History to be Made at Ascot with Enable – but with so few runners?

Trophy for The Winning Owner of the King George

This weekend sees the sixty-ninth running of The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. There are a few horse races every year throughout the world which are truly ‘iconic’, and this race is one of them. Even if you have absolutely no interest in horse racing, this race run over 1 ½ miles for 3 year olds and older for both colts and fillies, is one of the few which you will have heard of. Other races with similar boasts would be the Derby at Epsom, The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, The Melbourne Cup in Australia, The Breeders Cup in the USA and more recently, the World Cup in the UAE.

The King George, as it is colloquially called, is Britain’s most prestigious open/age flat race and is always run in mid-season in the second half of July. The race was the brainchild of the then clerk of the course at Ascot John Crocker Bulteel to amalgamate two races into one – The King George VI Stakes run over two miles in October for three year olds only (first run in 1946) and the second, The Queen Elizabeth Stakes first run in July 1948 over 1 ½ miles. The first time the two races came together as we know it today was in 1951. Ever since the first running, the race has always attracted the very best in bloodstock thus giving the winner an assured future at stud.

The biggest field for the race was in its first running when it was run to celebrate the centenary of the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace and had the title of The Festival of Britain in its name. The prize money was the biggest ever seen for a race with £25,322 to the winner. There were 19 runners, including three classic winners and six runners from France. The winner was the aptly named 3 year old colt Supreme Court. In 1952, Tulyar won the Derby and was the first of thirteen horses to win both the Derby and King George in the same year.

Aureole – Winner for The Queen in 1954. Courtsy Getty Images

Two years later, the ground was absolutely bottomless, and The Queen’s Aureole won, the only time She has won the race named after her Parents. In fact, Aureole’s win was in the slowest time ever for the race, winning in 2 minutes 44 seconds. He was also the first 4 year old to win. The fastest ever win was by a little heard of horse now, Novellist, the only German trained winner (Andreas Wohler)  in 2 minutes 24.60 seconds in 2013. The first foreign raider to win was in 1955 when Roger Poincelet from France won with Vimy.

The list of winners and owners for that matter reads like the ultimate who’s who of racing and there are far too many of them to mention here.

Dahlia – Twice winner for Nelson Bunker Hunt

However, there are some notable winners like Dahlia, who won the race twice in 1973 and 74. In fact, American owner Nelson Bunker Hunt was furious that his trainer Maurice Zilber from France entered the filly in the race as she had only run, and won The Irish Oaks only a week earlier. So furious was he that he told his trainer that if the horse won, he would forgive him, but if not – he would remove all his horses from the trainer’s yard. Maurice Zilber simply told Bunker Hunt to stop belly aching, get on a plane as it would probably be the only time he, (Bunker Hunt) would have the opportunity to meet the Queen! The filly recorded her first victory, and her second a year later was the fifth win for the legendary Lester Piggott, who won the race seven times. In more recent years, Frankie Dettori, the Ascot specialists has won it six times, but is still going strong so the Piggott record could well be broken.

Montjeu – first winner for Michael Tabor

The top winning owner with six wins is Michael Tabor with horses like Montjeu, his first winner, Galileo and Duke of Marmalade who won by a nose from a horse my wife and I bred, Papal Bull in 2008. In fact, the 2008 contest was one of the most exciting ever seen in the race. The two horses pulled away from the rest of the field about two furlongs from home and vied for the win the whole way to the line. 100 yards out, Papal Bull was in the lead and the Duke came for a last late challenge and on the photo finish, the Duke’s head was just in front on the nod. Devastating for us, but as breeders, even to have a horse good enough to run in such a contest was indeed an achievement and privilege. The other really close contest was in 1975, when Grundy won, beating Bustino in similar fashion. In fact some said of that race that it was ‘the best race of the century!’ The current trainer with the most wins is Sir Michael Stoute with six wins to his name, and several seconds including our own Papal Bull

There have been some iconic winners of this race, including Shergar, Mill Reef, the great Ribot for Italy, Nijinsky, Dancing Brave and Nashwan to name just a few. The only other horse to win back to back King George’s was Swain for Godolphin, but in just two days time, the wonder filly Enable will try to make more history and  be the only horse to win the race three times. She won it in 2017 and last year.

Enable -likely to make history this weekend

The declared runners for this year’s renewal can only be described as really disappointing with only four entered to run. Sponsored by Qipco once again, Enable faces three rivals for this year’s contest. There are only two trainers with horses in the race, three for Aiden O’Brien and one for John Gosden. So it is really the Gosden/Obrien show! Both John Gosden and Aiden O’Brien have won the race four times each. The three for O’Brien are all by Galileo. Japan, winner of the Juddmonte International in 2019, but not scored this term, Anthony Van Dyke, winner of last year’s Epsom Derby, but had not been in the winner’s enclosure since and his final runner is Sovereign, winner of the Irish Derby, but he too has not won since and in fact has only had one run!

Although the likelihood of Enable making history this year – she should win her third King George doing hand-stands, it is a travesty that such an iconic race should have been so poorly supported, particularly following the great history of the race as seen here. It is also likely that Frankie Dettori will equal the most number of wins to Lester Piggott. However, as there are so few runners, it is likely that the books will show that this was an historic race with Enable being the only horse to win three times, but it cannot be ignored that it may be also shown that considering the other runners, it was a rather forlorn event!

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