By Andy Stephens
Ulysses has looked more a glider than a grinder in his races this term and clung on by a diminishing nose from Barney Roy in the Eclipse at Sandown this month, having previously finished a close third to Highland Reel in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot after looking the most likely winner when leading a furlong out.
The regally bred four-year-old trails Highland Reel 2-0 in their previous clashes - he also finished behind him in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf - and that is reflected by the betting. Highland Reel is a general 5-2, with Ulysses 9-1 in a market headed by dual Oaks winner Enable at a top price of 15-8 with Ladbrokes.
“In the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, maybe Ulysses thought job done when he hit the front, and we had to hold him up a bit more,” Alan Cooper, racing manager to the Niarchos Family, who own Ulysses, said at a media event hosted by QIPCO and Ascot Racecourse on Tuesday.
“Jim Crowley did that when Ulysses won the Eclipse but even then he said to me 'I would have liked to have been more patient'. As a horse matures, you learn more about him and what tactics he is comfortable with. A daring ride is the way it looks like.”Sir Michael Stoute is seeking a sixth success in the King George and, provided ground conditions do not deteriorate, is content to let Ulysses take his chance. "We're very happy with Ulysses, and as far as the trip is concerned, he won a Gordon Stakes and ran a very solid race at Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup Turf [when fourth] over a mile and a half.
"He's more settled this year, he relaxes better, so that will be to his advantage. I think the trip to Santa Anita did him a lot of good. I hoped that it would, and it did."
He added: "Highland Reel is a very admirable horse, and very, very tough to beat. But we go there hopeful. I hope there's not too much rain at Ascot. I just don't want the ground too testing for him, so we'll have to see how the weather behaves, but we’re hoping to run."
Chris Stickels, clerk of the course at Ascot, is hoping underfoot conditions for the £1.15 million showpiece will not be as soft as some were expecting.
He said: "We had 18 millimetres of rain between Friday night and Monday. Since then, we have been dry and this morning we were a mixture good to soft and soft. It is a nice, drying day so hopefully it will be drying out as we go on.
"There is a little bit of rain forecast tomorrow and we could get anywhere between one and five millimetres.
"With a bit of luck, we should be racing on good ground on Saturday. There is slight fly in ointment in that there could be a new rain band coming in on Saturday but that is unclear at the moment.
"Hopefully, if we get the bottom end of that one to five millimetres, we should have some reasonable ground."
David Simcock is believes testing conditions will give his Desert Encounter the best chance of causing an upset. The five-year-old is a general 20-1 shot, having produced a career-best performance to finish third on his Group One debut in the Eclipse.
Simcock said: "I'd love it if it came up soft as it would inconvenience a few of the others and we know he goes through it."
He respects Enable, but questioned whether she will be at her best just a fortnight after her latest Classic triumph at the Curragh.
"We all like to see good horses run in races like this. John Gosden did it with Taghrooda and Enable is fast-improving," Simcock told At The Races. "If I played devil's advocate, is it a bit too close to the Irish Oaks? We'll see."