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By Anil Mukhi | 27 Jul 2018 |

Anil Mukhi

Due to global warming, this has been a hot summer everywhere. A prolonged dry spell in England has meant that the ground has been firm at racetracks around Britain, and Ascot is no different. That famous racecourse is the venue of the high point of the Summer, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Gr.1; 12 fur.), worth a total of £1,250,000 (about Rs.11.3 crores), which has drawn a compact field of 8.

Sponsored by QIPCO, the inter-generational test is due off at 3:40 p.m. BST (8:10 p.m. in India) on Saturday, July 28th, when a solitary three-year-old will tackle seven older runners. That representative of the 2015 crop is Aidan O’Brien’s Rostropovich (by Frankel), with Seamie Heffernan in the irons. Runner-up in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, the colt is some way short of the top flight amongst his compatriots – as can be appreciated from the fact that even with an 11 lbs. pull in the weights, he is available at 25 to 1 against. Unfortunately, the stable is under a mist, if not a cloud, as some of its inmates have been emerging with a “dirty scope”, which has precluded their participation. Kew Gardens (by Galileo) was the intended spearhead but fell victim to the “bug” and stays at home.

Fortunately, the four-year-old filly Hydrangea (by Galileo) from the same stable has hitherto avoided contracting the ailment and she is the mount of Ryan Moore, but even that tough sort is at 16 to 1. Presumably punters are taking no chances with any of the Ballydoyle stars until normal service is restored. Incidentally, Hydrangea is making her eighteenth career start but the first in open company, having faced rivals of only her own sex so far.

A surprise acceptor is the star four-year-old Cracksman (by Frankel), currently offered at 10 to 3. John Gosden’s high-class ward needs some give in the ground and has been left in only as a precaution, in case rain should materialize in sufficient quantities to alter the surface conditions. Precipitation has been forecast for Friday. In the event he runs, he will have a new rider astride as Frankie Dettori has been suspended for six days. Often employed by the stable, Robert Havlin would step in to the former’s very big shoes. It needs to be added that Cracksman has raced lazily at his last two starts, so even if he runs he is by no means a sure thing.

Gosden is double-handed as he also sends out the high class Coronet (by Dubawi). Denford Stud’s grey filly is quite talented, as she showed when just denied in the Gr.1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (2400 m.) over in France last time out, and would need only a slight step-up in form to be competitive. Bidding to help her achieve that degree of improvement will be veteran Olivier Peslier, who has ridden her before and is therefore familiar with her style of racing. What’s more she is a course and distance winner, having sealed a victory in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot last year. 12 to 1 could prove generous.

Those familiar with the Turf in England are well aware that when it comes to training middle distance stayers, Sir Michael Stoute is the name to rely on more often than not. He jointly holds the record in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes with five previous winners: Shergar (1981), Opera House (1993), Golan (2002), Conduit (2009) and Harbinger (2010) and would go clear of Maj. Dick Hern and Saeed bin Suroor if he annexed this prize again.

Like Gosden, he has a pair of runners here, both of which are good enough to triumph. Marginally better fancied of the Freemason Lodge duo is the five-year-old Poet’s Word (by Poet’s Voice), who demolished the hopes of supporters of Cracksman last time out on this very track in the Gr.1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes over 10 furlongs. On his way to earning £2,014,016 so far, Saeed Suhail’s proud possession has scored 6 times and been runner-up on five occasions from 15 starts. James Doyle, in excellent form at present, will take the controls on the 9 to 4 chance.

At 5 to 2 is Crystal Ocean (by Sea The Stars), who is my idea of the winner as (a) he has more scope for improvement, and (b) is coming off a course and distance victory. Unbeaten at his three appearances this term, most recently in the Hardwicke Stakes, Sir Evelyn De Rothschild’s four-year-old has been more consistent during his career than his stablemate, enjoying the fine record of 5 wins, 2 seconds and 2 thirds from just 9 starts. As regular pilot Ryan Moore is engaged elsewhere, Sir Michael has opted for the services of William Buick, who has the second-highest win percentage amongst “super-subs” (substitutes for top riders who are unavailable for one reason or another). Look for Buick to add to his winning rides on the likes of Masar and Blue Point in top events earlier this year.

That leaves Salouen (by Canford Cliffs), with Silvestre de Sousa, and Desert Encounter (by Halling), with Andrea Atzeni in charge, to round out the field. As they are at 33 to 1 and 66 to 1 respectively, their impact on the result is likely to be negligible, although the former cannot be ruled out for a place.

This far out, it’s hard to say how many will run in the £1,000,000 Qatar Sussex Stakes (Gr.1; 1 mile) at Glorious Goodwood next Wednesday (August 1 at 3:35 p.m. BST, 8:05 p.m. in India). The principal contenders have all held their ground and there is an exciting final entry, at the cost of £70,000, in the shape of Expert Eye (by Acclamation), which brings to 13 the number of acceptors, 8 of them being three-year-olds.

With Dettori enjoying an enforced holiday, courtesy of the Stewards, the unbeaten Without Parole (by Frankel) will need a new jockey and Gosden has tied up another Italian “knight of the pigskin” in the shape of Andrea Atzeni. The homebred colt has every chance of burnishing his already illustrious record and should start at around 2 to 1. His assistant trainer volunteered the information that "Physically he's done very well and he's still carrying quite a bit of condition. You'd be hard pressed to find a rib on him at the moment."

Aidan O’Brien has not enjoyed as much success in 2018 with Gustav Klimt (by Galileo) as seemed likely back earlier in the year, when he took his seasonal debut. Yet he feels that his ward will go well here on a track that should suit him better than Ascot or the Curragh. Ryan Moore is the likely pilot on the speedy colt, who will be making his sixth start of the campaign.

Juddmonte’s Expert Eye seemed to have the world before him when he won the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood at 2 a year ago. He then lost his way and it took all of Sir Michael Stoute’s considerable experience and skill to get him back to winning ways, which he did in the Gr.3 Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. Former retained rider to the outfit, James Doyle, takes the reins on the bay who would be worth millions with a Group 1 success on his resume.

Of the five older runners, Lightning Spear (by Pivotal) has the most appeal. David Simcock’s seven-year-old has been within sniffing distance of a Group 1 win at his last two starts and none would be more deserving should he prevail here. Oisin Murphy is expected to carry on his association with the chestnut. The runner who nosed him out in the Gr.1 Lockinge Stakes in May, Ballydoyle’s Rhododendron (by Galileo) has the tools necessary to prevail and cannot be ruled out.