07/26/2007 12:00AM

Time ripe for upset at Ascot


Ascot's midsummer centerpiece, the $1.5 million King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, is normally one of the four or five best races in the world. It has been cut up badly this year, however, as all three of Europe's major Derby winners - Authorized, Soldier of Fortune, and Lawman - are bypassing Saturday's 1 1/2-mile Group 1 contest.

And with soft ground or worse predicted, this year's renewal, which has drawn just seven runners, none of them 3-year-olds, could produce a surprise result.

Dylan Thomas is likely to go off the favorite, although his 3-2 price on Thursday was sharply higher than the 4-5 generally on offer last week. A son of Danehill trained by Aidan O'Brien, Dylan Thomas has never won on soft ground. He was just fourth in last year's Juddmonte International on good-to-soft footing and was beaten into second on good or good-to-firm ground in his last two starts, the Tattersalls Gold Cup and the Prince of Wales's Stakes.

His stablemate Scorpion won the St. Leger Stakes two years ago on heavy ground but is also one who prefers good going, as shown in his victories in the 2005 Grand Prix de Paris and last month's Coronation Cup.

Maraahel, a Michael Stoute-trained son of Alzao, is another who likes good ground or better. The winner of two Group 2's and four Group 3's, he has won the Hardwicke Stakes each of the last two years at Royal Ascot, but both victories came on good-to-firm ground.

Laverock won the 1 1/8-mile Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan last year on soft ground at Longchamp when he was trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias. Since purchased by Godolphin, Laverock, a 5-year-old son of Octagonal, has returned from an unsuccessful campaign in Dubai to finish 2o1/2 lengths second behind Papal Bull in the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket two weeks ago, but he is stepping up in class on Saturday.

Prince Flori may be able to take advantage of his rivals' distaste for the footing. Trained by Sascha Smrczek in Germany, the Lando 4-year-old won a maiden race going 1 1/4 miles on soft ground, the same terrain over which he won last year's 1 1/2-mile Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden. Third last time in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on good-to-soft ground, he has picked up the services of Jimmy Fortune, the leading rider at Royal Ascot last month.

Under the prevailing conditions, the 12-1 Prince Flori can become the first German-trained horse to win the King George. He is taken to add his name to those of recent winners Galileo, Daylami, Montjeu, Swain, and Lammtarra.