Amazing Enable toughs it out in thriller
The King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes has had a knack of producing great races and if Grundy versus Bustino, the 1975 vintage, was widely considered the race of the 20th century, yesterday's epic encounter between Enable and Crystal Ocean will surely be a contender for the accolade this century.
Races described as "great" beforehand rarely live up to the hype but this did in spine-tingling fashion as the two highest-rated turf horses in the world went stride for stride, never separated by more than a head, for the full two and a half furlongs of Ascot's straight.
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But John Gosden's mare, winning her ninth Group One race and her second King George, simply refused to lie down and, in the last few strides, the 8-15 favourite extended the margin of her superiority to a neck in a race that Frankie Dettori, the winning rider, described as the "hardest Group One race" of his career.
That was partly because even he feels the pressure and responsibility of riding what is essentially a national treasure and, unlike last month's Eclipse, which went like clockwork, for much of the race it did not go to script.
Drawn on the wide outside in stall 11, Dettori could not get Enable in and the only way to do that and save ground was to drop back. With Aidan O'Brien's string of three pacemakers setting a strong gallop for his Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck, in fourth, Dettori soon found himself third last instead of near the front where he usually rides her.
By contrast Crystal Ocean, the highest-rated horse in the world before yesterday, had a much better position in fifth, two off the rail and exactly where James Doyle wanted him.
But, crucially, by the time they swept round the phalanx of retreating Ballydoyle pacemakers into the straight, Enable was on her great adversary's hind quarters and when they straightened up, with one smack, Dettori had engaged the mare in battle - a manoeuvre that did little to improve the watching Gosden's heart rate.
From there on it was toe-to-toe, a proper heavyweight contest with no certain winner until the last 50 yards. "She headed me but I got back at her at the furlong marker," Doyle confirmed on the gallant runner-up, whose return to unsaddle was greeted by a cheer normally reserved for great winners.
Much has been made of jockeys going overboard with the whip at the end of valuable races but there was a first prize of £550,000 on the line here and, after that initial smack, Dettori never picked up his whip again because, as he pointed out, Enable kept responding.
"What hasn't she won?" he asked after winning the race for the sixth time. "We're on the road to Longchamp [where she will bid to become the first horse ever to win three Prix de L'Arc de Triomphes.] It was an amazing race.
"She is an amazing, extraordinary horse. She has the ability, she's courageous and she's uncomplicated. I love her and let's enjoy her. In all my career it's the hardest Group One I ever had. Now I deserve an ice cream."