Dubai: They have both won the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes four times and now top trainers John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien go head to head in Saturday’s renewal of Britain’s most prestigious open-age race at Ascot racecourse.
Two of the last three runnings of the 2,400 metre contest have gone to Gosden’s super mare Enable, who is bidding to become the first triple winner of the race that was first run in 1951.
O’Brien first lifted the trophy in 2001 with Galileo, who has since gone on to carve a niche for himself as the greatest stallion in the world, and he repeated the feat with Dylan Thomas (2007), Duke Of Marmalade (2008) and Highland Reel (2016).
This year’s King George has an unusual, and somewhat diluted feel to it, with Gosden and O’Brien supplying all the horses — the Irish champion pitting his three top middle-distance gallopers, Japan, Anthony Van Dyck and Sovereign against Enable.
Although Japan looks the horse that poses a real threat to Enable’s bid for history, having finished behind the extraordinary mare on the two previous occasions that they’ve met, you can’t rule out the chances of both Anthony Van Dyck and Sovereign, going by the recent upsets in Britain’s big races, including the Epsom Derby which was won by rank outsider and pacesetter Serpentine.
With only four runners in the race, tactics are sure to play a big part and Gosden has the master tactician, Frankie Dettori, in control on Enable, who is expected to improve for her last outing defeat to Godolphin’s Ghaiyyath in the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park earlier this month.
“Enable can make the running or you can put her in the middle or at the back — you can put her wherever you want her. We’ll leave that up to Frankie,” Gosden said earlier this week.
“It will be tactically fascinating. We always have a plan in a race, but quite often you go to Plan B, which is a blank canvas. In this one, it’s a blank canvas at Plan A. I don’t see anything too sinister ahead. The horses up against us are ridden by gentlemen who ride for me a lot, too.”
Gosden acknowledged that this year’s King George has suffered a massive blow in terms of entries but spoke in favour of the non-runners.
“I think we’ve walked into a freakish year. It’s disappointing that other stables from England, Ireland, France and Germany can’t produce horses for the race, but the horses just aren’t there,” he said.
“Is it the breeding programme, is it the fact that some owner-breeders aren’t there any more, is it because there is too much emphasis on breeding for commercial speed? These are questions we could debate for hours.”
Meanwhile, reigning champion jockey Oisin Murphy expressed delight at being handed a ride in the great race.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be getting the leg up on Aidan O’Brien’s Anthony Van Dyck in the King George,” he wrote in his column on Sportinglife.
“Enable’s obviously a superstar, but Anthony Van Dyck ran very well when splitting Ghaiyyath and Stradivarius in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket on his reappearance, while the ground was probably a bit slow for him in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last time.
“He enjoys top of the ground conditions and he’ll hopefully get those on Saturday.
He’s a Derby winner and these are opportunities to treasure, so I hope I can make the most of it.”
At A Glance
What: King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Group 1)
When: Saturday, July 25
Where: Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire, England
Time: 6.35pm UAE
Prize money to winner: £226,840 (Dh1 million)
First running: 1951