As the stretch run unfolded in Saturday’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth S. (G1), Sir Michael Stoute was certain to celebrate a record sixth victory in Ascot’s midsummer showpiece. The only question was which of his pupils would do the honors: Crystal Ocean who struck the front first, or the rallying Poet’s Word? In an epic finish, Poet’s Word proved too strong for his stablemate, collaring Crystal Ocean by a neck with the pair nine lengths clear of Coronet in third.
The result was vaguely reminiscent of his breakthrough victory over Cracksman in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) here at the Royal meeting. Cracksman’s connections entertained the idea of a rematch in the King George, if the ground had more ease in it. But after overnight rain largely missed Ascot, trainer John Gosden deemed conditions too quick and opted to scratch.
The Stoute pair had already been at the head of the antepost market before Cracksman’s brief dalliance, and their support hardened in his absence. Bettors, like Stoute himself, had difficulty separating Poet’s Word and Crystal Ocean – the former in the form of his life, the latter long highly regarded and coming up to the race unbeaten this season. Perhaps it was Crystal Ocean’s profile as a 1 1/2-mile specialist that tilted the odds in his favor, and the four-year-old was dispatched as the slight 6-4 choice over the more trip-versatile Poet’s Word at 7-4.
Crystal Ocean appeared to be in the better tactical position for much of the running. Ridden for the first time by William Buick, taking over from Ryan Moore who was bound to Coolmore’s Hydrangea, Crystal Ocean was perched in third observing the hotly contested pace. Hydrangea’s stablemate, Rostropovich, went forward to wrest the lead from Salouen, and the duo did not spare themselves early. By upper stretch, they were spent, and the smooth-traveling Crystal Ocean pounced.
That ordinarily would have been the winning move, but Poet’s Word produced something special to thwart Crystal Ocean. Near the back of the pack in the opening stages, the son of Poet’s Voice still had work to do as Crystal Ocean cleared away down the lane. He set off in pursuit with jockey James Doyle, relentlessly reeled in the favorite, and refused to let him come again.
As the close-up shows, Crystal Ocean pinned his ears and attempted to fight back.
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) July 28, 2018
Coronet closed for third, four lengths up on Salouen who edged pace nemesis Rostropovich. There was a gap back to slow-starting Desert Encounter, and the off-form Hydrangea was another 10 lengths adrift in last.
Poet’s Word posted a fast final time of 2:25.84, a reflection of the rigorous pace on good-to-firm ground as well as the outstanding effort of Crystal Ocean in defeat.
According to sectionals guru Simon Rowlands, this ranks as the second-fastest time in King George history:
Fastest times for KGVI & QE (for info) are: 2013, Novellist 2m 24.60s, 2018 POET’S WORD 2m 25.84s, 2010 Harbinger 2m 26.78s, 1975 Grundy 2m 26.98s, 1985 Petoski 2m 27.61s, 2001 Galileo 2m 27.71s. Course relaid in 2005, of course. https://t.co/MKty2PRzKw
— Simon Rowlands (@RowleyfileRRR) July 28, 2018
Harbinger was Stoute’s most recent winner, lifting his trainer alongside Saeed bin Suroor and the late Dick Hern in the King George record book. Now that Poet’s Word ranks as his sixth King George hero, joining the ill-fated great Shergar (1981), Opera House (1993), Golan (2002), and Conduit (2009) who preceded Harbinger, Stoute stands alone.
Poet’s Word has made history for Stoute twice in a row. His Prince of Wales’s handed Stoute a record 76th win at Royal Ascot. Like the Prince of Wales’s, the King George is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), so Poet’s Word has a gilt-edged invitation to Churchill Downs.
“It’s a joy to train those two colts,” says Sir Michael Stoute of Poet’s Word and Crystal Ocean.
No plans yet for the pair
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) July 28, 2018
“He’s such a genuine warrior,” says man-of-the-moment James Doyle of his King George winner Poet’s Word
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) July 28, 2018
Poet’s Word is a textbook case of Stoute’s knack for bringing his older horses to new heights. Kept in handicaps at three, the Saeed Suhail colorbearer was ready for Group action at four in 2017. After a fast-finishing second in his Huxley (G3) stakes debut, he scored in the Glorious (G3) at Goodwood and continued progressing when runner-up in the Irish Champion (G1) and Champion (G1). A trip to Sha Tin last December for the Hong Kong Cup (G1) didn’t pan out, resulting in a sixth from a wide draw, and he couldn’t catch Hawkbill in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night. But Poet’s Word has been invincible ever since, landing the Brigadier Gerard (G3) at Sandown en route to his Ascot double.
Bred by Woodcote Stud in Ireland, Poet’s Word sold for 300,000 guineas as a Tattersalls October yearling. He is out of the stakes-placed Nashwan mare Whirly Bird, making him a half-brother to multiple Group 3 vixen Malabar and to Whirly Dancer, the dam of Group 2 winner Beckford.