For connections of Enable, three truly is the magic number.
Having gone so close last year, racing’s leading lady has primarily been kept in training as a six-year-old for one reason: To win an unprecedented third Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Her whole season revolves around that first Sunday of October but today’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot provides another opportunity to land an historic treble.
And in order to become the first three-time winner of the summer showpiece, the 2017 and 2019 heroine only has two rivals to beat, making this the smallest King George line-up in over half a century. Both are trained by Aidan O’Brien but the fact dual Classic-winning filly Love isn’t among the Ballydoyle contenders simplifies matters considerably for Enable. That we have to wait a while yet for that mouth-watering showdown is a pity, as indeed is the absence of any representative of this year’s Classic generation.
A further blow came late last night when Anthony Van Dyck, winless in seven runs since landing last year’s Epsom Derby, was declared a non-runner due to unsatisfactory bloods.
However, the line-up does still include a Derby winner in the shape of Sovereign, a shock winner of the Curragh Classic last year as well as Japan, a dual Group 1 winner in 2019.
Japan took a big step forward from a lacklustre seasonal reappearance in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot when only a head behind Enable in a Coral-Eclipse won by Ghaiyyath earlier this month.
Supporters of Japan will take encouragement from the fact it took him two runs to it top form last year but John Gosden has admitted Enable was only 85% fit ahead of her Sandown return and that raises the key question when it comes to assessing the chances of the Ballydoyle contender. If he couldn’t beat her when she wasn’t fully wound up and over a trip short of her best in the Eclipse, why should he beat her today when she’ll inevitably strip fitter?
As for Sovereign, he has only run once since his Curragh triumph, finishing third at the same venue in a Group 3 last month. He was held up on that occasion but his finest hour came thanks to enterprising front-running tactics and he looks the likeliest pace angle today.
That should suit Frankie Dettori as while Enable is tactically versatile and has successfully made the running in the past, her best performances have come when she’s had a target to aim at.
In truth, she’s never quite sparkled to the extent she did as a three-year-old when four of her five Group 1 successes were won by an aggregate margin of five lengths.
She did enough to keep winning though, a second Arc, a Breeders’ Cup Turf, an Eclipse, and a thrilling second King George before a second Yorkshire Oaks success brought her Group 1 haul to 10.
Had the weather gods not intervened in Paris last October, she would surely not have been thwarted by Waldgeist in the Arc. As deflating as that was for connections, they knew they couldn’t let that be the final chapter and the silver lining for the racing public was that the immensely popular daughter of Nathaniel, himself a King George winner, would stay in training for another season.
That she started her 2020 season by surrendering her Eclipse crown was disappointing for her supporters but Ghaiyyath is a tough nut to crack on a going day and, after the gruelling race she had endured in her Arc defeat, it was encouraging to see that Enable looks to have lost none of her enthusiasm for the game.
At six, she isn’t going to get back to her imperious three-year-old best but she remains a top-class mare and the dream of a third Arc is still very much alive.
Winning a third King George en route to that date with destiny will be a nice bonus.