09/26/2007 11:00PM

Excellent Art able sub for George Washington

EmailThe absence of George Washington from Saturday's $403,000 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot doesn't make the Group 1 mile any easier to handicap. In fact, his replacement, Excellent Art, has a better record this year than George Washington, the two-time European champion, and may stand a better chance of toppling the two favorites, Darjina and Ramonti.

William Hill took the bold step of installing Excellent Art as its 5-2 QEII favorite just minutes after trainer Aidan O'Brien had announced on Wednesday that George Washington was a doubtful starter. Other bookmaking firms were more conventional in making Darjina and Ramonti, the first two finishers in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp on Sept. 9, their first and second favorites.

Darjina has been a model of high-class consistency throughout her career, winning 6 of 7 starts, all for trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre. Her victories include a narrow score over Finsceal Beo in the French 1000 Guineas, after which she stepped up to beat older fillies and mares in the Group 1 Prix d'Astarte. Her only loss came on softish ground when third in Royal Ascot's Coronation Stakes over the QEII course and distance, an indication that Darjina may not care for the testing, largely uphill, right-handed Ascot mile. Christophe Soumillon has the mount.

Ramonti had George Washington back in fourth when he won the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes on Ascot's straight mile in June. He also scored a head decision over Excellent Art in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes on Aug. 1 but was beaten two lengths by Darjina in the Moulin, so Frankie Dettori may have to work some magic to get the Godolphin-owned Ramonti into the winner's circle.

What points out Excellent Art is his course and distance Royal Ascot victory against 3-year-olds in the Group 1 St. James's Palace Stakes. The stamina-demanding Ascot mile suits him, so he could be the one to back with Jamie Spencer in the saddle. His stablemate Duke of Marmalade, a neck second in the St. James's Palace, is a danger with Michael Kinane aboard.

Both two-time Group 1 winner Saoirse Abu and Group 3 Prix du Calvados winner Proviso look vulnerable in the Group 1, $403,000 Fillies Mile. Listen, an O'Brien-trained daughter of Sadler's Wells who was second to Saoirse Abu in the seven-furlong Moyglare Stud Stakes, will appreciate the added distance. Kotsi, recently a fast closing second in the one-mile Group 2 May Hill Stakes, should also be in the picture.