Poet’s Word primed to give Stoute a record sixth win in Ascot feature
Hydrangea and Rostropovich ready to lead somewhat uncertain Ballydoyle challenge
Wayne Lordan riding Hydrangea (L) to win The Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes from Winter at Leopardstown. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Aidan O’Brien is left to spin the wheel of Saturday’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes fortune with Hydrangea and Rostropovich as he tries to prevent his English rival Sir Michael Stoute landing a record sixth win in the Ascot feature.
Stoute’s hold on British racing’s midsummer highlight already looked tight considering Poet’s Word and Crystal Ocean have been swapping ante-post favouritism all week.
It’s 37 years since Stoute first won what used to be a definitive clash of the generations with the legendary Shergar.
Since then the race has morphed considerably in terms of elite three year old colts targeting it. Stoute’s capacity to dominate though is unchanged including when scoring an unprecedented 1-2-3 in 2009.
Such steadfastness contrasts with much of the build-up to this renewal. Cracksman’s participation relies on the fickleness of the English weather and enough thunderstorms to help ease the ground to his liking.
But that’s a pretty predictable dilemma compared to O’Brien’s.
Ireland’s champion trainer has outlined how some of his elite Ballydoyle string are battling a bug, a development made even more frustrating by how its seems intent on striking intermittently.
O’Brien has been saddling plenty of winners all week. However the dreadful effort of the two year old filly Goddess at Leopardstown on Thursday night showed how everything is far from firing on all cylinders.
Ballydoyle’s No. 1 hope for the King George, Kew Gardens, had to be ruled out on Thursday and, with normal service disrupted, O’Brien has a quandary in trying how to establish which of his team are ready to run.
Ryan Moore’s Ballydoyle commitments mean he has to leave Crystal Ocean to William Buick while James Doyle keeps the mount on Poet’s Word who upset Cracksman in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.
The Englishman teams up with Hydrangea whose own Royal Ascot effort was perhaps the one of poorest effort of her hugely gritty career.
That leaves Seamus Heffernan on the Irish Derby runner-up Rostropovich, the sole three year old in the race. The weight concession to three year olds has proved significant in the King George before and Rostropovich will thrive if the going stays very quick.
However only coming under pressure will truly determine if either O’Brien runners are in the whole of their health to try and become the 13th Irish-trained winner of this prestigious event.
That’s hardly an ideal state of affairs in which to be taking on Stoute’s pair. Poet’s Word broke his Group One duck last month and this race has always been Crystal Ocean’s prime target to try and manage the same.
Doyle’s big race cool was spectacularly underlined when the jockey won last weekend’s Irish Oaks on Sea Of Class. A similar late pounce could edge the verdict the way of Poet’s Word and give Stoute his record.
Gowran on Saturday is Ireland’s sole weekend card ahead of the Galway festival where ground conditions look set to break the pattern of the last six weeks.
The going at Ballybrit is currently “yielding” on the flat course and “good” over jumps after 17mms of rain fell at the track on Thursday. Up to 15mms more is forecast to fall before racing begins on Monday evening.
Monday’s €100,000 feature is the Connacht Hotel Handicap for amateur riders where champion trainer Willie Mullins could bring his 2016 Cheltenham festival winning mare, Limini, back to action.
Limini hasn’t run since Cheltenham 2017 and has never appeared on the flat for Mullins. However she was a triple winner on the level in France before joining him.
Mullins was last year’s Leading Trainer at Galway with a dozen winners and is a 1-2 favourite with Powers to retain the crown next week.
He won’t be represented at his local Gowran track on Saturday but Joseph O’Brien – a 2-1 second favourite for the festival’s trainer crown – will be focused on Waitingfortheday in a fillies handicap.
She is attempting to win a fifth handicap in a row this summer and is on an official rating of 86, over two stone higher than when her hot streak began.
Having won the first three by narrow margins she was arguably most impressive last time at Leopardstown. Waitingfortheday is topweight though and has to concede a lot to the course and distance winner Path Of Silver who has Ben Coen’s 7lb claim on her side too.