Praying for rain: Cracksman would eat them alive if back to his best says Havlin
Robert Havlin predicted the Cracksman of his Champions Day pomp "would eat them alive" after getting called up for a surprise King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes challenge that is entirely dependent on significant rain falling at Ascot.
"If he did run it would mean there's ease in the ground and the Cracksman we all know from last year would eat them alive," said the 44-year-old rider, who has been handed the chance to claim the first Group 1 win of his career on last year's European champion.
A year ago Havlin helped saddle Enable ahead of her dazzling victory in the Ascot showpiece and had to watch the race as a spectator because he was serving a contentious six-month drugs ban.
But with Frankie Dettori now unavailable due to a riding suspension, trainer John Gosden's number-two rider will take over on Cracksman, provided forecast thunderstorms produce enough rain to ease the good-to-firm going.
Cracksman was the unexpected name to feature in an eight-strong King George line-up from which Kew Gardens was ruled out by a dirty scope, dramatically changing the complexion of Saturday's big race.
Gosden, who has also declared Coronet, said: "With thunderstorms forecast it made sense to leave Cracksman in the race. If there is sufficient rainfall the intention is to run him."
Havlin said: "It's a very exciting ride to pick up. Cracksman feels in great nick and he's in a good place.
"I ride him every day. I won on him first time out and I probably know him better than anybody. He was bucking and kicking this morning so I'm just praying for a bit of rain.
"He’s been freshened up and gave himself a tough race at Epsom, but it was a massive effort that day to come from the position he was in.
"At Ascot he had something in his head but he seems in a good place and we’ve freshened him up – he did have hard races at the start of the season and to me it feels like he’s back to his old self.
"Obviously he has got two and a bit lengths to make up on Poet's Word on fast ground, but on easy ground that is well achievable."
He continued: "Last year I helped saddle up Enable for the King George but it's nice this year to be riding something with a live chance if he takes part. It’s lovely that Mr Oppenheimer and the boss have got the confidence in me to put me up on a big day on a fancied horse."
Cracksman was cut to 100-30 (from 8-1) by Ladbrokes, who have Crystal Ocean 2-1 favourite with Poet's Word 9-4 – but that could all change.
Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes said: "If it rains tomorrow, Cracksman could easily challenge for favouritism. He went off a short favourite when beaten by Poet's Word last time and we can see punters keeping the faith. At his best, he's the best horse in the field."
Cracksman's owner Anthony Oppenheimer, former president of longtime King George sponsors De Beers, is in a similar position to three years ago when Golden Horn was ruled out of the King George on the day, on that occasion because the ground was too testing.
"We are dogged by this," he said. "We'll get there one day, perhaps this Saturday. I'd love to win it. We won it with Ile De Bourbon [part-owned by father Sir Philip]. We didn't breed him and it would be nice to win it with something we bred.
"There is a forecast for Friday that could bring a big amount of rain. He can't run on good to firm or firm but it seems fair to run him if it does change. We thought we would just see, and hope people appreciate he simply won't run if there is not proper rain."
Confirming the weather outlook Ascot clerk of the course Chris Stickels said on Thursday: "There's a risk of some thundery weather, a little tonight but probably more on Friday evening.
"As is the nature with thunderstorms it's completely hit and miss. We could get nothing while there will be a small risk of maybe an inch of rain. Our best guess is somewhere between two and 12 millimetres.
"The ground is good to firm. We have finished watering and will review the situation again on Friday. We can start watering in the middle of Friday night if we need to. If thunderstorms are likely it means watering is less likely."
Ground conditions were not a factor behind the omission of Kew Gardens, who appears the victim of a bug similar to that blamed for the eclipse of Irish Oaks favourite Magic Wand last weekend.
Aidan O'Brien, who instead declared Hydrangea (Ryan Moore) and Rostropovich, said: "Kew Gardens didn't scope 100 per cent clean this morning so we didn't declare him. We have a few horses not scoping clean and there seems to be a bit of a bug hanging about. Hydrangea seems fine and Ryan rides her."
Read The Briefing from 8.30am daily on racingpost.com with all the day's latest going, weather, market moves and non-runner news