Kevin Blake

With brilliant mare Enable returning to winning action in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse last Saturday, Kevin Blake talks about the pulling power of Khalid Abdullah’s current star.

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ENABLE IS THE STAR FLAT RACING CRAVES

It is a fundamental weakness of Flat racing that so many of its stars are retired before or just as they begin to enter the public consciousness. The very best colts are on what is often an all-too-short countdown timer to retirement to the breeding shed and world-class geldings are as rare as hen’s teeth, so in recent racing history it has tended to be left to the fairer sex to put together lasting careers at the highest level.

The likes of Zenyatta and Winx have shown just how big these mares’ stars’ can become and in Enable, British racing might well have the ideal candidate to become their own racing icon.

Analysts of horse racing tend to seek out fault and vulnerability in horses and, such is the nature of the beasts, one normally doesn’t have to look too far to find something that can be highlighted or picked at. The remarkable thing about Enable is that it is exceptionally hard to find a chink in her armour.

No matter what scenario can be envisaged potentially unfolding in a race of any field size between a mile-and-a-quarter and a mile-and-a-half, she has the gate speed, early pace, tractability and tactical versatility to cope with anything.

Enable’s 12 career runs have come at 12 different tracks, a number of which such as Chester and Epsom are notably unorthodox. She has won on ground ranging from soft in the King George VI at Ascot to firm in the Irish Oaks, as well as winning on Tapeta at Newcastle and Polytrack at Kempton.

She has produced blistering closing sectionals in races run at a steady early pace such as the Irish Oaks and the September Stakes at Kempton, yet she has also thrived in circumstances that strongly tested stamina at a mile-and-a-half such as the aforementioned King George at Ascot. 

In essence, Enable seems as tactically bombproof a proposition as we have seen at the highest level of horse racing in quite a few years. The depths of her talent look to remain open to further exploration, but whether or not she advances her form level in the future, she will remain exceptionally hard to beat because of her versatility.

As well as having the inherent talent and versatility necessary to become a true star of the sport, Enable also has other highly-significant factors in her favour. She is ridden by the most marketable man in world racing in Frankie Dettori. She is trained by a world-class communicator in John Gosden. Just as importantly, she is owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah who has allowed her to be gamely campaigned with a refreshing sense of daring at the very highest level in four different countries.

Enable and Frankie Dettori
The two biggest stars in British Flat racing, Enable and Frankie Dettori

Taking world-class horses out of their comfort zones and embracing new challenges is what makes racing legends and Enable is already well on her way to such status.

It seems that the public have really started to embrace Enable too. What was so striking about her winning return at Sandown on Saturday was the reaction it generated from the huge crowd that was present to witness it.

To see the streams of people that flooded from the front of the stands back to the walkway and winners’ enclosure to cheer her in was quite something to witness. It really was more akin to what one expects to see at the Cheltenham Festival or at one of Leopardstown’s big National Hunt meetings following the victory of a crowd favourite.

To see that level of widespread engagement and excitement about what had happened on the track at a Flat meeting was very refreshing indeed. It was a reception that gave every indication of Enable’s impending entry into superstar status and that is something that racing should push going forward.

Just how much we should be appreciating and celebrating Enable was hammered home by the news on Sunday that Sea Of Class had been struck down by a severe bout of colic that ended her racing career and had her fighting for her life.

The prospect of her renewing rivalry with Enable had been one of the most anticipated races of this season, but alas we won’t get to see it. Sea Of Class only shone for a relatively brief period on the racecourse, but she was a hugely-talented filly whose absence will undoubtedly take away from the Flat season.

One can only hope that she makes a full recovery and can go on to a long second career as a broodmare.

While the ending of the racing career of Sea Of Class was a timely reminder of the fundamental vulnerabilities of these wonderful animals, it is difficult to not to allow oneself to imagine what might be ahead for Enable.

The path ahead for her seems a clear one, with a bid for her second King George VI at Ascot likely to be followed by the Juddmonte International at York and a bid for a historic third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. Who knows, maybe even a return visit to America for the Breeders’ Cup Turf could be on the cards.

If the prospect of her going through that schedule of races taking on all comers doesn’t get you excited, you might just need to find a different sport. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Should we dare to look even further ahead, one wonders might it even be possible that Prince Khalid Abdullah could choose to race Enable as a six-year-old next season?  The Prince is now in his early-80s and Enable is very much the flag-bearer of his exceptional racing operation.

With her being the product of a family that he has nurtured since acquiring her great-great grandmother Fleet Girl in 1982, there will surely be a temptation to continue racing with a mare of such sound body and mind that so vividly showcases all that his breeding operation has been working towards producing for so many decades.

Juddmonte has already produced its King in the shape of Frankel, but in Enable, they have a Queen that has all the tools to achieve a depth of accomplishments on the racecourse that may never be bettered.

FAREWELL TO BIG MAC

The world of horse racing is a far less interesting place following the passing of John McCririck on Friday. Others that knew him far better than I have eloquently paid tribute to both John McCririck the man and Big Mac the character since then.

I don’t have too much to add to what has already been said, but on the few occasions I had the pleasure to work alongside him on the Sunday Forum on At The Races, I took away one very clear message.

By the time I was working with him, John was in his mid-70s with a lifetime of a career in the racing and mainstream media under his belt. Despite his very long innings and that his most high-profile days were behind him, he was still the first guest to arrive into the studio and was absolutely meticulous in his preparation.

To retain that level of enthusiasm and pride in his work at that stage of his career was very inspiring. To me, it represented what standards of preparation every journalist or broadcaster that is fortunate enough to make their living covering a subject they love should aspire to.

Rest in peace, John McCririck.

Kevin Blake
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