King George VI Preview: Gosden holds the key

There is Group 1 action from Ascot on Saturday
There is Group 1 action from Ascot on Saturday

Timeform's Ben Fearnley previews Saturday's King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes and picks out his best bet.

"She wasn't exactly hard-pressed to become the fourteenth filly to complete the Oaks double"

No three-year-olds contested the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes between 2005 and 2008 and, for the most part, it has failed to attract the very best of the classic generation since, preventing the race from being the top cross-generational middle-distance clash that it really should be. One man is single-handedly trying to change that, however. John Gosden sent Oaks winner Taghrooda to Ascot to take the race in 2014, and was all set to run his Derby winner Golden Horn in 2015 before the rain arrived. Gosden ran his Derby fourth Wings of Desire in the 2016 renewal - the only three-year-old in the field - but the race, won by Highland Reel, was still a substandard one (particularly concerning given that the ground was not an excuse that year). Gosden has another classic winner on his hands this year, however, and as a result the race is shaping up to be an excellent renewal.

Taghrooda was given a break after winning her Oaks and made her next start in the King George, but Enable has been set a more demanding schedule, having stopped off to win the Irish Oaks after her win at Epsom. She wasn't exactly hard-pressed to become the fourteenth filly to complete the Oaks double, however, looking in a different league to her opposition and winning easily by five and a half lengths. She tops the Timeform ratings for the King George (when including her age/fillies allowance) on the form of those wins, and is open to further improvement.

Royal Ascot-winning three-year-olds Permian and Benbatl may well run here, but the most likely dangers to Enable look set to come from the older horses, who are headed by last year's winner Highland Reel. Highland Reel bagged two top-level prizes in 2016, and has already matched that total in 2017, with wins in the Coronation Cup at Epsom and Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. He is very game and genuine and should put in a bold bid to defend his title, though the ground - predicted to be on the soft side of good - could well be against him. On the last two occasions he has encountered ground softer than good (the Irish Champion Stakes and the Dubai Sheema Classic) he has been below form, and the forecast ground must be a big concern for his supporters here.

The predicted going certainly won't be a barrier to Jack Hobbs, who looked right back to his best when he took the Dubai Sheema Classic on his 2017 return. He was disappointing in the Prince of Wales's Stakes (behind Highland Reel) on his next start back on quicker ground, and though he has won on a fast surface in the past, his problems with injuries since may mean that he ideally needs an easier surface nowadays. With the ground against Highland Reel, he could be the biggest danger to stablemate Enable if bouncing back to his best.

Ulysses finally made his Group 1 breakthrough in the Eclipse at Sandown last time but, given his high cruising speed, he was probably better suited by the muddling pace in that race than some of his rivals, and he'll need a bit more to get involved here. That can also be said for Hardwicke winner Idaho, who is now a dual Group 2 winner, but still lacks a win at the highest level. As well as Jack Hobbs and Benbatl, Godolphin may also run Princess of Wales's Stakes one-two Hawkbill and Frontiersman, though only the former has an early jockey booking at present. Hawkbill won last year's Eclipse on soft ground and could run well here, though with the quality near the head of the market it is hard to see him winning.

Enable has yet to face ground softer than good herself but there are strong signs in her pedigree that she will handle it (dam won a listed race with cut in the ground, while Enable's half-sister Contribution was group placed on good to soft), and overall there seem to be few chinks in her armour heading in to this year's King George. John Gosden seems to have a very strong hand overall, with Jack Hobbs looking Enable's biggest danger now returning to a more suitable surface.

Recommendation:

Win back Enable for the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes

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