By all accounts, this year’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes looks to be a three horse race, and in news that will allow Sir Michael Stoute sleep easy tonight he trains two of them.
The legendary trainer has five King George winners to his name, and if he can take the spoils in Saturday’s feature race at Ascot then he will become the most decorated in this prestigious renewal’s history.
He will be hoping that the rain stays away for a few more days, however, as he knows that the firm and fast conditions suit his star pair – Poet’s Word and Crystal Ocean – much more than they do his main competition, John Gosden’s Cracksman.
The latter is a surprise inclusion in the eight-horse field given his penchant for soft ground, and unless there is significant rainfall or watering overnight you wonder if the 5/2 bookmakers’ favourite presents any value at all.
He was nowhere near his best in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, run on firm ground at Ascot, and many will be opting for his conqueror that day, Poet’s Word, at a more generous price.
Aside from this headline-making trio, there is very little to get excited about in a so-so edition of this fine race.
You Can Take This Poet’s Word to the Bank
There’s no doubt that Poet’s Word is a fine sprinter – as proven last time out in the Prince of Wales.
But this is a five-year-old with just one outing over 12f to his name so far, and a lack of experience at the trip must be something of a concern for connections.
He has won at the track, however, and has triumphed over 11f, so perhaps those concerns can be assuaged. Certainly, if the storms keep at bay Poet’s Word has the look of a King George winner about him.
“That would have been Poet’s Word’s best performance to date, in the Prince of Wales’s,” Sir Michael said. “The second [Cracksman] may not have been at his best, but even so, the others were a long way back. It was a good performance.
“He has been recording high levels of form and seems versatile in terms of distance – 10 or 12 furlongs. He has won at the track, too, and his preparation has gone well.
“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.”
Picture Less Than Crystal Clear
Crystal Ocean powered to victory in the Hardwicke Stakes back in June, and so has the advantage of course and distance to his name. He stayed on well too, and the four-year-old just offered a hint of future Group One success to come.
Stoute is bullish about his charge’s chances. “Crystal Ocean has won all three of his starts this year, and he’s won at Ascot over the course and distance,” he said.
“We ran him in the Leger last year – the owner-breeder was very keen and liked that idea. I didn’t think he’d quite get the trip and I think he didn’t quite get the trip. He looked like the winner all the way down the straight and just ran out of petrol. He’ll never go beyond a mile and a half again.”
“The ground may be fast, but actually he’s impervious to ground, so I’m not concerned about that.”
“He’s entitled to go and take his chance, for sure.”
The one concern is the absence of normal jockey Ryan Moore, who looks set to take the mount on Hydrangea instead. Could not affect Crystal Ocean’s chances in the King George?
Cracks Appear in Gosden’s Premier Pick
If it’s wet he wins, if it’s dry he doesn’t: that seems to be the general consensus regarding Cracksman.
The four-year-old cleared up in soft conditions in the Champion Stakes last October, and connections will be hoping for some heavy showers overnight to loosen up the Ascot footing.
“I’ll be turning up at Ascot with my umbrella and raincoat on – even if it’s 90 degrees,” said jockey Rab Havlin. “If will have to be on the easy side for him to run and, if it is, then the Cracksman we all know from the end of last year and at the start of this would eat them alive.”
Those are confident sentiments, particularly as there has been plenty of cause for concern for his backers of late. He only just got home first in the Coronation Cup, where he won by a short head as a 2/7 favourite, and then in the Prince of Wales he was completely bested by an in-form Poet’s Word.
And, lest we forget, usual mount Frankie Dettori won’t be on board; he is serving a suspension for careless riding at Newmarket.
With Cracksman unlikely to run unless a decent amount of rain falls between now and Saturday afternoon, it is perhaps better to focus our attention on the two Stoute entries.
With doubts about Poet’s Word’s penchant for 12f, and his possible struggles if the rain comes, arguably Crystal ocean is the smart bet at 5/2.
A proven all-weathers runner over the trip, the four-year-old looks ready to take the step up to Group One class.