Enable goes for triple win in elite King George field at Ascot

Frankie Dettori will try to equal Lester Piggott’s seven King George victories

Just the three runners lining up for Saturday's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot underlines just how select Europe's middle-distance elite are.

Anthony Van Dyck’s late defection on Friday evening makes it the smallest King George field ever.

However, that one of them is Enable will still supply enough fascination for many as the superstar mare tries to become the first triple-winner of British racing's traditional midsummer highlight.

Her jockey Frankie Dettori will try to equal Lester Piggott's seven King George victories and his tactical battle against a pair of Aidan O'Brien opponents adds a layer of intrigue.


Nevertheless the concentration of top-class horses in so few hands is underlined by such a small turnout.

Not only that but what might have been Enable’s biggest threat, her old rival Magical, has been diverted by the Ballydoyle team to Sunday’s Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.

Magical looks to face a straightforward task against a handful of opponents including her stable companion Armory, the sole three-year-old to avail of the rescheduled €250,000 race being open to the classic generation in this unque year.

This weekend's biggest Group One field is actually in Germany where Joseph O'Brien's progressive four-year-old Patrick Sarsfield has a first start at the top level on Sunday.

That is in the Grosser Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen over a mile and a quarter, due off at 2.20 Irish-time.

O'Brien has engaged local jockey Adrie De Vries to ride the Meld Stakes winner whose half dozen rivals include the Godolphin pair Barney Roy and Spotify.

If the overall picture smacks of a tiny cadre of top-class middle-distance talent in the possession of an even tinier number of owners, spread too thinly on too many opportunities, there is still no disputing the King George’s position at centre-stage.

Some of her more mawkish press might be offputting but over three seasons Enable has proved herself a truly top-class talent possessed too of remarkable durability.

The ultimate goal of her fifth season in training is a record third Arc victory in Paris in October. But before she can complete a unique King George hat-trick, eclipsing both Dahlia and Swain who also won it twice.

On official ratings Enable has half a stone in hand and is widely expected to step up for her comeback run at Sandown when shading the race-fit Japan as they chased home Gahaiyyath.

Whatever the numerical aspect there’s little arguing with the quality of a race that also includes last year’s pace-forcing Irish Derby winner, Sovereign.

These are the type of older horses the King George is designed to attract and how the Ballydoyle team deploys them to best effect will be fascinating.

The question of ‘team tactics’ has cropped up once again this season in relation to O’Brien, including last month’s St James’s Palace Stakes.

The Irishman has always insisted each of his horses runs on his merits but even Anthony Van Dyck’s defection might not persuade some to dismiss such matters in a context such as this.

Enable's trainer John Gosden has plainly been unhappy in the past with tactics used in Enable's races, most notably in the 2018 Breeders Cup Turf.

He has already predicted a “tactical cat and mouse game” but downplayed the likelihood of anything “sinister” as he put it.

“I don’t expect to see a repeat of a Group One run there on the Saturday of Royal Ascot,” Gosden said. “I would have thought that we’re all above all that now, I really would. If I’m concerned about that going into a race, that’s not a good thing.”

Both Gosden and O’Brien are pursuing a fifth King George success. Dettori is after a seventh victory. But the most important number of all could yet be a record third win for Enable.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column