07/19/2012 4:29PM

Europe: King George Stakes draws stellar field

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Nathaniel will be out to defend his title in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, but the group he faces Saturday at Ascot will be a far deeper one than he beat in last year’s edition of the 1 1/2-mile race.

Nathaniel was one of 10 horses declared during the final entry stage of a blockbuster King George, which is a Win and You’re In event for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The race also includes Danedream, the German-trained filly who crushed the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last year and who makes her first start in England; St Nicholas Abbey, the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner who is coming off an easy win in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Royal Ascot; Sea Moon, the 2011 BC Turf runner-up who just won the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes; Dunaden, the 2011 Melbourne Cup winner and a troubled second to Sea Moon in the Hardwicke; 2011 French Derby winner Reliable Man; and Japanese invader Deep Brillante, who won the Group 1 Japanese Derby in his most recent race.

Four-year-old Nathaniel, from the red-hot stable of trainer John Gosden, raced just once more last year after his King George win, turning in a subpar performance when fifth behind Cirrus des Aigles in the Oct. 15 Champion Stakes. He made a successful return to the races in the Group 1 Eclipse at Sandown, beating the talented Godolphin runner Farhh by a half-length, but will be asked to produce a performance at least as good running back just two weeks after that comeback race.

Four-year-old Danedream has yet to come anywhere near the performance level of her brilliant Arc win in three subsequent starts, though she can be excused her middling performance late last year in the Japan Cup. Of greater concern was her even fourth-place finish last month in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, which came a month after what looked like a useful comeback win at Baden-Baden in Germany.

Danedream’s Arc win came on lightning-fast ground, but she has also run to top form on the sort of soft going she is likely to encounter Saturday. While much of the U.S. wilts under drought, England is in the midst of an historically rainy spring and summer, and an already wet Ascot course could take more rain before the King George. Saturday’s conditions could work against St Nicholas Abbey, who has done his best running on firmer surfaces and racing counter-clockwise, the opposite direction of travel at Ascot.

Nathaniel appears to handle soft going, while Sea Moon has a win over heavy ground and Dunaden – a potential upsetter – has several high-class performances over soft French turf.

Command performance for Carlton House

Earlier on the card, talented 4-year-old Carlton House turns back to a mile for the first time since his 2-year-old season when he starts as the likely favorite in the Group 2 Summer Mile. Carlton House is trained by Michael Stoute for Queen Elizabeth II, who is expected to attend Saturday’s races.

Homecoming Queen retired

Homecoming Queen, who won the English 1000 Guineas by nine lengths earlier this year, has been retired, trainer Aidan O’Brien announced earlier this week. Homecoming Queen, 14th last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, turned in two disappointing performances subsequent to her surprising Guineas blowout.