An outstanding day of racing at Ascot on Saturday is headlined by the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, surely the UK’S most prestigious open-age race. We say open-age, but in truth it is anything but with 11 of the last 13 editions all won by four-year-olds.Is there anything in that? Possibly, but with slower conditions expected tomorrow if the forecast rain comes, perhaps the older horses will still have their say.
The list of former King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes reads like a who’s who of flat racing, with Nijinsky, Dahlia, Shergar and Galileo all taking the spoils through the years, and so we would expect a high quality horse to prevail once more.
It’s been more than two decades since the last entrant retained their King George crown, so can Highland Reel upset the history books and outdo the hot favourite, Enable, on Saturday?
Will Enable be Able to End Three-Year-Old Drought?
As mentioned, four-year-olds tend to rule the roost in this renewal, and that does not bode well for the three-and-a-half-year-old Enable.
Factor in that jockey Frankie Dettori has not won this renewal in more than a decade, and we can see that the cards are stacked against the favourite.
The going at Ascot on Friday was marked as good-to-soft, but with more rain in the forecast nobody would be surprised if this didn’t revert to soft come 3:30pm on Saturday. Again, Enable has never won on soft ground.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that this is an outstanding filly who has won four of her five starts, including the Cheshire Oaks and both the Irish and English versions of the Oaks; the latter of which by a comfortable five-length margin from hot favourite Rhododendron.
Quite frankly, none of the others in the field boast the quality of Enable, and if she shows a liking for the softer ground this could be a walk in the park for John Gosden’s steed.
There are unknowns and question marks, but quotes of 6/5 are more than fair.
Highland Fling for O’Brien?
The bookies will be hoping that the defending champion Highland Reel can come to the party.
The second favourite – available anywhere between 7/2 and 5/1 depending on your sportsbook of choice – is a dual Group 1 winner already in 2017, taking the Coronation Cup and Prince of Wales Stakes already this term.
But there are two warning signs: no five-year-old has won this race since Daylami in 1999, and Highland Reel has not won on soft/yielding ground in three attempts. That’s enough to put off most at a price that will surely be too short for an each way flutter come Saturday morning.
It’s certainly easy to be put off by Jack Hobbs (5/1) anyway, who finished dead last in his last start in the Prince of Wales’ Stakes. Yes, he was held up at the start of the race, but he could not make any headway from therein and was fading badly by the final furlong. Gosden’s second string in this race was priced at 2/1 that day, so a drift to 5/1 here is not substantial enough to be of interest.
Sir Michael Stoute is the joint leading trainer in this race with five wins, and his lead charge here is Ulysses, the enterprising four-year-old.
A winner over 1m 4f, the Irish horse has history at the distance and lurched back into the public eye with a fantastic win the Coral-Eclipse last time out – just pipping Barney Roy at the post and securing his followers a tidy 8/1 pay day.
The pace was ferocious that day, but over softer ground should slow to the extent that he can work his way into contention once again.
The main concern for punters is that in two of his last four starts he has tasted defeat at the hands of Highland Reel, but at 9/1 there is plenty of each way appeal in this ten-horse field (bookies paying 1/5 for 1-2-3).