07/24/2008 12:00AM

Distance a challenge for 'Duke'

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Duke of Marmalade steps into uncharted waters at Ascot on Saturday when the three-time Group 1 winner tries 1 1/2 miles for the first time in the $1.7 million King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

The 4-year-old Duke of Marmalade has established himself as the highest-rated older horse in Europe with victories in the Prix Ganay and the Tattersalls Gold Cup at 1 5/16 miles and the Prince of Wales's Stakes at 1 1/4 miles, but even trainer Aidan O'Brien isn't sure whether the son of Danehill and a Kingmambo mare will stay 12 furlongs. There is reason to debate whether he can get the job done on Saturday.

The biggest obstacle in Duke of Marmalade's path is Youmzain. Second in last year's King George as well as the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, both times to Dylan Thomas, he has split a pair of decisions with Duke of Marmalade's stablemate Soldier of Fortune this year, finishing second in the Coronation Cup before winning the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Trained by Michael Channon, Youmzain is the choice to outstay Duke of Marmalade.

Lucarno, winner of the St. Leger, is another who will get the trip, as he proved again last time when winning the Group 2 Princess of Wales's Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over Papal Bull, who is also in the King George lineup. Lucarno was, however, 7 1/4 lengths behind Youmzain in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and may not be quite up to the Group 1 level at 1 1/2 miles.

O'Brien will also saddle Macarthur, the winner over the King George course and distance of the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot. The 4-year-old Macarthur was, however, 1 1/2 lengths behind runner-up Youmzain when third in the Coronation Cup.

Ask, like Papal Bull trained by Michael Stoute, was a nose second in the Canadian International last year and won the 1 1/4-mile, Group 3 Gorodon Richards Stakes in his April return, but was only fifth in the Prince of Wales.

* Collection and City Leader, both considered possible starters for Arlington Park's Secretariat Stakes on Aug. 9, have been switched from Saturday's Group 2, $200,000 York Stakes to Sunday's Group 2, $627,000 Prix Eugene Adam at Maisons-Laffitte. Unless the ground comes up soft at Maisons-Laffitte, forcing his withdrawal, Collection will not run in the Secretariat. A decision concerning City Leader's trip to Chicago for the same race will be made after the Eugene Adam.

Arlington Million hopeful Hearthstead Maison will go in the 1 1/4-mile and 88-yard York Stakes.