07/20/2005 11:00PM

King George filled with questions


England's midsummer centerpiece, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, may have seen better fields in its 55-year history than the one that will line up at Newbury on Saturday, but rarely has it had one as closely matched, or one with so many questions hanging over the heads of its participants.

With $1.24 million up for grabs in the 1 1/2-mile Group 1 contest, the King George has drawn 12 runners for its first running away from Ascot, but the race is conspicuous by the absence of any of Europe's leading 3-year-old colts. Derby winners Hurricane Run and Motivator are being rested for an autumn tilt at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Three-year-old colts have won 11 of the last 20 runnings, but the only 3-year-old going postward this time is the filly Eswarah, the English Oaks winner. Trained by Michael Jarvis, Eswarah will attempt to become the first female winner of the King George since the 5-year-old mare Time Charter turned the trick in 1983, but her lack of experience - this is just her fourth career start - will work against her. She gets a 15-pound pull in the weights from her 11 older male rivals.

The names Bago and Doyen stand out among that group, but there are concerns about both. Arc winner Bago looked less than top class when third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time, while Doyen has been out of the money in three starts since winning last year's King George. The Aga Khan's Azamour, trained in Ireland by John Oxx, is the 5-2 favorite off his Prince of Wales's Stakes victory but has never been farther than 1 1/4 miles. Neither has the runner-up that day, the Aidan O'Brien-trained Ace, also running Saturday.

Last year's Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner, Gamut, had everything his own way when winning the Group 2 Princess of Wales's Stakes last time, but that won't be the case on Saturday, while Phoenix Reach, a Group 1 or Grade 1 winner at the distance in Canada, Hong Kong and Dubai, has never reproduced that form in Europe.

The Wildensteins have supplemented Policy Maker for $105,000. Second to Alkaased in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, Policy Maker is usually thereabouts, but he may find Grey Swallow more than he can handle.

Dermot Weld has been aiming Grey Swallow, last year's Irish Derby winner, to this race all year. In his return off a 7 1/2-month absence on May 22, Grey Swallow beat Bago in the 1 5/16-mile Tattersalls Gold Cup. Freshened and in form, Grey Swallow can prevail with regular rider Pat Smullen in the irons.