Anthony Van Dyck will be following in the hoofprints of his illustrious father if he can supplement his Investec Derby triumph with victory in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
It is 18 years since the top-class racehorse turned super-sire Galileo provided Aidan O’Brien with his first victories at Epsom and in Ascot’s midsummer highlight. Surprisingly, none of the trainer’s next five Derby winners – High Chaparral (2002), Camelot (2012), Ruler of the World (2013), Australia (2014) and Wings of Eagles (2017) – even ran in the King George.
Anthony Van Dyck emerged victorious after a thrilling five-way finish to last month’s premier Classic, but was unable to complete the Derby double at the Curragh four weeks later when his stablemate Sovereign claimed a shock victory from the front.
With the brilliant dual Arc heroine Enable and proven top-notcher Crystal Ocean among his rivals on Saturday, O’Brien is more hopeful than confident that his charge can prevail.
He said: “He is getting weight, but the weight for age is there for a reason, because he is only three-year-old and most of his rivals are four and five-year-olds.
“I suppose this was always one of the races the lads (owners Coolmore) had pencilled in for him – it was part of the original plan, and we didn’t see any reason why to change it after the Curragh.
“We think he has always been versatile as regards to ground.”
The Ballydoyle maestro also saddles Magic Wand and rank outsiders Hunting Horn and Norway.
Crystal Ocean was narrowly beaten by stablemate Poet’s Word in last year’s renewal and returns at the top of his game after completing a hat-trick for the season in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot under Frankie Dettori.
With the popular Italian on board Enable this weekend, and Crystal Ocean’s regular partner Ryan Moore committed to riding Anthony Van Dyck, James Doyle has been called up to partner Sir Michael Stoute’s five-year-old for the first time.
Doyle told Sky Sports Racing: “We know what we’re up against – the Queen of the turf in Enable.
“We know how good she is, and she seems to turn up and is very consistent. It’s going to be very difficult, but we’ll give it our best shot.
“Looking at all his replays and everything and riding him last week, he’s very straightforward and seems like an absolute dream to ride – that’s always a help in a big race.”
Defoe lines up in the form of his life, having won the Coronation Cup and the Hardwicke Stakes on his last two starts.
Trainer Roger Varian is hoping he can make his presence felt again in the latest leg of the Qipco British Champions Series.
He said: “He will have to go some to topple Enable and Crystal Ocean – but he fully deserves to be in there, and I’m sure he will run another massive race. Whether it’s good enough to win the King George, we will have to wait and see.
“He’s got to find a few pounds on the top two, and it will be interesting to see how Anthony Van Dyck measures up against the older horses. Defoe only does enough, but he’s solid, straightforward and can quicken. He’s fresh and holding his level of form.
“It’s a great race to be involved in.”
Andre Fabre saddled the last French-trained winner of the King George in Hurricane Run (2006) and is this year represented by Waldgeist, who was four and a half lengths behind Crystal Ocean when third at the Royal meeting.
“Obviously we are up against some very good competition – there are some top-class horses in the race,” said Fabre.
“I think going back to a mile and a half and the faster ground will help him. Will it be enough to win? Probably not, but I’m sure he is going to run a good race.”
There is further international interest in the form of Japanese raider Cheval Grand, who was last seen finishing second to Old Persian in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in March.
His trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said: “When Cheval Grand ran in Dubai, he took the travelling very well, so afterwards the owner (Kazuhiro Sasaki) decided he wanted to target more races overseas. After the King George, we are also thinking about the Juddmonte International at York and possibly the Arc.
“It was always the plan to give him a break after he ran in Dubai. There will be no problems with his fitness. Cheval Grand has the stamina and power. He is the best horse I have trained – but Enable is very strong, a machine.
“The King George has a long history and is very famous in the racing world. It would be one the high points of my career to win this race.”
The field is completed by Andrew Balding’s Morando and Sylvester Kirk’s stable star Salouen.