The turf

Saturday’s King George was the finest contest I have ever seen on a racecourse

3 August 2019

9:00 AM

3 August 2019

9:00 AM

It is stupid to become attached to inanimate objects but when modern technology finally forced me to ditch the Olivetti Lettera 32 mobile typewriter which had taken me round the world as a correspondent I truly felt the pangs of parting. In the same way I have been resisting Mrs Oakley’s insistence, repeated with increasing vehemence over recent months: ‘It really is time we changed the car.’ Alas the ten-year-old BMW 320, a veteran of racecourse car parks nationwide and innumerable trips to the council dump as we restored a crumbling house, is now on its way out. Mrs Oakley earned double-bonus Brownie points by being noble enough not to crow but, as we sweltered for four hours beside the M3 on the hottest day of the year last Thursday awaiting a breakdown truck to take us and the stricken vehicle home, she was once again proven right.

The one thing I got right was splashing out on a hire car to get me to Ascot all the same on Saturday to see Enable run in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. I am sure the ITV coverage was impeccable but there is no substitute for actually being there on the big occasions. People present for the Super Over of this year’s World Cup Cricket final will dine out on the experience for years. Spectators at the Rugby World Cup final in Australia in 2003 — at least the English ones — will press the recall buttons in their minds a million times before they die to relish once more the sight of Jonny Wilkinson’s extra-time drop kick sailing over the bar to clinch victory. For me the sight of Enable triumphing after she and the equally resolute Crystal Ocean had battled mano a mano, eyeball to eyeball through the last two furlongs of the King George was the finest contest I have yet seen on a racecourse. Comparisons were immediately made with the epic King George between the Derby winner Grundy and Bustino in 1975. I didn’t see that live, but the race Enable’s victory had me recalling was Best Mate’s third Cheltenham Gold Cup victory in 2004, the year he proved he was a street fighter as well as a supreme athlete.

In receipt of the 3lb sex allowance from her male rival, Enable, trained by John Gosden and ridden as in all her Group 1 victories by Frankie Dettori, was an odds-on favourite. She had after all been beaten only once in her 12 previous races. The trophies she had already collected included those for the King George in 2017, three Oaks, a Breeders Cup, this year’s Coral-Eclipse and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe twice. But it was never going to be a cakewalk. Crystal  Ocean, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, was himself the highest-ranked horse in the world this year, a close second in the previous year’s King George and a Group 1 winner at Royal Ascot.

Enable had the difficult outside draw in number 11. When Hunting Horn, one of four runners from Aidan O’Brien’s stable, did not seek to make the running from stall ten but was held back, Frankie Dettori had to take the risk of dropping his mount back rather than being carried too wide for much of the way. In a race run early on at breakneck pace Dettori and Enable had to do things the hard way, burning up crucial reserves to get to Crystal Ocean. When they did it became an epic battle between two utterly game horses giving their all, a race which thrilled the crowd like no other I have seen. Tellingly James Doyle, Crystal Ocean’s rider, said that he had never known a horse in second place get such an ovation from the crowd for their contribution. As John Gosden said afterwards: ‘You had the best older horse and the best older filly taking on horses with that level of quality and they outclassed the whole field. It was a proper King George. She showed a lot of guts. Crystal Ocean said to her “I’m going to win this” and she said back “No, I am”. She really showed mental toughness and so did he. What more could racing have asked for?’

Enable has a 25ft stride to compare with the great Frankel’s 27ft. She has won racing left- and right-handed, at 11 different tracks in different countries and on ground varying from soft to ‘good to firm’. She has a high cruising speed and the tactical speed to make almost any move Dettori asks of her. But it is her mental toughness which stands out. She is a natural athlete, the complete racehorse and Frankie, who was mentally and physically drained after her victory on Saturday, says: ‘She has given me emotions  that no other horse has ever given me.’ He reminded us there will only be two more occasions, perhaps only one, to see her on a racecourse again. Let us relish them: if she wins another Arc she will be the greatest filly ever.

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