Only four runners have been declared for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes behind closed doors at Ascot on Saturday – but frankly this latest leg of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge is really all about just one horse.
After successes in 2017 and 2019, magnificent mare Enable is bidding to become the first horse in the history of British racing’s midsummer showpiece to win the race three times as the 6-year-old returns to action after defeat on her seasonal debut – albeit over a couple of furlongs shorter in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, at the hands of Ghaiyyath, the world’s top-rated horse so far in 2020.
Known colloquially simply as the ‘King George’, the 1m4f contest is part of the Qipco British Champions Series. This year’s four runners represent only two stables, those of the champion trainers of Britain and Ireland in the shape of John Gosden (Enable) and Aidan O’Brien (everything else), who has whittled down his initial entry of six to three, though they include the winners of both the English and Irish Derbys from 2019.
That said, the race also lacks any 3-year-old representation during a season in which the coronavirus pandemic meant the Epsom Derby and Oaks were run a month later than usual.
For similar reasons, this is a cut-price King George, carrying a purse of only £400,000 compared to £1.25 million under normal circumstances.
King George: a bit of context
History: inaugurated 1951 to coincide with the Festival of Britain and intended to provide a midsummer championship clash of the generations, it soon became a natural target for Classic winners and top-class older middle-distance horses alike, won by a litany of greats, such as Ribot, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Shergar, Dancing Brave and Galileo.
Only three horses have won the race twice: Dahlia (1973, 1974), Swain (1997, 1998) and Enable (2017, 2019).
Star turn: Grundy (1975) – the dual Derby winner’s clash with the previous year’s St Leger winner Bustino has become known in popular racing lore as ‘the race of the century’. Grundy and Pat Eddery won after a fierce battle up the Ascot straight at the end of a lung-bursting race run at a furious gallop thanks to the runner-up’s trainer, Dick Hern, deploying two pacemakers. Five lengths back in thrid was the great Dahlia, seeking a hat-trick after wins in 1973 and 1974; also well adrift were Irish Oaks winner Dibidale and subsequent Arc hero Star Appeal.
Most wins (trainer): Sir Michael Stoute (6) - Shergar (1981), Opera House (1993), Golan (2002), Conduit (2009), Harbinger (2010), Poet's Word (2018).
Most wins (jockey): Lester Piggott (7) - Meadow Court (1965), Aunt Edith (1966), Park Top (1969), Nijinsky (1970), Dahlia (1974), The Minstrel (1977), Teenoso (1984)
Breeders’ Cup Challenge
The winner of the King George will receive an automatic fees-paid berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at the two-day championships at Keeneland on November 6-7. A minimum travel allowance of $40,000 will also be provided for all starters based outside North America; the Challenge winner must already be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup programme or nominated by the pre-entry deadline of October 26 to receive the rewards.
Already qualified (3): Nao Do Mais (GP Carlos Pellegrini, San Isidiro, Argentina), Lord North (Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Royal Ascot), Chrono Genesis (Takarazuka Kinen, Hanshin, Japan)
Breeders’ Cup past performance
Three horses have completed the King George/Breeders’ Cup Turf double – Daylami (1999), Conduit (2009) and Highland Reel (2016) – while both Fantastic Light (2001) St Nicholas Abbey (2011) were placed at Ascot before their Stateside successes. Neither of the principals in last year’s epic encounter went on to the Breeders’ Cup, and Enable did not run in the King George before her victory over Magical in a memorable clash at Churchill Downs in 2018.
Top contenders for 2020
Enable (John Gosden/Frankie Dettori) – sure to start odds-on after a promising display when said by her trainer to be only 85 percent fit on seasonal debut behind Ghaiyyath in the Eclipse three weeks ago; historic third victory in the Arc is end-of-season target but world champion mare looks strictly the one to beat here, despite having lost her two most recent races.
Japan (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore) – last year’s Juddmonte International winner looks Ballydoyle’s obvious first string and wasn’t far behind Enable in either the Arc or the Eclipse; now steps back up to 1m4f.
Anthony Van Dyck (Aidan O’Brien/Oisin Murphy) – yet to follow up last year’s Derby victory in seven races since and below form latest when well-beaten favourite on soft ground in Royal Ascot’s Hardwicke Stakes; better previously on faster behind Ghaiyyath at Newmarket.
Sovereign (Aidan O’Brien/William Buick) – front-runner was shock 33/1 Irish Derby winner in 2019 (beat Anthony Van Dyck six lengths, having previously been miles behind at Epsom); should improve for last month’s comeback effort at the Curragh and set to ensure proper test up front. Likely to make the running.
What they say
- John Gosden, trainer of Enable: “I didn’t want to push her hard for the Eclipse. I did try to tell people very clearly beforehand that she was not at 100 percent, She tired in the last furlong, but we were delighted with her run. The race has put her right and her work has been perfect on the Limekilns since. She’s been working with just one other horse, and I’ve let her lead a couple of works to just enjoy that for a change. She comes into this race in very good order. I still see her at her peak, maybe not quite the peak, but she’s trained beautifully for this.”
- Aidan O’Brien, trainer of Japan: “Japan’s had two lovely runs over a mile and a quarter this year. We’re looking forward to stepping him up to a mile and a half at Ascot, although that’s not to say he’s better over it than a mile and a quarter as he won the Juddmonte International at York over that trip. We think he’s progressed again since Sandown and we’re very happy with him ahead of Ascot.” (speaking to the Racing Post)