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Enable faces ten rivals in star-studded King George

25 Jul 2019

Mighty mare faces world's highest-rated horse and Derby winner among others in Ascot's midsummer showpiece

Enable and her connections after landing the King George two years ago. Pic Steven Cargill/Racingfotos.com

Enable will face ten rivals when she attempts to reclaim her King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes crown at Ascot (3.40pm) on Saturday.

The QIPCO-sponsored £1,250,000 showpiece, run over a mile and a half and part of the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series, has attracted a star-studded field including Enable, currently on a 10 race winning streak; Crystal Ocean, the world’s highest-rated horse; Anthony Van Dyck, the Investec Derby hero; plus Defoe, the Investec Coronation Cup winner as well as Group 1 winners from Japan and France in the shape of Grand Cheval and Waldgeist.

Crystal Ocean, with an official rating of 127, is 2lb superior to Enable according to the handicappers and is unbeaten in three starts this term, putting up a career-best to beat Magical by a length and a quarter in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot on his latest start.

He finished a neck second to Poet’s Word, his now-retired stablemate, in a thrilling renewal of the King George last year, when James Doyle was aboard the winner. This time Doyle joins forces with the five-year-old, who will attempt to give Sir Michael Stoute, who has trained the QIPCO King George winner a record six times, with another victory in the race.

Doyle said: “I had a sit on Crystal Ocean on Friday – it was only a canter but I was very pleased with him. He’s a beautiful horse and seemed in great form.

“To pick up a ride in any Group 1 is pretty nice, but especially in the King George and on a horse who ran very close in the race last year. We had a great battle up the straight.

“He looks to be a very straightforward horse, tactically adaptable, who can race on or off the pace. He also seems to have a very relaxed nature, which is another plus. It’s a strong renewal and we know the challenge we are taking on. It won’t be easy but Crystal Ocean is a very solid horse and we’ll give it our best shot.”

Wondermare Enable has won her past ten races, when ridden by Frankie Dettori every time, and the eight Group 1 victories that decorate her glittering CV include a runaway QIPCO King George success two years ago plus two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe triumphs. Last year, she also became the first Arc winner to follow up at the Breeders’ Cup.

The decision to keep Enable in training as a five-year-old was vindicated when she was a decisive winner on her reappearance in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown this month, becoming the oldest of her sex to win the feature. Some suspected she might be vulnerable dropping in distance on her first start for eight months but John Gosden, her trainer, says her tactical speed and “incredibly strong competitive mind” represent formidable weapons for rivals to overcome.

“When she’s in the zone, she’s very determined and assertive. When you are around her you see what she wants to do and you very much go with the flow,” the champion trainer said. “Frankie [Dettori] will tell you that when she’s racing she’s straight out [from the stalls], alert and there for the jockey. He doesn’t have to ask her to do this, or do that.

“At Sandown, he straightened up on her with four to run and she wanted to go. He said ‘no, no, no, not yet, please, wait for the two-furlong marker’. To that extent she’s very enthusiastic and she loves her training and racing. That makes my job a whole lot easier.”

Given the depth of the opposition, Gosden believes bookmakers are being overly defensive in generally quoting Enable at 4/6 to extend her winning spree and take her prize-money earnings beyond £9 million. “I slightly feel the bookmakers are cleverly protecting themselves by quoting her at that price,” he said. “Frankie gave them a fright on Gold Cup day [at Royal Ascot, when he rode the first four winners on the day] and he’s a factor. I’d say she should be Evens.”

He added: “We couldn’t be more pleased with her but there’s great depth in the field. I’ve got enormous respect for Crystal Ocean and thought he was impressive in the Prince of Wales’s. He’s a wonderful horse who is a great competitor and then there’s a Derby winner in there, who we are conceding weight to, and a lot of other classy horses.”

Andrea Atzeni enjoyed victory in the race aboard the Sheikh Mohammed Obaid-owned Postponed in 2015 and will be hoping to repeat the trick, in the same silks, aboard Defoe, who won the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last month after earlier landing the Group 1 Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom. On both occasions he had Salouen and Morando, who reoppose, well adrift.

Roger Varian, his trainer, said: “He will have to go some to topple Enable and Crystal Ocean but he fully deserves to be in there and I’m sure he will run another massive race. Whether it’s good enough to win the QIPCO King George we will have to wait and see.

“He’s got to find a few pounds on the top two and it will be interesting to see how Anthony Van Dyck measures up against the older horses. Defoe only just does enough, but he’s solid, straightforward and can quicken. He’s fresh and holding his level of form. It’s a great race to be involved in.”

He added: “I’d love to have soft ground but we are not frightened to run him on faster going nowadays. In his two wins this year there has been the word ‘firm’ in the going description. That might have worried us before but it would appear as he’s got older he’s got much more versatile with regard to the ground.”

The last Derby winner to win the King George in the same year was the Aidan O’Brien-trained Galileo in 2001. This year, O’Brien attempts to repeat the feat with Anthony Van Dyck, a son of Galileo.

Anthony Van Dyck was a tenacious winner at Epsom but had to settle for second behind Sovereign, his front-running stablemate, in the Irish equivalent on his latest start. He will be joined in the line-up by stablemates Magic WandHunting Horn and Norway as O’Brien attempts to secure a fifth King George.

International spice is added by the participation of Cheval Grand, the 2017 Japan Cup hero, and this year’s emphatic Prix Ganay winnerWaldgeist. The latter, trained by Andre Fabre, was third to Crystal Ocean in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes last time and finished under two lengths behind Enable when fourth in last year’s Arc.