Career -ending injury to St Nicholas Abbey makes Cirrus Des Aigles clear favourite for Ascot

Weather forecast even suits new marker leader for King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes

Cirrus Des Aigles was the clear market leader last night for the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday following the defection of the favourite, St Nicholas Abbey, who suffered a career-ending injury at Ballydoyle yesterday morning.

The six-times Group One winner fractured a pastern during a routine gallop at Aidan O'Brien's stable and will have surgery this morning. With his racing career now over, the owners John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith are hopeful their vets can save St Nicholas Abbey for a stud career.

A son of champion sire Montjeu, he was champion two-year-old in 2009 after winning the Racing Post Trophy and was strongly fancied for the 2,000 Guineas the following year, but could finish only sixth behind Makfi, and was not seen again until the following April when he was beaten at The Curragh.

He went on to further Group One glory in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, a race he went on to win twice more. Arguably his two greatest successes came in the Breeders' Cup Turf in 2011, and in March this year in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan.

Cirrus Des Aigles is now a best-priced 13-8 and is likely to start even shorter odds at the weekend if the forecast rain arrives. If reproducing his best form, and he is expected as usual to improve for his first run of the season, he would be a comfortable winner.

The German challenger Novellist is the new second favourite for the midsummer highlight and Johnny Murtagh, who has been in excellent form this season and was on board the Irish Oaks winner, Chicquita, last weekend, has been booked by the trainer Andreas Wohler.

Ryan Moore partnered the four-year-old to win the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud last time out, when Cirrus Des Aigles could finish only fifth. However, Moore will ride Michael Stoute's Hillstar, who was supplemented on Monday. William Buick is another who has ridden Novellist before but is likely to be required to ride for John Gosden at York on the same afternoon.

“We’ve booked Johnny Murtagh as there were question marks over the other jockeys we’ve used,” said Wohler. “The owner [Dr Christophe Berglar] didn’t want to be hanging around until the last minute, which is understandable, so we’ve booked Johnny. Now we have certainty and Johnny is obviously in really good form.”

Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum's principal jockey, Paul Hanagan, has surprised some by forsaking the King George and opting to go to York to ride the William Haggas-trained Mukhadram, allowing Dane O'Neill to come in for the ride on Roger Varian's Ektihaam, who slipped up on the bend in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.

"He's a solid horse and rides in these races aren't easy to come by," O'Neill said yesterday. "He did a light piece of work this morning, it was basically a leg stretch, and Roger was very happy with him. Since his mishap the last day, he's been fine at home."
Guardian Service