Stoute and O’Brien target King George glory
Sir Michael Stoute is going for a record sixth King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes sponsored by QIPCO victory with Crystal Ocean and Poet’s Word.
He commented about his strong challenge for the 12-furlong race in a filmed interview: “Both horses seem in good shape and their preparations have gone well. They have both been in good form this year so, touch wood, we are happy at this stage.
“Crystal Ocean has won all three of his starts this year and he has won over the course and distance at Ascot (G2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot). The ground may be fast, but he is actually impervious to ground.
“He comes from a very good Rothschild family and they seem to improve with age – good honest horses.
“The win of Poet’s Word in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (G1, 10f) at Royal Ascot would have been his best performance to date. He ran very well in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 12f) too – he is effective at a mile and a half.
“He has been recording high levels of form and seems versatile in terms of distance – 10 or 12 furlongs. He has won at the track too and his preparation has gone well.
“Excitement may not be the right word – I just want to get them both to Ascot on Saturday in one piece. I am looking forward to the race.
“It is a very high level race and is always competitive. My horses have decent form and are first and second favourite. They may not finish first and second, but they are entitled to be in there.
“William Buick will ride Crystal Ocean, who is usually Ryan Moore’s mount but he will be taken by Ballydoyle this weekend, while James Doyle will again be on Poet’s Word.”
The Newmarket trainer reflected on his past King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes sponsored by QIPCO winners.
He said: “Shergar (1981) gave us an anxious moment as he was short of room on the turn for home, but he still won impressively.
“Harbinger (2010) ran to his very best form – he was a serious machine that day. He kept progressing, from the Ormonde to the Hardwicke and then again for the King George. Sadly, he got an injury when we were preparing him for the Juddmonte.
“Opera House (1993) was a very good and solid performer. Conduit (2009) was a model of consistency – a sound and lovely horse who won two Breeders’ Cups.
“It was Golan’s (2002) first appearance of the year – that was a good feat – a Guineas winner from the year before and second in the Derby. He was a pretty decent horse, but probably did not get the credit he deserved.
“Some lovely horses in a great race.”
Britain and Ireland’s Champion Flat trainer Aidan O’Brien has won the G1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes sponsored by QIPCO on four occasions, courtesy of Galileo (2001), Dylan Thomas (2007), Duke Of Marmalade (2008) and Highland Reel (2016).
The master of Ballydoyle’s leading representative for the 2018 renewal of the 12-furlong G1 contest is the progressive Kew Gardens, who plundered the G1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris (12f) on his latest outing at Longchamp on July 14.
The three-year-old son of Galileo annexed the G2 Queen’s Vase over 14 furlongs at Royal Ascot after finishing a disappointing ninth in Britain’s premier Classic, the Investec Derby, at Epsom Downs on June 2
O’Brien has been delighted with the colt’s progression this season and is hopeful of a good performance on Saturday.
Speaking via telephone at today’s press event, he said: “Kew Gardens is very well. He hasn’t done much since his victory at Longchamp, but we were delighted with that performance.
“He won nicely at Royal Ascot the time before in the Queen’s Vase (1m 6f) and enjoyed the drop back in trip when winning at Longchamp.
“We were very happy with him before the Derby and that was a little bit of a blip for him. However, that wasn’t his true running and, when he went to Ascot, we always thought he would stay.
“Kew Gardens is a progressive horse and physically he seems to be stepping up with every run.
“We had our eye on the King George for a long time with him, as he is a horse who stays very well and enjoys fast ground.
“With the King George, you usually have to handle good ground or quicker with the race being at the height of summer.
“We thought after Royal Ascot that it would help him to have another race back over 12 furlongs and that’s when we decided to go to Longchamp as it fitted in perfectly for us ahead of the King George.
“We felt we would get a better picture of his chances in the King George if he ran at Longchamp.
“Ryan [Moore] was very happy with him and took his time on him in France. He rode him like a good horse.
“Kew Gardens has a great mind and a great constitution – everyone at home is pleased with him.”
O’Brien has four other entries in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, including Rostropovich. The three-year-old son of Frankel was a striking winner of the Listed Dee Stakes at Chester in May, before finishing ninth in the French Derby at Chantilly on June 3.
However, the colt has returned to form in two runs since, finishing second in the G2 King Edward VII Stakes at the Royal Meeting and then filling the runner-up position in the G1 Irish Derby at the Curragh on June 30.
Regarding his participation, O’Brien commented: “Rostropovich could be a possible runner. He is in good form at home and ran well in the Irish Derby.”
O’Brien’s quintet is completed by four-year-old Hydrangea, a course and distance winner in the G1 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes on Champions Day in October, fellow four-year-old Cliffs Of Moher, who ran twice at Royal Ascot, finishing fourth to Poet’s Word in the G1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and third to Crystal Ocean in the G2 Hardwicke Stakes and Queen’s Vase third Nelson.
He continued: “Nelson ran well at Royal Ascot before finishing behind Kew Gardens at Longchamp where he would have preferred a stiffer track.
“Hydrangea is also entered and would be stepping back up to a mile and a half as well.
“Cliffs Of Moher is a horse we’ve been very happy with him We feel the step back up to 12 furlongs is in his compass.
“They will all do their final pieces of work tomorrow and be blood tested and scoped. If all those are clear, then we can make a definite decision.
“We could have two or three runners in the race – that is what we are thinking at the moment.”
Reflecting on the importance of the King George, O’Brien commented: “It’s obviously an incredibly prestigious race, one of the high midsummer races, if not the biggest. The King George has an unbelievable history behind it.”
Dual Derby winner Galileo was the first of O’Brien’s four winners in the midsummer highlight, defeating Godolphin’s Fantastic Light by two lengths in 2001.
Discussing the race, the Irish handler said: “The plan was always to go for the King George after he had won the Epsom and Irish Derbys. We knew it was going to be a tough race, but Galileo was such a tough horse.
“Racing against Fantastic Light, they came up the straight together and I think in the final half-furlong, Galileo began to draw clear, but it was a serious battle up the straight.”