King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes: Stoute pair still dominate the betting

Poet's Word at Ascot racecourse
Will Poet's Word win again at Ascot?

Tony Calvin takes a fresh look at the big weekend race - but can he find any chinks in the armour of the Sir Michael Stoute pair at the top of the betting?

"I have a big problem with handicappers slashing the marks of top-class horses after a couple of below-par runs, and that is the case with Cracksman. The assessor has dropped him 5lb after his grinding Coronation Cup victory and his second to Poet's Word in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, and I just don't get the knee-jerk reaction."

I focused on the King George last week and nothing has changed much since, to be perfectly honest.

Well, that is not strictly true, as there is now very little in the betting between the Sir Michael Stoute pair of Crystal Ocean and Poet's Word.

In the past week or so, someone has been very keen to get Poet's Word in the book, consistently offering to lay the horse at 4/1+, to admittedly small sums, but that has all changed now and he is the marginal second favourite at 3.3512/5.

The market is changing all the time, though, so he could well be the jolly by the time you read this.

Trip a slight doubt for Poet's Word

I can understand why some people would want to oppose the horse - though perhaps not at those prices, given the potential lack of depth, and runners, in the race - as I am certainly not sold on his effectiveness at this 1m4f trip at this level just yet.

I have a big problem with handicappers slashing the marks of top-class horses after a couple of below-par runs, and that is the case with Cracksman. The assessor has dropped him 5lb after his grinding Coronation Cup victory and his second to Poet's Word in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, and I just don't get the knee-jerk reaction.

The reason why I mention this is that Poet's Word actually comes into the race as officially the top-rated horse in here off a mark of 126, as a result, and there is little doubt that he really announced himself on the big stage at Royal Ascot with that 2¼ length win from John Gosden's charge.

I was amazed that connections didn't send him for the Eclipse afterwards, as he would have won that race easily if reproducing his Ascot form, and I am slightly surprised that he is set to line up here.

His best form has all come over 1m2f, and his two starts over 1m4f leave me a little concerned as to his stamina at Group 1 level.

Yes, he stays 1m4f, but as we all know stamina is relative to the company you keep, and I thought he struggled to beat Second Step and Scarlet Dragon over 1m4f, in soft ground, at Goodwood last season, and he couldn't lay a glove on Hawkbill in the Sheema Classic.

Those two performances are some way detached from his best efforts - and he is by the miler Poet's Voice, too - though of course you can simply argue that he has improved since then, and he did look the real deal when winning here last month.

Crystal Ocean will stay

I think he is a more talented horse than stablemate Crystal Ocean, and that is hardly a controversial statement given that he is now 4lb higher than him officially.

But what you get with Crystal Ocean is a thorough stayer, and last season's St Leger runner-up got the job done when winning the Hardwicke.

No-one would say he was overly-impressive there though, and I can see why he has drifted from 7/4 to 9/4+ on the exchange in the last 48 hours.

Hard to find a reason to oppose Stoute pair

The problem for those looking to lay the Stoute pair is what will they have running for them come Saturday afternoon.

Potentially, very little.

It looks like Kew Gardens and Coronet are definite opposition - though second-guessing Aidan O'Brien at the five-day stage can be a dangerous business, as he makes late decisions after gauging their work and well-being in midweek - and the only other horse that looks sure to be at Ascot is Salouen.

Weather could claim some of the other big runs in the race.

I would certainly hold back if you fancy Waldgeist, and his current exchange price of 15.014/1 pretty much tells you that.

He looked a proper Group 1 tool when winning in the soft at Chantilly but was not as good when just edging out Coronet and Salouen at Saint-Cloud last time, though that may downplay the form a touch. And he was also beaten at odds of 4/7 on his sole Ascot start.

The problem with him is the ground - and unless Ascot over-water, the forecast suggests it will be rattling-quick - as he has never raced on anything faster than good in his 12 starts to date, and I am assuming there is a reason for that. Perhaps the trainer is mindful of the fact that he hurt his back in the Irish Derby last season.

Andre Fabre also has his half-sister and she has never raced on anything quicker than good to soft in her four starts to date.

Waldgeist clearly has to be respected if he runs but I'd say that was on the doubtful side at the moment, though his current odds of 14/1 suggest he is about 50-50 to run.

Hydrangea beat Bateel by two lengths over track and trip here in October, but that came on soft ground.

Both would prefer plenty of ease - especially Bateel, who is a serious mare on soft (she is another to have never raced on anything more rapid than good ground) - and Hydrangea has to come back from two poor efforts this season, too, albeit over shorter trips.

The aforementioned Cracksman is another who is surely unlikely to run - and his best efforts to date are over 1m2f on a slower surface, anyway - and it would take a hefty change of heart if Mark Johnston were to run Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee in these conditions. Still, Johnston isn't shy of running his horses, we all know that.

I'm not sure which of the O'Brien quintet will run, though Nelson looks a likely pace angle for the improving Kew Gardens, and Irish Derby runner-up Rostropovich wouldn't look out of place in the field, for all that form looks pretty moderate as Classics go.

Cliffs of Moher, Salouen and Coronet the long odds selections

I have been nibbling away at Cliffs Of Moher and Salouen at 33s each-way for the past 10 days or so, so I am hoping the race does cut and that pair run.

Coronet looks a solid each-way proposition at the current odds - she was only beaten a nose by Waldgeist last time and her previous York win worked out very well - and the only other horse I haven't mentioned so far is Desert Encounter.

I actually backed him at 50/1 when he was sixth in this race last season but, as encouraging though his second at Newbury over 1m2f was last Saturday, this fast-ground, course-and-distance winner won't be getting any of my speculative money this time around.

May be best to wait until race day before placing your bets

In summary, we are better off waiting until the day now. A couple of flash thunderstorms in this searing heat could change running plans and the complexion of the race - and pace angles - so I am happy to sit on my hands for now.

Or, rather sit out in the garden reading a book this afternoon, even if the Met Office is suggesting that I lock myself away under the stairs and out of sunlight.

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