06/19/2017 3:16PM

Order of St George could be vulnerable in Gold Cup

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Mathea Kelley/Dubai Racing Club
Big Orange has never raced longer than two miles.

Order of St George is the odds-on favorite to win the Group 1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot on Thursday for the second year in a row, but the horse’s reputation at this moment appears to have outpaced his form, and if the Ascot course stays dry, Big Orange will have a chance at an upset.

The Gold Cup is the lone Group 1 on Thursday’s six-race Royal Ascot card that begins at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. The Gold Cup is the fourth race, post time 11:20, while trainer Wesley Ward’s very quick 2-year-old McErin could start the day with a win in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes.

Final entries for the Thursday card were to be taken Tuesday, but Order of St George long has had the 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup as his major early-season goal. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Order of St George was a smashing winner of the 2016 Gold Cup, easily staying the unusually long distance to post a three-length win over Mizzou.

“He’s a stayer with a turn of foot,” jockey Ryan Moore said last week.

Indeed, Order of St George has a good enough turn of foot that he was backed up in distance to 1 1/2 miles and managed to finish third last fall in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. But it’s what has transpired since the Arc that should give bettors a second thought about taking a very short price Thursday.

Order of St George finished only fourth of 10 on Oct. 15 as the favorite in the British Champions Long Distance Cup, and in his first start this year at age 5, he was beaten as the odds-on favorite in an 18-furlong race at Navan. Order of St George comfortably beat four rivals in a listed 18-furlong race May 26 at Leopardstown, and maybe he is back to his old self. But maybe he is not.

Big Orange has never raced beyond two miles, but a comparison of his 1 1/2-mile starts to his two-mile runs suggests that farther is better for this world traveler. Big Orange thrives on firm ground, and he came within a neck of Vazirabad, a horse close to Order of St George’s equal, in the 2016 Dubai Gold Cup.

The Norfolk will be contested at a distance 19 furlongs shorter than the Gold Cup, and McErin appears to suit the trip. The Ward-trained colt finished third, beaten a neck, in a six-furlong dirt stakes at Churchill last out but has shown brilliant early speed in both his races and might not be catchable on firm turf.

The other major races on the Thursday card are the Group 2 Ribblesdale for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/2 miles and the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes (formerly the Tercentenary) for 3-year-olds at just less than 1 1/4 miles.