Trump has put his foot in it – again – and there’s continued confusion as to what is happening in the Brexit negotiations. Basically, the past week in politics could have been any other in 2018.
So let’s leave all that to one side and instead focus on a fantastic weekend of racing in the sun. There’s a quality card at Ascot on Saturday in particular, and few flat races quite get the juices flowing quite like the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
This is one of the most revered renewals of the summer, with a hefty purse and the chance to join a list of outstanding former winners. Not only that, a chance to compete in the Breeders’ Cup – and a likely tilt in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for the winner – is also on the line.
So how is the 2018 King George shaping up?
This is the UK’s most prestigious flat race that is open to all ages of horse, and so it’s little surprise to see a rollcall of winners here that reads like a who’s who of the game.
Many renewals of the King George have served up epic spectacles too, with the best in the business going hoof-to-hoof over the famous track. With the lightning fast conditions expected at Ascot on Saturday, we might be in for another treat.
Nijinsky, Shergar, Lammtarra, Hurricane Run….those are just some of the horses that have taken the spoils in the King George. As has often been the case in modern times, the yards of John Gosden, Aidan O’Brien and Sir Michael Stoute typically vie for honours these days, and indeed between them this trio have landed the title on seven occasions in the past decade.
If you are looking for a smart connection then Michael Tabor is the leading owner in this race, and with victory on Saturday Frankie Dettori would have gone one behind Lester Pigott’s all-time record of seven wins; alas, the Italian is suspended after being found guilty of careless riding at Newmarket.
The great and the good of racing have taken to the track at Ascot, and it remains arguably the finest stretch of turf that the UK has to offer.
The King George is run over 1m 4f, and this Group One level field will all be aged three years or older.
What with the heatwave much of Great Britain has been experiencing – or summer, as it used to be called – the going at Ascot is frightfully fast, and it is expected that significant watering will be carried out by ground staff; unless, of course, the predicted thunderstorms come to fruition.
The Runners & Riders
There will be an eight-horse field take to the track for the 2018 King George, and while it would have been very nice to see Enable attempt to defend her title – and tackle stablemate Cracksman into the bargain – the filly is still working back to full fitness after injury.
If you flicked on Oddschecker on Thursday you would have seen the proverbial ‘sea of blue’ for Cracksman, which indicates a horse well fancied for the market. But will the likely firm ground – and the absence of regular jockey Dettori – prove problematic?
The favourite with the bookmakers is Poet’s Word, the rapid five-year-old who bested Cracksman on a quick Ascot track for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes back in June. Could he provide Sir Michael Stoute with his sixth King George winner?
Stoute has another well-fancied runner in Crystal Ocean, the Hardwicke Stakes champion who will have Ryan Moore on board.
Coronet won at course and distance to land the Ribblesdale Stakes, although her lack of Group One pedigree poses as many questions and answers.
And each way punters will be looking at Hydrangea as an option at 16/1. This is a classy operator, her last start aside, and she has placed in 11 of her 15 starts. Coming from the famed Tabor network, the omens are good.
The Smart Money
At his best, Cracksman is an outstanding horse that has the measure of all in this field, but some worrying signs recently – sneaking over the line as a 2/7 favourite in the Coronation Cup, losing out to Poet’s Word in the Prince of Wales – will be enough to convince some that their hard-earned cash is better served elsewhere.
About Poet’s Word….this is a horse that needs to be tested over 12f before punters can back him with full confidence, and so attention turns to Crystal Ocean.
Proven at the course, going and distance following that Hardwicke Stakes triumph, that was a fairly weak field but even so the Stoute stud completely outclassed those chasing him and stayed on well; hinting at an ability to cope with a higher tempo.
With question marks over his main competitors, Crystal Ocean appears to be the smart play at 5/2.