Aidan O’Brien says Anthony Van Dyck’s late withdrawal from the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is a blow to his chances of toppling Enable but that the blood-based decision was the right course of action, writes Will Jennings.
The thinly-cut Group One field at Ascot has now been reduced from just four entries to three, as 2019 Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck was declared a non-runner at the eleventh hour after Ballydoyle told the Racing Post they weren’t ‘100 per cent happy with his bloods’.
Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy was due to partner the talented four-year old, who stayed on well in the Coronation Cup to finish second behind Ghaiyyath before a fifth-placed finished in Royal Ascot’s Hardwicke Stakes.
But O’Brien revealed the surprise decision on Friday evening and admitted that although he was ‘disappointed’ the omission of his raider was the ‘right thing to do’.
That late scratch leaves just Japan and Sovereign as the two Ballydoyle mounts bidding to dash Enable’s hopes of a remarkable third King George crowning glory, having reigned supreme in the 1m4f feature in both 2017 and in last year’s thriller against Crystal Ocean.
Japan finished fourth in Ascot’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes before coming just a head behind Enable in third in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown – Ghaiyyath won that race – while Sovereign finished third in last month’s Group Three Vintage Crop Stakes at the Curragh.
The small three-pronged field will come as a surprise to many but should do little to diminish the spectacle on the famous Ascot terrain, as John Gosden’s marvel mare Enable vies to become the first horse ever to claim a historic treble of King George triumphs.
Another win in the Group One showpiece would move her above both Dahlia and Swain – also on two wins – as well as clinching a remarkable 11th Group One glory since her maiden top flight win in the Epsom Oaks back in 2017.
Since then, Enable has added two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes, one Irish Oaks and two Yorkshire Oaks victories to her glittering collection of triumphs, as she marked herself out as an undisputed middle distance great across Europe’s most prestigious Flat races.
2019 Juddmonte International Stakes winner Japan will pose the greatest challenge to Gosden despite the colt’s bumpy season so far, with prolific two-time race winner Ryan Moore on board just weeks after banging in an imperious third Epsom Oaks triumph on star filly Love.
And Sovereign reigned supreme in the 2019 Irish Derby so is no stranger to dealing with the big raceday pressure, being ridden by William Buick who guided Ghaiyyath to both Coronation Cup and Coral-Eclipse hegemony earlier this season.
The late scratching of Anthony Van Dyck makes this a two vs one, O’Brien vs Gosden, showdown and while Enable has the chance to become an indelible King George immortal, don’t write off O’Brien delivering one of his characteristic masterclasses and stealing the Ascot show.