Weblog: Approaching bloodstock from outside the box
Stats suggest Cirrus Des Aigles is worth opposing
ST NICHOLAS ABBEY sadly had to be withdrawn from the King George field and now the question is whether French raider Cirrus Des Aigles deserves to be called 'the one to beat'.
Looking at the horse's achievements you might certainly think so. He's a triple Group 1 winner and has beaten horses such as So You Think and St Nicholas Abbey in the process. There is no doubt this is a serious racehorse.
Is this however enough to regard him the main contender for Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes? If you ask the stats the answer is no. Here's why.
The King George took place first in 1951 and since then close to 90 per cent of renewals have been won by three-year-olds and four-year-olds. The race has seen five five-year-olds win the race and only once was it won by a six-year-old - that was when Swain successfully defended his title in 1998.
Never has the race been won by a seven-year-old or even older horse. Cirrus Des Aigles would be the first.
Then there's breeding. In the last 20 years, the race was won by 19 individual horses and 15 of them came from Northern Dancer sire lines. That's almost 80 per cent of King George winners. In the last ten renewals only one winner did not hail from the Norther Dancer paternal sire line.
Moving on to location. In the last 20 years only three winners were trained outside of Britain and Ireland. All three won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe before going on to win the King George, namely Montjeu, Hurricane Run and last year's winner Danedream.
When winning the race they had already proven to be top-class.
Finally there's gender. The King George has been won by fillies, colts, horses and mares but never by a gelding. Three of Saturday's contenders are geldings, including Cirrus Des Aigles.
If, based on the above trends, we eliminate all horses older than five, all horses from the continent that haven't won the Arc already and all that are gelded or who are not by Northern Dancer line sires, we are left with just three contenders - Universal, Hillstar and Trading Leather.
Let's start with Trading Leather. He's a three-year-old. Only two three-year-olds have won the King George in the last ten years. That's not a successful trend but one of those winners was Alamshar who, like Trading Leather, was trained in Ireland and won the Irish Derby too.
Then there's Hillstar. Also a three-year-old and by a Northern Dancer line sire. He hasn't won the Irish Derby but he has something in common with the other three-year-old to win the King George, Nathaniel. They both won the King Edward VII Stakes over course and distance going into the race.
Hillstar has one more check on his list: he's trained by Sir Michael Stoute, who has won this race four times already, two of them in the last four years.
Finally there's Universal. He's a four-year-old and he's by a Northern Dancer line stallion. One thing sets him apart from previous winners of the race. No winner in the last ten years ran more than four times that season before going on to win the King George.
Universal, however, has been heavily campaigned and has already run ten times this season having started his season in Dubai in January.
As far as stats go, it's Hillstar who has the most ticks next to his name. If you like stats, you might want to keep an eye on him this Saturday.