King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday
So far it’s been a relentlessly hot summer, and the heatwave continues with record temperatures expected across the UK. For a jockey it’s business as usual, and having spent a lot of time riding in places like Australia and Dubai, this hot spell doesn’t throw up many surprises.
And like the heatwave, the top quality Series action continues with the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes this Saturday. I haven’t picked up a ride in the 8 runner field, so I’ll be watching with intrigue to see who comes out on top.
The big surprise for many this morning was Cracksman‘s inclusion, given the doubts spoken about his liking for the forecast faster ground. Some still think he’ll come out before 3.40pm on Saturday, but I can’t see it. He’ll surely be lining up come race time and on his best form he’s right up there.
Sir Michael Stoute saddles two in his quest to win a record sixth King George. Crystal Ocean is the current market leader, but if I had the choice I’d be picking his other runner Poet’s Word. He has more pace than Crystal Ocean, and his run at Royal Ascot entitles him to go very close. I also don’t actually think that Cracksman ran badly in that race, Poet’s Word was just very, very good. He’d be the one I’d pick in the race.
Hydrangea is a tough filly who’ll be racing right up there on the pace. She’ll be getting a bit of weight from the boys, but even so I see it being too tough a task for her.
Speaking of tough tasks, my ride in the opener at Ascot, The Mackem Bullet, faces a particularly sharp exam. This race looks very competitive, and despite him improving with every run you’d think he might struggle to land a blow in a race like this.
My other ride Chessman might find things a bit easier however. He’s officially well handicapped , and we’ve been dying to run him in a handicap to take advantage of his mark. The 7 furlongs at Ascot will certainly suit him and we’ve been looking forward to this race for a while. Hopefully he’ll show us what he’s got.
Sylvester Kirk hopes his stable flagbearer Salouen can provide him with a spectacular first Group 1 triumph in the £1.25 million QIPCO-sponsored King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.
The mile and a half showpiece, which forms part of the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series, has attracted a final field of eight. It is a distinguished line-up with all of the runners having either won or been placed at the highest level.
Salouen carries the colours of Sri Lankan owner Rohan Balasuriya and Kirk is swift to acknowledge that the four-year-old colt is by far the best horse in his Upper Lambourn yard. That is reflected by the fact that he has won more prize money (about £130,000) this season than the other 34 horses (about £80,000) that the trainer has run so far.
“It gives the place a different feel when you’ve got a fellow like him knocking around,” Kirk said. “He gives everyone a lift and you could not wish for a horse who is more honest, genuine, consistent or easy to deal with.
“I’m so lucky Rohan has kept him with me. It’s an absolute pleasure to have one like him and it would be so good for the owner, not to mention horse, if he was rewarded for his loyalty and persistence.
“We keep aiming at the highest level and Saturday will be another big ask but we’d rather take our chance at the top level again. It’s frustrating not to have got his head in front for a while, but we’d probably only end up bumping into an improver if we dropped him in grade.”
Salouen was collared by Cracksman in the final strides of a dramatic Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom last month under his now regular rider, Stobart champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa, and the combination were beaten little more than a length when third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time.
“The Coronation Cup was wonderful and horrible rolled into one,” Kirk said. “I thought we had it won – it was a real mix of emotions. Last time in France it was a muddling pace and turned into a bit of a sprint. We could have done with going half a stride quicker. Maybe that last run is as good as he is, but he’s consistent and if he puts his best foot forward he should again be there or thereabouts.”
Kirk believes Salouen is versatile regards ground conditions and is inclined to overlook a below-par run at Ascot last season, when he was unplaced in the King Edward VII Stakes.
“He was dropped out in a slow-run race that day when it paid to be prominent,” he said “When the leaders kicked clear he could never get a shot at them. Ground-wise he’s versatile and they’ve looked after it really well at Ascot during the hot weather. I’d say it was nearly good ground there last week, which surprised me.”
Sir Michael Stoute is seeking a record sixth success in the race – Shergar (1981), Opera House (1993), Golan (2002), Conduit (2009) and Harbinger (2010) have been his previous winners – and has two strong candidates in Crystal Ocean and Poet’s Word, who dispute favouritism after their respective victories at Royal Ascot last month.
Crystal Ocean, owned and bred by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, extended his unbeaten sequence for the season to three by landing the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes. Ryan Moore, his regular rider, is required to ride by Coolmore and so William Buick, whose triumphs this year include winning the Investec Derby on Masar, rides him for the first time.
Poet’s Word had hit the post several times in Group 1 company before defeating Cracksman by two and a quarter lengths in the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.
John Gosden has won two of the past four renewals with fillies, Taghrooda in 2014 and Enable 12 months ago, and has declared Cracksman and Coronet. He said this morning that the former, a dazzling seven-length winner from Poet’s Word in the QIPCO Champion Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot in October, “will only run if there is sufficient rain”.
