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Monday, 15 October, 2018

Big-race lowdown: key contenders and trainer views for the King George

Cracksman finishes second to Poet's Word at Ascot but the ground was against him and the form has worked out well
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3.40 Ascot
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored By Qipco) (Group 1) | 1m4f | 3yo+ | ITV1/RUK

Stoute aims for record with typical late developers

Victory for Crystal Ocean or Poet's Word would provide Sir Michael Stoute with a sixth King George triumph, edging him past Dick Hern and Saeed Bin Suroor in the record books.

The Newmarket maestro's fine touch with older horses has led to victories in the £1.25 million event for Shergar, Opera House, Golan, Conduit and Harbinger, and little separates his progressive pair, who are bidding to follow in their hoofprints.

Second in last season's William Hill St Leger, Crystal Ocean – the mount of William Buick – is three from three at Group level this term, readily justifying odds-on favouritism on his last start over the King George's course and distance in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot.

Stablemate Poet's Word also struck during Flat racing's most fashionable week when he gave Stoute a record-breaking 76th winner at the royal meeting in the Prince of Wales's. He has the assistance of the high-flying James Doyle in the saddle.

"Their preps have gone well and they have nice chances," said Stoute.

"Poet's Word has form at the track and should be suited by stepping up to a mile and a half. He's come out of Royal Ascot well and James Doyle knows him well. Crystal Ocean has progressed well as a four-year-old and he takes another step up the ladder. He's had a trouble-free prep and we're looking forward to it."

Crystal Ocean

Pros A typical stable improver who should have more to offer

Cons Yet to win at the top level and Hardwicke form not red hot

Poet's Word

Pros Looked better than ever when dismissing Cracksman last time

Cons Might be more dangerous over 1m2f in this grade

Chance for Hydrangea to bloom in Gardens' absence

With Grand Prix de Paris winner Kew Gardens an absentee due to an unsatisfactory scope, Aidan O'Brien relies on dual Group 1-winning filly Hydrangea and Irish Derby runner-up Rostropovich in his quest for a fifth King George.

Unsuccessful over a mile on her two starts this season, Hydrangea, on whom Ryan Moore will be seeking a third win in the race, reverts to a mile and a half for the first time since landing the Group 1 Fillies & Mares over today's course and trip on British Champions day in October.

Watch Hydrangea win at Ascot last season

The four-year-old will be attempting to become only the fourth filly of her age to win the event in the past 50 years after Dahlia, Time Charter and, most recently, Danedream in 2012.

O'Brien said: "Hydrangea seems in good form. Although she won a Group 1 over a mile last year, that trip might be a bit tight for her this season and she got a mile and a half well last year.  If there is ease in the ground it won't inconvenience her."

Rostropovich, the mount of Seamie Heffernan, lost out by half a length to Latrobe in the Irish Derby after making most of the running. O'Brien said of the only three-year-old in the line-up: "He ran a very good race in the Irish Derby and we've been happy with him since. The ground and the trip suit him well and he seems in good form."

O'Brien first won the event with Galileo in 2001 and has also been successful with Dylan Thomas, Duke Of Marmalade and, most recently, Highland Reel two years ago.


Pros A tough and genuine performer last season, winning Group 1s at a mile and this trip

Cons Career-best needed back up in distance after two defeats over a mile and quick ground probably not ideal. Might fare better at this level later in the season and there's a health question mark over some Ballydoyle horses


Pros Arrives here after a career-best effort in the Irish Derby

Cons Still has a fair bit to find to pose a threat to the protagonists

No rest for Desert Encounter

It is a quick turnaround for Desert Encounter, who was a respectable second last weekend in Newbury's Listed bet365 Stakes.

That followed a below-par effort behind Poet's Word and Cracksman in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, but the smart gelding has some fine form on his CV, including a third in last year's Coral-Eclipse.

Desert Encounter: gelding in action last weekend as well

Trainer David Simcock said: "He stepped back in the right direction at Newbury last week. This was never the plan – which was to go to Goodwood – but he's come out of the race well and we'll take our chance and see what happens.

"Maybe a mile four is better for him these days than a mile two, and he's adaptable with regards to ground."

Salouen remains at the top table

Salouen, agonisingly denied by Cracksman in the Investec Coronation Cup, takes aim at another of the calendar's major mile-and-a-half contests, and victory would be even sweeter for connections after that near miss at Epsom.

In between that and this, the Sylvester Kirk-trained colt was a solid third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

"We keep aiming at the highest level and this will be another big ask, but we'd rather take our chance at the top level again," Kirk said.

Coronation Cup replay

"It's frustrating not to have got his head in front for a while, but we'd probably only end up bumping into an improver if we dropped him in grade.

"Last time in France it was a muddling pace and turned into a bit of a sprint. We could have done with going half a stride quicker. Maybe that last run is as good as he is, but he's consistent and if he puts his best foot forward he should again be there or thereabouts."

Described as honest and genuine, Salouen has not won since his two-year-old season, but conditions at Ascot should not provide an excuse.

"Ground-wise he's versatile and they've looked after it really well at Ascot during the hot weather," Kirk added.

Coronet 'in the form of her life'

Fillies have won three of the last six King Georges and two of those have been trained by John Gosden, whose assault on Ascot's most prestigious race includes the classy Coronet alongside Cracksman.

A course-and-distance winner in last year's Ribblesdale at the royal meeting, Coronet came close to her first Group 1 victory when edged out by Waldgeist in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud four weeks ago.

Coronet: choice ride for Olivier Peslier

"Coronet is in the form of her life at present and has run two very good races this year," said Gosden, responsible for recent King George heroines Taghrooda and Enable.

"She's a course-and-distance winner and as an older filly she belongs in the race. She's pretty versatile as regards ground and Olivier Peslier knows her well."

You might also be interested in:

Fast ground forces Fabre to rule Waldgeist out of King George

Last year's King George result, replay and analysis

Gosden: Cracksman too laid-back and didn't have his mind on the job

We'd like to run Cracksman, but we're not going to run if we're not comfortable with the ground
E.W. Terms
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