Dubai: The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes is widely regarded as one of best flat races on the British calendar.
Not simply because it’s the country’s most prestigious open-age event or because it boasts a staggering purse of £1,250,000.
Run at the illustrious Ascot racecourse over a distance of 2,400 metres, the King George, as it is often referred to, represents the ultimate challenge of Europe’s top middle-distance horses.
No wonder its roll of honour includes some of the sport’s most famous horses including 1956 winner Ribot, who is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest flat racers of the post-war era, and 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and Eclipse hero Nashwan, who triumphed in 1989 for Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance.
The 1975 running, which featured a battling finish between Grundy and Bustino, is generously described as the “race of the century”.
So you get the picture.
Each year the build-up to the King George has captured the imagination of Europe’s facing fraternity.
But perhaps, not this year. Will it go down in the history books as a classic? I’m not so sure.
Ok, John Gosden’s dual Oaks winner Enable returns to bid for a historic third victory in the Ascot starrer, but what about the other runners?
How many are there, who are they?
A tentative field of eight horses are left in the race, with seven of them, yes seven, racing out of champion Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien’s Coolmore stable.
Seven against one. It’s like Roger Federer, the winner of 20 Grand Slam titles, being asked to take on seven opponents in a Wimbledon final.
Crazy as it sounds, that’s what I think Saturday’s King George has been reduced to — Enable, winner of the won the Cheshire Oaks, Epsom Oaks, Irish Oaks, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Yorkshire Oaks and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, versus an army of Irish raiders.
True, contenders such as multiple Group 1 winners Magical and Japan have every right to be in the race, as do the other O’Brien horses, including Sovereign, Anthony Van Dyck, Fanny Logan, Magic Wand and Sir Dragonet.
Will it make for interesting viewing, watching one horse face a battalion from one stable in a race that is sure to have very serious strategic implications, with pacemakers, red herrings, decoys … you name it.
Look what happened in the Epsom Derby last month. Serpentine, one of O’Brien’s intended pacemakers and least fancied of his six runners, absolutely ran away with the race. This Derby will forever be debated.
But please, don’t let it happen again in the King George!
O’Brien is a master of his craft and worthy of the 25 Classics that he has won and the four King George trophies he has collected with Galileo (2001), Dylan Thomas (2007), Duke of Marmalade (2008) and Highland Reel (2016).
It is widely known that his Ballydoyle Stable in County Tipperary is overflowing with talent given the highly prolific breeding operation that Coolmore Stud operates close by.
But O’Brien’s penchant for running many horses in big races has not gone down well with the rival stables and general racking fraternity.
If you’re given just one shot at a target while your competitor has more, it creates disturbing bias.
Just a few weeks ago it looked like a solid field was taking shape for the King George with Epsom Derby fifth English King, last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner King Of Change and 2019 French Derby winner Sottsass likely contenders.
However, their connections have chosen not to run for whatever reason.
While many experts feel Enable’s chances of winning the race have increased given the smaller field, the 11-10 favourite will still have to contend with the very dangerous Irish mob on Saturday if she is to become the first horse in history to win the King George three times, with only Dahlia and Swain winning the race more than once.