August 9, 2020

Enable much the best in unprecedented third King George triumph

Enable stamped her authority as the only three-time winner of the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Ascot Racecourse)

As Enable cruised to the fore with jockey Frankie Dettori taking a theatrical glance behind, there was no doubt that the supermare was well on her way to an unprecedented third victory in Saturday’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) at Ascot.

The odds-on favorite against only two rivals – Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Japan and Sovereign – Enable has now made history in each of her appearances in the midsummer showpiece. In 2017, the John Gosden trainee became the first to take the King George after turning the Epsom and Irish Oaks (G1) double. The Juddmonte homebred missed her title defense through injury in 2018, but regained her crown in an epic battle with Crystal Ocean in 2019. Joining Dahlia (1973-74) and Swain (1997-98) as a two-time winner, Enable yet stood alone as the only one to win in non-consecutive years.

Ironically, Enable’s historic success on Saturday was made possible by losses in her past two starts. Last October, she was on the verge of becoming the first-ever three-time winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), only to be denied late by Waldgeist. Had Enable prevailed at ParisLongchamp that day, she would have been retired in glory.

When owner/breeder Prince Khalid Abdullah opted to give Enable another chance at the Arc hat trick this season, the now 6-year-old understandably was more of a project for Gosden to get fit. She was ready to resume as the defending champion in the July 5 Eclipse (G1) at Sandown, but Gosden was open about her needing the run. Moreover, he had resolved not to have her chasing front runner Ghaiyyath, out of a concern it would be counterproductive for her long-term aim – the Arc. Thus Dettori executed more patient tactics, and her workmanlike second to Ghaiyyath was a temporary reverse for a strategic gain.

Going into the King George, Gosden was clear that Enable had improved for her tightener. The stage was set for a more characteristic performance at Ascot, albeit with just the Ballydoyle raiders in opposition.

O’Brien intended to have three starters, but Anthony Van Dyck was scratched Friday due to unsatisfactory bloodwork. His other candidates were ultimately bound elsewhere, with Magical and Sir Dragonet declared for Sunday’s Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) at the Curragh and Magic Wand figuring in Thursday’s Nassau (G1) at Glorious Goodwood.

Yet the lack of numbers in the King George didn’t equate to a lack of intrigue. Multiple Group 1 winner Japan, just headed by Enable when third in the Eclipse, was himself projected to move forward in his third start of the campaign. And since stablemate Sovereign had stunned last summer’s Irish Derby (G1) on the front end, he wasn’t a garden variety pacemaker.

Sovereign duly opened up a comfortable lead, and jockey William Buick rationed out his speed effectively. Enable traveled with a bit too much zest initially in second, but Dettori persuaded her to hold fire. Japan attended Enable in the opening strides before settling as the last of the trio, a position he was unable to claw his way out of in the stretch.

In contrast, Enable was traveling superbly upon straightening for home while Sovereign was coming under increasing urgency from Buick. The only suspense was just how quickly Enable would go by, and how far her margin would be.

On the bridle when ranging alongside Sovereign, Enable was asked to put the race away. She responded enthusiastically to pull 5 1/2 lengths clear, clocking 1 1/2 miles on good-to-firm in 2:28.92. Sovereign drew away from a lackluster Japan, who was not persevered with a further 11 lengths adrift.

A masked Team Enable reflects racing in the time of COVID (Ascot Racecourse)

Enable was also lifting Dettori to an historic milestone – a seventh King George that tied the record held by the legendary Lester Piggott. Prince Khalid had one winner prior to Enable, the sublime Dancing Brave (1986). Gosden’s now won five editions, including with Enable’s sire Nathaniel (2011), who is in turn by the great Galileo, the 2001 King George hero. Enable is the race’s only third-generation winner.

“She is back in top order, no doubt about that,” Gosden said. “We have been thrilled with her at home. I never expect things like that, but I was expecting to see that, but life can be full of disappointments.”

The trainer quipped that the COVID face mask protocol has a fringe benefit.

“The great thing is you can wear these face masks so no one can see the torture in your face, you are hidden! All they can see is your eyes – as long as you don’t start crying they won’t clock that you are wound up like a 10-day clock.

“The way she has trained, I was hoping that she would do a Montjeu – I remember him imperiously winning a King George for John Hammond (in 2000). I thought there was a chance, with the way she was training, she just might do that.”

Europe’s all-time richest mare with nearly £10.7 million in earnings and 11 Grade/Group 1 wins, Enable has a potent personality. Gosden explains:

“She has enormous mental strength. You have some horses who just want to please and she just loves going out. When Prince Khalid asked me last year that he was thinking about keeping her in training for one more year, I said that she adores training. If she doesn’t go out first lot, she gets annoyed that she has to wait.

“She loves going out there and carries herself magnificently – she is a very proud person – and I think to that extent, she has made my job possible. If she wasn’t enjoying it or it was becoming a hardship, we would pull stumps immediately and wouldn’t dream of carrying on. She is up for it and loves it.”

“She walks with her chest sticking out and you can see it,” Dettori said. “She gives those vibes to everyone and people are attached to her for that reason. I get the privilege to ride her and the public are actually riding with me. We really need to cherish these special horses.

“I know it’s a COVID lockdown but the 30 people that are here all clapped. We had a bit of an atmosphere. She has taken me emotionally to places no other horse has taken me. It’s nerve-wracking when you are riding her because you want everything to go right. That’s why she is so special because we have had a tremendous time together around the world for the past three years.”

Frankie Dettori tied Lester Piggott’s record of seven King George wins (Ascot Racecourse)

In addition to her historical legacy in Europe, Enable holds a unique place in Breeders’ Cup annals as well. She’s the only reigning Arc winner to capture a Breeders’ Cup race, a coup accomplished in the 2018 Turf (G1) over Magical at Churchill Downs. The King George serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Turf, set for Nov. 7 at Keeneland, but Paris is uppermost on the agenda.

“She is giving me the same vibes that she did last year,” Dettori said. “When you go to the Arc, it is hard, but at least we know, with this kind of display, that we can be really competitive.”

Enable will have one run in between, once again at York’s Ebor Festival. Gosden indicated that he’d take a look at both the Aug. 19 Juddmonte International (G1), which would offer a rematch with Ghaiyyath, and the Aug. 20 Yorkshire Oaks (G1), her port of call in 2017 and 2019. If Enable takes that usual route, she’d clash with O’Brien’s dual classic romper Love, who stamped herself a leading Arc threat in the July 4 Oaks at Epsom.