07/25/2008 11:00PM

Duke of Marmalade gutsy in King George win


Any doubts about Duke of Marmalade's ability to stay 1 1/2 miles were laid firmly to rest at Ascot on Saturday as he battled back under extreme pressure to win the $1.7 million King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Seemingly beaten when Papal Bull put a head in front inside the eighth pole, the odds-on Duke of Marmalade came again on the rail under Johnny Murtagh to pull a half-length victory out of the hat. The pair was nine lengths in front of third-place Youmzain, who lost at least that much ground by flubbing the start and was later hampered by Papal Bull as Papal Bull set after Duke of Marmalade.

Lucarno, who tracked the pace of Duke of Marmalade's rabbit, Red Rock Canyon, had nothing left in the stretch and weakened to finish 15 1/4 lengths behind in seventh. The time for the 12 furlongs on good to firm ground was 2:27.91, just .67 of a second off the course record.

Duke of Marmalade's victory confirmed once again just how dominant Aidan O'Brien and his Ballydoyle team have become in Europe in recent years. Not only was this was O'Brien's 14th Group 1 triumph of the year, it was his second King George in a row, as he had won last year with Dylan Thomas, and third overall counting Galileo's win in 2001. More to the point, it was Duke of Marmalade's fourth Group 1 victory this year, coming on the heels of wins in the Prix Ganay, the Tattersalls Gold Cup, and the Prince of Wales's Stakes, all of which were at 1 5/16 miles or 1 1/4 miles.

The way in which Duke of Marmalade won Saturday, however, will have the racing world buzzing for days. Sandwiched between the 14-1 Papal Bull and the rail throughout the final furlong, Duke of Marmalade found another gear after Papal Bull had brushed and headed him to snatch victory from defeat.

A run in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 5 would seem to be in order, and Duke of Marmalade, a 4-year-old son of Danehill, was quoted immediately after the King George as low as 5-1 for the big race at Longchamp, but O'Brien hinted that a step back to 1 1/4 miles for either the Juddmonte International at York on Aug. 19 or the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Sept. 6 could be his next stop.