October 2, 2023

Enable set for Crystal Ocean clash in Breeders’ Cup WAYI King George at Ascot

Enable limbers up at Newmarket on July 22, 2019 (Photo courtesy of Ascot release via Racenews)

European superstar Enable is odds-on to regain her crown in Saturday’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

But trainer John Gosden cautions it’s “no penalty kick” for Enable to extend her winning streak to 11. As of Monday’s five-day entry stage, her rivals include leading older male Crystal Ocean, Derby (G1) hero Anthony Van Dyck, and Japanese shipper Cheval Grand.

When Enable rolled to victory in the 2017 King George, she was a three-year-old filly receiving a substantial weight concession – 14 pounds – from the older males. Now as a five-year-old mare, the Juddmonte homebred gets just three pounds from the older males, and she must give eight pounds to the sophomore colts. Gosden cites the weight factor as a reason he thinks her price is too short.

“The betting industry has put her in at a price that says they don’t want people to be backing her,” the trainer said of her widely available 4-6 odds. “I don’t think the price is realistic of her chances, but I suppose they are just protecting themselves if she does win.

“Enable won the King George as a three-year-old filly getting weight, just as Taghrooda (2014) did. It is a little different when you’re older and suddenly you have a Derby winner coming at you who’s getting the weight, and a magnificent older horse in Crystal Ocean who ran a blinder last year and won the Prince of Wales’s S. (G1) well last month.

“This is no penalty kick, absolutely not. It is a really exciting race with a deep field. Obviously, Enable and Crystal Ocean set the standard and then you have the three-year-olds getting the allowances.

“Enable is up for it, but I just don’t think it is the formality that is indicated. I see her more as even-money shot against this field rather than the price she is.”

John Gosden discusses Enable at a press gathering at Newmarket July 22,2019 (Photo courtesy of Ascot release via Racenews)

The weight of history is another consideration. Unable to defend her title last summer due to a knee injury, Enable is trying to become only the third two-time winner of the Ascot showpiece. The great Dahlia (1973-74) was emulated by Swain (1997-98). Enable’s sire, Nathaniel, attempted to repeat for Gosden, but came up agonizingly short when denied by Danedream in 2012. If Enable can land a second crown, she would be the first to score in non-consecutive years.

Yet Enable is making a habit of making history. The first filly to turn the Oaks (G1), Irish Oaks (G1), and King George treble, she is the first to capture the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) over two different courses. Her 2017 coup came at Chantilly, while she scored the repeat at the newly redeveloped ParisLongchamp last fall. And her abbreviated 2018 campaign concluded with an historic victory over Magical in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, where she became the first reigning Arc winner to capture a Breeders’ Cup race.

Not seen again until the July 6 Eclipse (G1) at Sandown, Enable smoothly repelled Magical again, despite resuming at a 1 1/4-mile trip short of her best. Now she returns to 1 1/2 miles on Saturday.

“Enable has been in good form since Sandown,” Gosden said.” I thought she ran a lovely race there. Frankie (Dettori) had her in the correct position and she won with a bit in hand.

“The Eclipse is close enough (to the King George), but you are getting three weeks and hopefully that will be fine. She has just been doing routine work since Sandown. She worked on Saturday with Frankie on her. We were going to work on the grass, but we did not get enough rain so she worked on the all-weather. She seems happy and well in the face of what will be a tall order.”

Enable can call upon a powerful engine though, as Gosden noted.

“She has a great physique and a wonderful mind on her. When she came in as a yearling, the one thing that amazed me straight away was the depth of her girth and heart room. Frankie says that when she stretches in the final part of the race, he can actually feel his legs move as she gets lower and picks up. There are not that many horses he has felt that on.

“She is the best mile and a half filly I have trained, and what she has done has been pretty extraordinary.

“I think we probably have seen the best of her. She was good the other day and as a three-year-old. Hopefully, we can get through Ascot, then you have York (for the August 21 Juddmonte International [G1]) and the Arc. It is a big ask for any horse, but as you saw there, right now she is proud and happy within herself.”

Crystal Ocean, the clear second choice in the market, enters in the form of his life for the King George’s all-time leading trainer, Sir Michael Stoute. Always highly regarded, the son of Sea the Stars ended a promising sophomore campaign with a close second in the 2017 St Leger (G1). Crystal Ocean took a step forward at four and nearly won the 2018 King George, just outdueled by stablemate Poet’s Word as they pulled nine lengths clear of third.

Now a fully mature five-year-old, Crystal Ocean turned in a career-best last out at Royal Ascot, beating Magical to the punch in the Prince of Wales’s. That offers a neat bit of collateral form with Enable, interestingly also at a 1 1/4-mile distance for a horse who excels over further. Crystal Ocean has faced Enable once before, in her comeback in the 2018 September (G3) at Kempton, but his failure to give her eight pounds in a virtual match race doesn’t necessarily apply in the rather different conditions of the King George.

