Declan Rix

After Saturday's titanic renewal of the Group 1 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, Declan Rix relives the greatest horse race he ever witnessed live.

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There can be no greater advert for racing than Saturday’s Group 1 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes. Enable’s thrilling neck victory over Crystal Ocean at Ascot was undoubtedly the best race I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing live; it was truly a memorable day at one of the world’s greatest tracks.

The King George epitomised everything that is special about the thoroughbred, the sport of horse racing and the joy the game can bring its fans. Some may well laugh, and that is fine, but because of sheer adrenaline pumping its way through my body, I shook, more so my legs – I hadn’t felt a buzz like it since Golden Horn won the 2015 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The day didn’t start well however, from my point of view anyway, as when I woke on Saturday morning I was disappointed to see Ascot report 9mm of rain had fallen overnight and it was still said to be raining lightly in the area. As I jumped on the computer to check the rain radar, my heart sank further as it looked like Ascot could potentially be a washout.

I didn’t particularly care about a miserable day, it was more it could potentially ruin the best race of the year, the King George. As a fan of the sport, I think it’s safe to assume the vast majority of people within racing wanted Enable to win, but the punter within me fancied Crystal Ocean at the prices, but significant rain enhanced Enable’s chance more so than any of her market rivals.

More importantly however, away from what I fancied betting, racing is sport at the end of the day, and competition is highly desirable in engaging its fan base and above all, I just wanted a thrilling contest, because I knew deep down Crystal Ocean would give Enable hell if he turned up in top shape.

In the race itself, the strong early gallop must have felt like hell for Morando who could never go the pace. Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck looked to be feeling the pinch after six out with Ryan Moore changing his hands, and he folded tamely in the straight, not looking to have run to his full potential along with Defoe.

On the other hand, the way Enable, Crystal Ocean and third-home Waldgeist travelled through their races suggested they were in outstanding fettle. After Ten Sovereigns won the July Cup, I spoke about the mental wellbeing of a horse as an indicator in performance, and with the first three home all looking ‘on their game’, this piece of form looks outstanding. 

I think it's safe to assume the ever reliable Enable is in and around the level of her first Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in victory here - proper top-class form.

The always reliable Enable did have me worried in the early skirmishes, though. I’m not sure was it because I watched the race from the stands, but I was genuinely concerned that the daughter of Nathaniel wasn’t herself given she usually races up with the pace. Post-race, Frankie Dettori felt she wasn’t suited by the rain-affected ground.

Not since her debut victory at Newcastle back in 2016 had the five-year-old been ridden with such restraint and given I thought she got a little warm on her undercarriage pre-race (that could just be her?), I held my breath as a fan.

As a punter however, with Crystal Ocean adopting what looked like a perfect early position, while travelling sweetly, I was licking my chops. “She’ll have to be a Champion to win from here, Doyler”, I uttered to myself quietly, surrounded by Enable fans.

From five out to four out, Frankie always looked happy, though, as he moved through the gears with menace on Prince Khalid Abdullah’s charge. From three out to two out, Enable’s class and turn of foot shun as she went from sixth to first in what race commentator Simon Holt called “rapid progress”.

From here, it looked like Enable could potentially go on and win by a couple of lengths, but the bravery and class of Crystal Ocean kicked in and from two out, the pair bit down of their mouth-guards and swung for the fences in what can only be described as an epic battle. As Dettori said himself in his post-race interview, “the gloves were off!”

With the usual bell ring fading after the turn and the crowd now in full voice, I found myself roaring for Crystal Ocean (sorry Enable), but it was to no avail as he went down a gallant neck to the great and phenomenally versatile mare.

Enable wins her second King George
In a pulsating finish, Enable (pink hat) fends off Crystal Ocean to win a second King George

While the punter in me clearly came out in the heat of battle, the fan in me knew this was the perfect result for racing, and from a personal perspective where Crystal Ocean was concerned. The Queen of the turf had just won her eleventh straight race, her ninth Group 1 and her second King George in front of her adoring fans, but her fans are now hopefully Crystal Ocean lovers, too.

The lack of respect for Crystal Ocean on the run-up to the race had really irked me, but he’s now shown the world just how good he is, if there had been any doubt. Sir Michael Stoute’s inmate played his part in a race that will go down as one of racing’s greatest and hopefully now gets the praise and respect he deserves. He was beaten, but it was a career best.

Kudos must also go to the French-trained third horse home, Waldgeist, who came a huge seven lengths clear of the fourth horse Salouen, further adding to the solid-look of the form. Like Crystal Ocean, he has run a career best and like Crystal Ocean, his attitude is faultless.

With their pedigrees, class and will to win, I’m sure both will make fine stallions down the line.

Should Simon Holt ever head down the stallion route himself, the 2019 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes is a race call that will bolster his CV. Holt’s call added to a race that I will never forget.

Thanks to Enable and Crystal Ocean, and all the many souls attached to them, Saturday was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in racing.

This was our/my race of the century. What a sport!

Declan Rix
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