Isn’t it funny how fast things can change in the sport of horse racing?
Barely more than a month ago, Cracksman was the toast of Europe’s racing scene, a three-time Group 1 winner viewed as a budding superstar and a nearly unbeatable force for trainer John Gosden. Now, he’s just the third choice in an eight-horse field for Saturday’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot, a rather dramatic fall from grace based in large part off a single defeat at Royal Ascot last month.
As a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I), the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes holds extra significance for U.S. racing fans, who will hope to see the winner travel to compete at Churchill Downs in November. And while bookmakers might view Cracksman as only the third choice, it might be premature to write him off on the basis of his latest run. Trained by John Gosden, the son of Frankel was brilliant while winning the QIPCO Champion Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot by seven lengths last fall, earning a huge 131 Racing Post Rating. And while you can argue that he’s lacked some of the same sparkle this season, he nevertheless kicked off 2018 with back-to-back wins in the Prix Ganay (Fr-I) and the Coronation Cup (Eng-I) before falling 2 ¼ lengths short of Poet’s Word when second in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot on June 20th.
That effort was undoubtedly disappointing, but it’s worth noting that Cracksman cleared the remainder of the field by eight lengths, an impressive feat since the third-place finisher was the multiple Group 1 winner Hawkbill. Furthermore, Poet’s Word is a very good horse in his own right, having finished second behind Cracksman in the QIPCO Champion Stakes and also second behind Hawkbill in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) during the winter. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, the five-year-old son of Poet’s Voice seems to be finding his best stride this year and fired off a career-best effort in the Princes of Wales’s Stakes; the question is, can he repeat it and maintain his edge over Cracksman?
Even if Poet’s Word successfully dethrones Cracksman once again, he’ll still have to deal with his Stoute-trained stablemate Crystal Ocean, who is undefeated in three starts this season, including a course-and-distance win in the Hardwicke Stakes (Eng-II) at Royal Ascot.
The remainder of the entrants would need to step up to contend against the top three, though Aidan O’Brien’s fine filly Hydrangea did win the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (Eng-I) over this course and distance last fall, and Coronet was beaten just a nose in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I) last time out.
Rostropovich, the lone three-year-old in the field, enters off a runner-up effort in the Irish Derby (Ire-I) for O’Brien, while Salouen caught eyes when finishing just a head behind Cracksman in the Coronation Cup. Completing the field is Desert Encounter, winner of the Legacy Cup Stakes (Eng-III) at Newbury last fall.
The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes is the fourth race of the day at Ascot, with a post time of 10:40 p.m. Eastern.