As someone new to racing in the last decade, it was interesting reading Tom Segal’s verdict on this weekend’s King George. There has been no flat race in the world that has competed with the annual quality of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in recent years, but Segal claimed that the King George was the original flat calendar showpiece.
Falling in the height of summer within the golden climes of Ascot, it is unusual that the race has lost ground on the French spectacular, whose weather conditions are much more variable falling in mid-Autumn. However, Longchamp has managed to appeal to a global audience and with such little time left in the season once the field crosses the line in the Arc, the winner’s connections can claim almost infallibly that their horse is the champion of the year.
To keep up, the King George has to engage with the same global audience as well as providing a stellar field from which you could reasonably claim the winning horse is the best on the planet. The 2019 renewal has both and looks set to be the pinnacle of the season.
While a fair few of these will likely contest the Arc too, and a couple of sleepers may also lie in wait for Longchamp, the principles at Ascot would make up the head of the market in almost any middle-distance, all-age race.
Obviously, Enable is the headline actress and so she should be. An exceptional winning machine, she has previous in both of these Group Ones, but it was in the King George that she first underlined her superstar credentials. Powering away by four lengths in the rain from an above average field as she did was an eye-opener to her true talent. She is one of few horses who have brought Ascot and Longchamp together recently: the first since Danedream to win both and the first to capture both in the same season since Dylan Thomas ten years before her.
Of course, both Workforce and Found were defeated in the King George before winning the French showpiece later in the year, but whether either were primed for the former as they were for the latter is debatable. Simply, the Arc meant more to their CV’s in their respective seasons. There is none of that this year.
Enable must preserve her unbelievable unbeaten run to remain in the Frankel/Sea The Stars tier of legends. Ridiculous as it is, to challenge among the upper echelons, she must keep winning, undisputed champion though she is.
It is likely that she will, but aside from last year’s Arc, when she was probably only 80% fit, and her foray to America, this is easily her sternest test to date.
Unlike at Kempton last September, she meets a fully fit Crystal Ocean, whose camp will be buoyed by their charge finally claiming his first Group One when he took the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. That victory over Magical, subsequently beaten by Enable in the Eclipse, ensured Sir Michael Stoute’s five-year-old is now the highest rated horse in the world. His consistency at the top level will mean he will test the other principles, but though Poet’s Word broke somewhat of a duck last year, five-year-olds have a poor record in this, something he and Enable must overcome.
Along with Taghrooda, Enable followed up an Oaks triumph by winning the King George, but Derby winners not only haven’t won this in the same season since Galileo, but haven’t run full stop since Workforce. As such, the presence of Epsom hero Anthony van Dyck adds extra seasoning to the already tasty dish.
His spark was dampened with a humbling defeat in the Irish Derby, but that race will remain a mystery for some years to come. Given conditions, he potentially performed perfectly admirably, but he has the Classic generation’s hopes resting on his shoulders. If he finishes down the field, his reputation will be in tatters given his receipt of 11lb and more from the principles.
Both Waldgeist and Cheval Grand have the dreams of their respective nations to burden, though are both are more than capable at the highest level, while Defoe’s recent victory in the Coronation Cup earned him an invitation to the Group One winners party. To maintain his new, uppish standing, he will have to continue to perform with credit and this is far tougher than his Epsom triumph.
Each of Salouen and Morando have won comfortably in Group company this season while Aidan O’Brien’s ability to find improvement out of nowhere has seen both two horses with Sovereign in the title earn healthy prizes for their connections. All of Magic Wand, Hunting Horn and Norway have furlongs to find, but there are few Group Ones run without multiple O’Brien inmates these days.
I recommend not having a bet. This is a race regaining its former stature and any money placed will detract from the splendour of likely battle. Sit back and enjoy a proper Group One in all its glory and embrace the winner knowing you haven’t lost a penny. For that winner, Arc or no Arc, will likely be the season’s ultimate champion.