One of the world’s greatest middle-distance races, the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes has been producing outstanding winners since its inauguration in 1951 when Supreme Court was the first to land the prestigious race that provides a clash between the season’s top three-year-olds and older star racehorses.
Run over the stiff Ascot mile-and-a-half with its testing uphill finish over the final half mile, it has been the source of some of the greatest races of modern times> Arguably no renewal is more renowned than the 1974 “Race of the Century” between Grundy and Bustino (see below), in which that year’s Derby winner, Grundy, got the better of a titanic struggle up the home straight with star four-year-old Bustino. Since then other memorable winners include The Minstrel, Troy, Shergar, Dancing Brave, Mtoto, Generous, Lammtarra, Swain, Galileo, Dylan Thomas, Nathaniel, Taghrooda, and last year, the superb filly Enable.
More than three weeks ahead of the big race itself on July 28, there are 34 horses still entered in the £1,250,000 contest, Britain’s second most valuable race after the Investec Derby. Eleven of those 34 are trained by Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien who has won the ‘King George’ four times in all, most recently with the tough as teak Highland Reel in 2016.
For a man who has dominated European Group 1’s like no other in modern times, it is surprising that despite his numerical strength in the race the shortest priced of the O’Brien battalion in the ante-post market at this point in time is Qipco 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior, a 12/1 shot with Paddy Power. He finished third last Sunday in the Irish Derby having been a disappointing fourth at Epsom four weeks earlier. O’Brien’s other 10 entries, headed by smart filly Hydrangea, are offered at 20/1 and upwards. Saxon Warrior may well prove to be at his best at 10 furlongs, so it would be a surprise if he takes his chance in this race against the best 12 furlong performers in the business.
Ocean Steady At Head Of Ante-Post Market
Sir Michael Stoute is enjoying a fine season and his highly progressive Crystal Ocean currently heads the betting list at a top priced 11/4 with Betfred. Stoute has won the ‘King George’ five times, first landing the spoils with the legendary Shergar back in 1981, and most recently hitting the target with the tremendously talented Harbinger in the 2010 renewal. Crystal Ocean, a four-year-old colt, is three from three this season having ended last term finishing a close second to Capri in the St Leger at Doncaster.
Owned by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, the son of the great Sea The Stars won the Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown in April on his seasonal reappearance, then slammed Second Step by six lengths in the Group 3 Al Rayyan Stakes at Newbury as he stepped back up to his optimum distance of a mile-and-a-half. It was over this distance at Ascot last month in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes that he easily accounted for Red Verdon, giving the impression there was plenty left in the tank.
Given his connections and the upwardly mobile nature of his racing this term, Crystal Ocean looks sure to go very well in the big race and is an intended runner, by all accounts. He looks a worthy favourite at this point, especially given the uncertainty surrounding the former market leader, Cracksman.
Cracksman Not Certain To Take His Chance
John Gosden’s Cracksman is an excellent racehorse who had won five in a row, including the Group 1 Prix Ganay and Group 1 Coronation Stakes this season, before meeting defeat at the hands of Poet’s Word in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot recently. He had made heavy weather of getting past Salouen on his previous start at Epsom, but appeared to have a genuine excuses having clobbered his head on the starting stalls just before the gates opened. But at Royal Ascot his regular rider Frankie Dettori never looked happy with the son of the legendary Frankel, and although he managed to fight his way to the front soon after the home turn he was readily left behind by Poet’s Word who scooted away to score by over two lengths.
“[He] is not the same horse as I was riding in the spring,” Dettori send on dismounting that day. “He was very lethargic and not the Cracksman I know.” Given such an observation it would be unwise to recommend backing Gosden’s star performer at the current best odds of 7/2 offered by Betway. Following his Ascot defeat he was dropped 5lb to a new mark of 125, still 3lb clear of Crystal Ocean, but he no longer has the dominant rating he had earlier in the season. You have to think connections are more likely to give this great horse time to recover and find his form again, especially with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe or the Champion Stakes being his targets this autumn.
Waxing Lyrical About Poet’s Word
POET’S WORD beat Cracksman fair and square in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes having gone into the race rated 11lb inferior. He travelled throughout like a high-class horse before easing away from the hot favourite from the two pole on his way to a comprehensive win in a more than respectable time.
Even allowing for the market leader not having run to his best, there is little doubt that Sir Michael Stoute’s horse is very smart, and he seems to be right on the top of his game this term having earlier defeated Laraaib in the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown with the minimum of fuss.
The official handicapper’s reaction supports that view, with Poet’s Word raised 7lb to a new career-high rating of 126 – 1lb ahead of Cracksman and 4lb ahead of stable companion Crystal Ocean – so the standout 7/1 offered by Betfair looks a cracking each-way opportunity – assuming he makes it to the starting line-up. The one question mark is the extra two furlongs this time, but the son of Poet’s Voice wasn’t stopping in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and has won at this trip in pattern company, taking last term’s Group 3 Glorious Stakes at Goodwood.
Derby Winner Masar On A Mission
The other major player in what could be a truly fascinating race is, of course, the Investec Derby winner Masar (which means ‘mission’ in Arabic), who we’re looking forward to see doing battle in the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown this Saturday. Assuming the Charlie Appleby-trained colt runs a big race there, he would have a reasonable three-week gap until the ‘King George’, although connections might choose to give him a short midsummer break and wait for the 10 furlong Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes at York more than three weeks’ later.
Masar hasn’t yet been given the credit he deserves for his comfortable win in the Derby, having finished a close third in the 2000 Guineas where he backed up a visually very impressive nine-length romp in the Group 3 Craven Stakes over the same course and distance. He has good speed and stays well, giving connections a myriad of choices going forward. I believe it is simply uncertainty about him taking part in this event that has contributed to the current top price of 8/1 with Boylesports about the Godolphin landing the spoils. If he does run, he will surely make his presence felt.
Best Of The Rest
There are a host of other potential players, depending on who does and doesn’t make the final starting line-up, among them recent Grand Prix de Saint Cloud winner Waldgeist, trained in France by Andre Fabre. He narrowly beat John Gosden’s talented filly Coronet in the French contest and both would not be out of place in this field.
Roger Varian’s Defoe had looked very progressive earlier this term over a mile-and-a-half and was outspeeded over a mile-and-a-quarter when only third to Lancaster Bomber in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh last time out. Back at his optimum trip he would be a fairly lively outsider.
The joker in the pack may be John Gosden’s unbeaten filly Lah Ti Dar, ante-post favourite for the Investec Oaks before missing the race due to a low blood count. She also missed the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot last month and it would be asking a huge question of her to tackle this race on only her third career start. She is highly regarded though, and if she recovers in time and works well it wouldn’t be the greatest shock ever if she were to get right in among them as she could potentially be very smart indeed. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s filly is a top priced 33/1 with Ladbrokes.
ADVICE: Poet’s Word (7/1 each-way with Betfair)
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.