Andre Fabre sent out the last French winner, Hurricane Run (2006), and his Waldgeist was a better-than-appears third to Crystal Ocean and Magical in the Prince of Wales’s. Held up near the rear in a tactical race, the son of Galileo did about as well as he could to rally behind the top two. As a multiple Group 1 winner who looked awfully sharp in the Prix Ganay (G1) two back, and judging by the fact he went down by fewer than two lengths to Enable in last year’s Arc, Waldgeist has claims at a big price.

Cheval Grand’s sire, Heart’s Cry, furnished the best King George result by a Japanese shipper when third to Hurricane Run. Although Cheval Grand has some smart form in the book, it’s not quite up to the lofty standard of Heart’s Cry. Winless since the 2017 Japan Cup (G1), the half-brother to star fillies Vivlos and Verxina missed narrowly in the 2018 Tenno Sho Spring (G1) over two metric miles, placed third in the past two runnings of the prestigious Arima Kinen (G1), and checked in fourth to Horse of the Year Almond Eye in his Japan Cup title defense.

Note that Cheval Grand is taking the same path to Ascot as Heart’s Cry: his sire had not raced since capturing the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), and the son was likewise last seen on Dubai World Cup night when second to Old Persian in the same race.

“When Cheval Grand ran in Dubai,” trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said, “he took the traveling very well, so afterwards the owner (Kazuhiro Sasaki) decided that he wanted to target more overseas races. After the King George, we are also thinking about the Juddmonte International at York and possibly the Arc.

“Cheval Grand has been in England for one week. This morning is the first time I have seen the horse since he left Japan, and his condition is the same as it was before he traveled over.”

“Cheval Grand has not had many races for a seven-year-old and has a pedigree that says he will improve as he gets older,” Tomomichi added. “I don’t think his age is a problem.

“It was always the plan to give him a break after he ran in Dubai. There will be no problems with his fitness. Cheval Grand has the stamina and power. He is the best horse I have trained, but Enable is very strong, a machine.

“Ascot is a very tough racecourse and quite tricky compared to tracks in Japan, which is why we chose Oisin Murphy to ride because he knows everything about Ascot.”

Irish maestro Aidan O’Brien, a four-time King George winner, has declared his intent to start Epsom Derby victor Anthony Van Dyck, who rates third in the early betting. It remains to be seen how many of his other three entrants will be confirmed at Thursday’s final stage, with fellow three-year-old Norway, older distaffer Magic Wand, and her pacesetting sidekick Hunting Horn also left in on Monday.

Anthony Van Dyck is by the last Epsom Derby winner to garner the King George – the mighty Galileo – but he’ll need to step up to achieve the feat. A belated second in an Irish Derby (G1) stolen by the ostensible rabbit Sovereign last out, Anthony Van Dyck might not even be the best of his crop at Ballydoyle. Stablemate Japan, rushed to get to Epsom, flashed home for third and has taken giant strides since, making it at least an arguable proposition that he would reverse form with Anthony. That hypothesis won’t be tested for a while, though.

Magic Wand, who hasn’t won since her Ribblesdale (G2) romp at Royal Ascot 2018, has collected a series of placings including the Prix Vermeille (G1), Prix de l’Opera (G1), Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) to Bricks and Mortar, Man o’War (G1), and the Pretty Polly (G1) in her latest. She’s been expected to come back stateside this summer.

The Roger Varian-trained Defoe had been on the cusp of Group 1 glory before he was gelded, and the operation proved to be the making of him as he overturned Kew Gardens in the Coronation Cup (G1). The gray followed up by taking Royal Ascot’s Hardwicke (G2) over the King George course and distance, but runner-up Nagano Gold was arguably unlucky. Defoe thus still has a bit to find with the division leaders, as do Hardwicke also-rans Morando (fourth) and Salouen (seventh). Morando moves up in soft ground, but the forecast doesn’t envision rain to degrade the course conditions. Pace factor Salouen can throw in a big effort, as when he almost shocked Cracksman in the 2018 Coronation Cup, and when crushing lesser in the course-and-distance Buckhounds in May. But he’d probably need a new career high just to duplicate his fourth in last year’s King George.

Tragically, one top contender’s absence is keenly felt. Sea of Class, unlucky not to catch Enable from a poor post in last year’s Arc, was gearing up for a rematch here until felled by colic. Her racing career was over after undergoing emergency surgery, but hopes remained that she could survive the touch-and-go battle.

The sad news came Monday that Sea of Class has died. According to Racing Post, she was found to have a malignant tumor, her diagnosis of lymphoma making for a grave situation. A second tumor was discovered Monday, prompting connections and her veterinary team to make the decision to euthanize. Instead of looking forward to her taking on Enable again, we mourn her loss, and the nagging what-might-have-beens.

The final field, along with riding assignments and post positions, will be announced Thursday. Saturday’s post time is 10:40 a.m. (EDT), and you can watch and wager on the Breeders’ Cup Challenge event on TwinSpires.com.