07/22/2005 11:00PM

Azamour breaks 54-year-old record


Azamour defied his critics by not only staying the full 1 1/2 miles of the $1.24 million King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes on Saturday, but also breaking the 54-year-old Newbury track record for the distance while providing Michael Kinane with his fifth winning ride in England's most important middle-distance event.

A 4-year-old owned by the Aga Khan, Azamour came from last to first in a 12-runner field that included six winners of 18 Group 1 races. Although he had won going 1 1/4 miles at the Group 1 level in last September's Irish Champion Stakes and again last time out in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, Azamour had never before been farther than 10 furlongs.

With early leader and defending champ Doyen having regained the lead from Gamut at the three-eighths pole, Kinane asked Azamour the question and the response proved irresistible. He overtook a rallying Bago and a weakening Doyen to lead 1 1/2 furlongs from the line, ultimately recording a 1 1/4-length tally over 50-1 outsider Norse Dancer, who was just up for second by a short head from the 5-1 Bago. Doyen faded to sixth, 8 3/4 lengths behind the winner.

Having broken widest of all from gate 12, Azamour recorded a time of 2:28.26 on good to firm ground, eclipsing the old mark of 2:29.20 set by Vidi Vic on hard ground in 1951. It must be noted, however, that the best 1 1/2-mile races usually run at Newbury are merely Group 3 events. This year's King George was run at Newbury only because its regular venue, Ascot, is closed for the construction of a new grandstand.

Kinane added this King George triumph to previous successes aboard Belmez, King's Theatre, Montjeu, and Galileo. He told BBC Sport, "I never had any doubts about Azamour's stamina. He is an ultra-consistent, high-class horse."

Trainer John Oxx, who engineered Alamshar's King George victory for the Aga Khan two years ago, said that Azamour would defend his Irish Champion Stakes title at Leopardstown on Sept. 10 before going on to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Norse Dancer, runner-up in last year's Irish Champion, will try Azamour again that day, while Bago's plans call for a defense of his Arc title on Oct. 2 followed by a trip to Belmont Park for an as yet unspecified Breeders' Cup race.