07/25/2013 1:42PM

Europe: Cirrus des Aigles fitter for King George Stakes

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In an accomplished career that includes 13 stakes wins in 46 starts, Cirrus des Aigles can be forgiven for throwing in an occasional clunker.

When the 7-year-old Cirrus des Aigles finished fifth in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint Cloud in Paris on June 23, his first start of 2013, his trainer, Corine Barande-Barbe quickly forgave the loss. It seemed that Cirrus des Aigles was a little chubby.

“He had a little bit of a belly a month ago, but it’s gone now and he is probably more muscular compared to previous years,” Barande-Barbe said earlier this month in a press release.

That could spell trouble for his seven rivals in Saturday’s $1,629,450 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, England.

The Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is run over 1 1/2 miles on turf and is part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program, offering a fees-paid berth for the winner to the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita in November.

Cirrus des Aigles has been outstanding at Ascot in the past, winning the Group 1 Champion Stakes in 2011 and finishing second in the same race to Frankel last October. Troubled by a ligament injury over the winter, Cirrus des Aigles was beaten 4 1/2 lengths by Novellist in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud over 1 1/2 miles.

“I knew that he would need the run in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud,” Brande-Barbe said. “He lacked a bit of rhythm on that occasion and he was taking a breath just as everybody else was pushing and fighting.

“He is really coming into top condition now, and his work rider says that he has never been so sharp. He improved for his run at Saint-Cloud and improved with each piece of work afterwards. He has been really impressive.”

Cirrus des Aigles, a French-bred gelding by Even Top, inherited the role of favorite for the King George after St Nicholas Abbey suffered a career-ending pastern injury earlier this week while training in Ireland. Cirrus des Aigles was the 11-8 favorite with British bookmakers earlier this week, followed in the betting by Novellist (7-2) and Trading Leather (9-2).

Novellist, trained in Germany by Andreas Wohler, was a Group 1 winner in Italy last year and won his most prestigious race at Saint-Cloud.

“We have already believed in the horse, and he is proving it now,” Wohler said earlier this month. “He will have to improve a bit further to win at Ascot, but he will head there in great shape.”

“We have used a pacemaker for Novellist in the past because he needs a strongly run race, but he won’t [have a pacemaker] at Ascot because we think that there will be a good pace.”

There are two 3-year-olds that merit respect in Irish Derby winner Trading Leather and the rapidly improving Hillstar, who won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. Hillstar was supplemented to the King George for $114,750.

Strong field for York Stakes

The 2012 North American stakes winners Grandeur and Wigmore Hall are part of a strong field in Saturday’s $153,000 York Stakes over about 1 1/4 miles on turf at York Racecourse in northern England.

Grandeur, won the Grade 2 Twilight Derby at Santa Anita and Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Betfair Hollywood Park last fall, while Wigmore Hall won the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Stakes at Woodbine last September.

In the Group 2 York Stakes, they face a field that includes The Apache, second in the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan in March.