Frankie Dettori will have a “blank canvas” from John Gosden when he bids to steer Enable to victory in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes.
The brilliant mare is bidding for an unprecedented third victory in the Ascot showpiece, having destroyed her field as a three-year-old in 2017 before regaining her crown after a pulsating duel with Crystal Ocean 12 months ago.
The six-year-old’s three rivals this weekend are all trained by Aidan O’Brien, but Gosden is relaxed about the situation as he prepares for Enable’s historic hat-trick bid.
Dettori will once again be on board the favourite, with Ryan Moore electing to partner Japan over his two O’Brien-trained stable companions Anthony Van Dyck and Sovereign – who will be ridden by Oisin Murphy and Gosden’s former stable jockey William Buick respectively.
As usual, Gosden will not be giving the popular Italian any riding instructions.
He said: “Frankie likes to train them as well as me. I think it would be a dangerous thing if I tried to ride her – we might have a problem with the weights!
“Enable can make the running or you can put her in the middle or at the back – you can put her wherever you want her. We’ll leave that up to Frankie.
“In a race of this nature, with a small field, it’s going to be tactical. You go in there with a blank canvas – you do not, under any circumstances, say ‘we’re going to do this’. Let’s see how it pans out and see what the Ballydoyle horses do.
“It will be tactically fascinating. We always have a plan in a race, but quite often you go to Plan B, which is a blank canvas. In this one, it’s a blank canvas at Plan A.
“I don’t see anything too sinister ahead. The horses up against us are ridden by gentlemen who ride for me a lot, too.”
Gosden admits the lack of runners from other yards is a blow to the race – and hopes it is mainly a result of the delayed start to the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, rather than a wider issue.
He said: “I think we’ve walked into a freakish year. It’s disappointing that other stables from England, Ireland, France and Germany can’t produce horses for the race, but the horses just aren’t there.
“Is it the breeding programme, is it the fact that some owner-breeders aren’t there any more, is it because there is too much emphasis on breeding for commercial speed? These are questions we could debate for hours.
“The Hardwicke Stakes is often a platform to the King George. That was won by a filly (Fanny Logan) – and let’s be honest, the older horses in the Hardwicke weren’t a vintage group.
“You’ve had April and May disappear on us, because of this hideous disease, and consequently the three-year-olds weren’t able to develop through those races and be battle-hardened.
“Aidan won both the Derby and the Oaks (with Serpentine and Love), so it was his choice if he wanted to bring one of those to the King George, and he’s decided to stick with the older brigade.
“There have been lots of races with no three-year-olds, and I think next year will be a different, but there is now a bit of an addiction to breeding for commercial speed – and I think we must be very careful that we don’t start losing middle-distance races, because they are essential.”
Enable is odds on to get back on the winning trail, having delighted her connections when finishing second to Ghaiyyath on her first start of 2020 in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown three weeks ago.
Gosden stopped short of saying his superstar mare is as good as she has ever been, but is delighted with her condition.
“A lot of the old trainers tell me that a Flat horse, if they are sound and healthy, reaches its zenith as a five-year-old. I’ve seen that a lot myself,” he added.
“I see Enable as maybe not quite at her peak, but she has trained beautifully coming into this – the Eclipse put her right, and her work has been perfect on the Limekilns.
“She’s just been working with one other horse, not putting lines of three in front of her and mowing them down – none of that nonsense.
“I’ve let her lead a couple of works and just let her enjoy that for a change. She comes into the race in very good order.”
With both trainers bidding to win the King George for a fifth time, Japan is seemingly O’Brien’s first string.
Last year’s King Edward VII Stakes, Grand Prix de Paris and Juddmonte International winner was disappointing on his first start of 2020 in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, but raised his game to finish only a head behind Enable at Sandown.
Anthony Van Dyck and Sovereign – winners of the Investec Derby at Epsom and the Irish Derby respectively last season – complete the quality quartet.