Day of destiny for Aidan O'Brien's Order of St George
Named after a famous order of chivalry, Aidan O'Brien believes his horse will do the honours in Royal Ascot's showpiece Gold Cup, writes James Toney.
There is a joke from the famous television series Yes Minister about the initials GCMG, added to the names of the 100 or so recipients of the order.
It stands for God Calls Me God it is joked. But whether O'Brien's charge is entitled to such heavenly praise remains open to doubt.
O'Brien has heard the critics but remains steadfast in his opinion that his charge - whose Arc run demonstrated his blend of speed and stamina - will defend his Gold Cup title.
Looking to become the first horse since the legendary four-time winner Yeats to claim a renewal, Order of St George will be sent off an odds on favourite for the showpiece stayers' race.
But critics claim he was more exposed than the betting market suggests. After last year's victory he finished third behind stable-mates Found and Highland Reel - a winner in Wednesday's Prince of Wales's Stakes - in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
But he failed to deliver on the season-ending Champions Day and lost his first race this season, before showing improvement to claim his last engagement at Leopardstown.
"We've been happy with him all season and I'd say he was in a similar place to where he was when he won last year," said the Ballydoyle handler, who was won seven of the last 11 runnings.
"I knew he'd stay the distance last year and he saw it out brilliantly well.
"It's a very special race, it's one of the oldest races in the world and everyone loves to watch it and everyone wants to win it. You have to have a horse that stays but you also need a horse that is courageous, which Order of St George is.
"I never make comparisons but to win it for a second time with him would be very special. Yeats was a great horse who turned up year and year and he was just unbelievable."
However, Michael Bell - trainer of main rival Big Orange - remains bullish that history will not repeat itself.
They'd be few more popular winners than a horse with a big fan club, though the two mile four furlong trip is a new challenge for the double Goodwood Cup winner.
"I don't think Order Of St George is a Yeats," said Bell. "He's not stamped his authority on the race yet, although obviously he's high-class.
Big Orange is at at his peak at this time of year. If the ground is fast then he will run a huge race. You've got to hope and be positive and we couldn't be happier with the horse."
Meanwhile, Jessica Harrington is looking for a bit of history at she looks to add to her Gold Cup collection, having been triumphant with Sizing John at this year's Cheltenham Festival.
Rosemary Lomax was the last woman to train a winner of the race in 1970 and Harrington couldn't be happier with the form of Torcedor, who beat Order of St George in his season opener.
Another to lower Order of St George's colours is commentators' nightmare Sheikhzayedroad, who beat O'Brien's star charge to win the Long Distance Cup on Qipco Champions Day last October.
"He doesn't let us down very often. It looks a very good race but our horse is going well," said trainer David Simcock. "He's definitely the yard favourite and is in great shape."
Meanwhile, Sir Michael Stoute's filly Mori could deliver his trainer a 76th win at the royal meeting, which would make him the most successful handler in history.
Sired by the legendary Frankel, Mori steps up two furlongs from her wins at Ascot and Goodwood in the Ribblesdale Stakes.