Tony Calvin takes an early look at the King George and has a few pointers to give...
"But Crystal Ocean - with course form figures of 31221, including a neck second in this race last season - will give the filly plenty to think about a week on Saturday, and I am sure plenty will consider backing him each-way, and living with a small loss should he only placed again, which seems likely)."
Gearing up for the King George
As far as summer weekends go, this Saturday is pretty low-key - no races are on the exchange at the time of writing, but the Betfair Sportsbook have priced up a few - so it makes sense to look further ahead for our latest ante-post column.
Not too far in the future though, as the King George at Ascot on July 27 is the obvious race to target after plenty got their knickers (and boxers, or briefs, depending on their underwear of choice) in a twist last week after it was announced that Crystal Ocean is now highest-rated horse in the 2019 Longines World Horse Rankings on a mark of 127, with Enable only joint-seventh on 123.
Cue uproar on social media.
A "catastrophe", a "joke" and a "mockery" were just three of the phrases I saw bandied around.
Aside from the fact anyone getting worked up about what the handicappers think, need to have a word with themselves, simple mathematics dictate that the concept of Sir Michael Stoute's 5yo heading the ratings shouldn't be that hard to grasp.
Crystal Ocean was giving the filly Magical 3lb when beating her by 1 ¼ lengths in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, with the last-time-out 4 ½-length Ganay winner Waldgeist 3 ¼-lengths away in third (we will ignore Hunting Horn's proximity in fourth, as I don't want to get into that argument here).
I don't think Magical was at her best that day as she was never really going to my eye, but it is a fact that Enable only beat her by ¾ length in the Eclipse off levels, mirroring their Breeders' Cup Turf run last season.
So, it is pretty obvious who has put up the best effort of the King George-bound pair in 2019.
And it is worth remembering that Enable was getting 8lb when beating her main Ascot market-rival in the September Stakes at Kempton last term.
Looking into a crystal ball
So, looking at the King George betting of 4/6 Enable plays 3/1 Crystal Ocean (it is currently 1.768/11 and 4.3100/30 respectively on the exchange), then surely we should be all be lumping on the latter?
Perhaps, but ratings are but a mere guide, and there is little doubt that Enable has the sexier profile after 10 straight successes, and I was a very late convert to her ability after what I saw at Sandown on her reappearance.
Someone on Twitter pointed out that those set of consecutive victories have come at 10 different tracks, which included a course-and-distance win in this race in 2017, and that is remarkable.
Her Sandown win earlier this month certainly cannot be rated on a par with her Ascot or Arc triumphs in 2017, but you had to be very taken by her there. I was, anyway.
Read into John Gosden's "she was only at 85 to 90-per cent" fitness that day whatever way it floats your boat, but you came away from Sandown with the distinct impression that a return to her 2017 brilliance was in the offing.
But Crystal Ocean - with course form figures of 31221, including a neck second in this race last season - will give the filly plenty to think about a week on Saturday, and I am sure plenty will consider backing him each-way, and living with a small loss should he only placed again, which seems likely).
In fact, to be honest, Crystal Ocean, each way at 3s, is probably the bet in the race at this stage.
Don't underestimate AVD
It is 10/1 bar the pair on the exchange, and that brings in the Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck.
Running plans don't appear to be 100 per cent pinned down for Aidan O'Brien at this stage - he currently has seven of the 18 entries - but the Epsom winner appears the most likely horse pencilled in at this stage, possibly alongside fellow Classic-winning stablemate Sovereign.
Of course, AVD needs to get back on track after that his 6-length Irish Derby second to Sovereign, where all the jockeys bar Padraig Beggy on the winner and Seamie Heffernan on third-placed Norway came in for criticism for ill-judged rides from off the pace.
The time analysts give some credence to this stance but it was by no means conclusive from my take and the more I look at the race, the more I think it would be a big mistake to underestimate the winner, who was having just his second start over 1m4f after perhaps going too hard, too early, at Epsom after a less-than-ideal start.
Given his pedigree, the St Leger is a very viable option for Sovereign down the line, but I would mark him down as the number one Ballydoyle hope for the race if he turns up - Magical would obviously interest me if stepping up to 1m4f, but that appears unlikely, as does the participation of Sunday's Group 1 winner Japan - as they could have gone around again at the Curragh and Anthony Van Dyck wouldn't have got near him.
And, although, two Group 1 winners have come out of that Epsom race, I am not at all sold on how strong the form is. So perhaps the Curragh form is the 3yo Classic to focus on.
However, the fact that Sovereign's last-traded-price on the exchange is 85 (at the time of writing), suggests you may be better off holding all bets on him for now.
Coronation Cup winner Defoe has to be respected after his Hardwicke win, as does Coronet after her recent Group 1 success, but you struggle to see them mixing it with the top two, and Waldgeist is probably a better each-way angle at a similar price.
Granted, he was well beaten by Crystal Ocean last time and his record away from France now reads 0 from 6 - a blunt fact no doubt, but perhaps a fair and telling observation - but he wasn't ideally positioned at Royal Ascot after losing his position going into Swinley Bottom and last year's Arc fourth arguably ran a career-best when winning the Ganay in April.
Cheval Grand looks to be coming over from Japan but he is a 7yo now and the improvement he needs to find appears unlikely to materialise at this stage.
In summary, many will see the King George as Enable's to lose.
But I'd rather side with Crystal Ocean at 3/1 each way at this stage, given he will surely have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the frame.
Those who can't countenance that play should consider Waldgeist at 14s each-way with the Betfair Sportsbook - the race could well cut up to less than eight on the day - even though the win part of the bet isn't particularly appealing, I admit.
Good luck if you are having an early nibble on the weekend races, but not for me given the nature of the contests and the fact that running plans are seemingly hard to nail down, as a result.