With Cracksman’s regular rider Frankie Dettori banned, Robert Havlin will take over in the saddle if the Frankel colt gets the green light to run.
Coronet, a grey daughter of Dubawi, was beaten a nose when splitting Waldgeist and Salouen in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on her latest start.
Aidan O’Brien has landed the King George four times, most recently with Highland Reel in 2016, and will also saddle two runners. The champion trainer runs Hydrangea, winner of the Group 1 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day in October; plus Rostropovich, half-length runner-up in the Darley Irish Derby.
Desert Encounter, sixth in last year’s renewal, completes the field.
is seeking a record sixth QIPCO-sponsored King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes triumph at Ascot on Saturday and has issued an upbeat bulletin about his contenders, Crystal Ocean and Poet’s Word, who dominate the betting.
“Both horses seem in good shape and their preparations have gone well,” he said. “They have both been in good form this year so, touch wood, we are happy at this stage.
“Crystal Ocean has won all three of his starts this year and he has won over the course and distance at Ascot . The ground may be fast, but he is actually impervious to ground.
“He comes from a very good Rothschild family and they seem to improve with age – good, honest horses.
“The win of Poet’s Word in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot would have been his best performance to date. He ran very well in the Dubai Sheema Classic too – he is effective at a mile and a half.
“He has been recording high levels of form and seems versatile in terms of distance. He has won at the track too and his preparation has gone well.”
The Newmarket trainer added: “It is a very high level race and is always competitive. My horses have decent form and are first and second favourite. They may not finish first and second, but they are entitled to be in there.
“William Buick will ride Crystal Ocean, who is usually Ryan Moore’s mount but he will be taken by Ballydoyle this weekend, while James Doyle will again be on Poet’s Word.”
The £1.25 million King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes forms part of the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series and Stoute also reflected on some of his previous winners of the race.
“Shergar (1981) gave us an anxious moment as he was short of room on the turn for home, but he still won impressively,” he said.
“Harbinger (2010) ran to his very best form – he was a serious machine that day. He kept progressing, from the Ormonde to the Hardwicke and then again for the King George. Sadly, he got an injury when we were preparing him for the Juddmonte.
“Opera House (1993) was a very good and solid performer. Conduit (2009) was a model of consistency – a sound and lovely horse who won two Breeders’ Cups.
“It was Golan’s (2002) first appearance of the year – that was a good feat – a Guineas winner from the year before and second in the Derby. He was a pretty decent horse, but probably did not get the credit he deserved.
“Some lovely horses in a great race.”
is relishing continuing what has been a season to savour after picking up the spare ride on King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes favourite Crystal Ocean at Ascot on Saturday.
With Ryan Moore – who has partnered the Sir Michael Stoute-trained four-year-old to victory in each of his three starts this season – required to ride in the mile-and-a-half QIPCO-sponsored showpiece for Aidan O’Brien, connections turned to this year’s Investec Derby-winning rider to partner the son of Sea The Stars.
The 30-year-old will get a feel for his mount, who claimed the Hardwicke Stakes over the course and distance last time out at the Royal Meeting, when partnering him on the gallops in Newmarket on Tuesday morning.
Buick won the King George, which forms part of the Middle Distance category of the QIPCO British Champions Series, in 2011 aboard Nathaniel and told Press Association Sport: “It’s a great spare ride to pick up. He is a lovely horse, with a very nice profile.
“It was something that was spoken about last week. It is nice to get the call-up for the King George on a horse like this. I’m riding him tomorrow morning on the gallops.”
He added: “He certainly looks to be very tough and genuine and an uncomplicated horse that gallops along very well in his races.
“It’s been a good season so far, but I’ve just got to keep going the next day and the next day after that. There is plenty of the season left and some nice horses still to ride.
“The King George is obviously a great race and is a midsummer highlight and it is nice to be included on a nice horse like Crystal Ocean. ”
Newmarket handler Stoute is bidding for a record-breaking sixth King George victory and will also be represented by this year’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner Poet’s Word, who will once again be the mount of James Doyle.
His Ascot victim Cracksman, one of two possible runners for trainer John Gosden alongside Coronet, was one of 14 to stand their ground at Monday’s confirmation stage.
O’Brien has five possibles, led by Grand Prix de Paris winner Kew Gardens, while Cliffs Of Moher, Hydrangea, Nelson and Rostropovich could also feature.
Sylvester Kirk’s Salouen went close to beating Cracksman in the Coronation Cup and ran a fine race to be third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud behind Waldgeist, and could meet Andre Fabre’s charge at the weekend.
Mark Johnston’s Investec Derby runner-up Dee Ex Be still has the option, with the potential field completed by Desert Encounter (David Simcock) and Bateel (Francis-Henri Graffard).