymn, who has done most of his racing over a mile and a quarter.

French-trained horses have won the King George ten times since it was first run in 1951, most recently with Hurricane Run in 2006.

A decade later, Erupt represents them and a reproduction of his best efforts last year – when not beaten far in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe or Japan Cup – would put him firmly in the picture.

Erupt is trained by Francis-Henri Graffard and indicated he was approaching something like that form when chasing home Silverwave in the Grand Prix de St-Cloud on his latest start.