Led by Poet's Word (IRE) and Cracksman (GB), the first two finishers in the Prince of Wales's Stakes (G1), and Hardwicke Stakes winner Crystal Ocean (GB), a field of eight horses has been set for Saturday's $1.25 million, 1 1/2-mile King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) at Ascot with the winner receiving an automatic berth into the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) through the international Breeders' Cup Challenge.
The Breeders' Cup Challenge is an international series of 85 stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which will be held at Churchill Downs in Louisville on Nov. 2-3.
Saeed Suhail's Poet's Word, a 5-year-old horse, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, scored a 2 1/4-length upset win over the 2-5 favored Cracksman in the Prince of Wales's at Royal Ascot on June 20, which earned the bay son of Poet's Voice (GB) an automatic berth into the Longines Turf. The Prince of Wales's victory was the fifth career win and first Group 1 tally for Poet's Word, who will be ridden Saturday by James Doyle from post 4. Poet's Word won the Group 3 Matchbook Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown on May 24 prior to his Royal Ascot victory. Poet's World also was second to Hawkbill in the 1 1/2-mile Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) at Meydan in March.
“He has been recording high levels of form and seems versatile in terms of distance – 10 or 12 furlongs” Stoute said about Poet's Word this week. “He has won at the track too and his preparation has gone well.”
Stoute also will send out Sir Evelyn De Rothschild's 4-year-old Crystal Ocean (GB), a bay colt by Sea the Stars (IRE) who has won all three of his starts this year. Crystal Ocean won the 1 1/4-mile Gordon Richards Stakes (G3) in April at Sandown and followed that performance with a seven-length win in the 1 1/2-mile Al Rayyan Stakes (G3) at Newberry on May 19. He was sent off as the odds-on favorite in the 1 1/2-mile Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot against four rivals and took command in the final furlong to register a 2 1/4-length win. William Buick will ride Crystal Ocean from post 2.
“It is a very high level race and is always competitive,” Stoute said of the King George VI, a race he has won five times. “My horses have decent form and are first and second favorite. They may not finish first and second, but they are entitled to be in there.”
Stoute has won the Breeders' Cup Turf four times: twice with Conduit (IRE), and with Pilsudski (IRE) and Kalanisi (IRE).
Cracksman, trained by John Gosden, for Anthony Oppenheimer, came into the Prince of Wales's as arguably the world's top middle-distance turf horse, having reeled off consecutive group stakes wins dating back to August of last year. The 4-year-old son of Frankel (GB) finished 2017 with a rousing seven-length win over Poet's Word in the QIPCO Champion Stakes (G1) at Ascot. Cracksman added two more Group 1 wins this year, capturing the Prix Ganay at Longchamp by four lengths and making a dramatic run to nip Salouen (IRE) at the wire by a head in the 1 1/2-mile Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom on June 1. Robert Havlin will ride Cracksman, breaking from post 1.
Gosden also has entered Denford Stud's 4-year-old filly Coronet (GB), who led the led the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) into the final yards but wound up second in a head-bobbing finish to odds-on Waldgeist (GB). In her previous start, the gray daughter of Dubawi (IRE), won the Betfred Middletown Stakes (G2) at York on May 17 against fillies and mares. She will be ridden in the King George by Olivier Peslier from post 6.
Because of impending thunderstorms on Saturday, trainer Aidan O'Brien opted not to start Grand Prix de Paris (G1) and Queen's Vase (G2) winner Kew Gardens (IRE). However, he will start Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor's 4-year-old filly Hydrangea (IRE) (Ryan Moore, post 7), who won last year's QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (G1) at Ascot. This year, the bay daughter of Galileo finished second in the Lanwades Stud Stakes (G2) at the Curragh on May 26, and was a disappointing eighth as the 7-4 favorite in the one-mile Duke of Cambridge Stakes (G2) at Royal Ascot on June 20.
O'Brien also has entered has entered the 3-year-old Frankel (GB) colt, Rostropovich (IRE), post 8, who finished second by a half-length in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (G1) on June 30, eight days after taking the place spot in the 1 1/2-mile King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot.
Since his heartbreaking defeat to Cracksman in the Coronation Cup, the Sylvester Kirk-trained Salouen (post 5 Silvestre De Sousa) finished third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
Abdulla Al Mansoori's 6-year-old gelding Desert Encounter (IRE) (Andrea Atzeni, post 3), seventh in the Prince of Wales's Stakes for trainer David Simcock, completes the field.
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is the fourth Breeders' Cup Challenge race in the Longines Turf Division this year. Mikki Rocket (JPN) was the most recent qualifier, winning the Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin in June. The first three to qualify were the filly La Extrana Dama (ARG), who won the Gran Premio 25 de Mayo (G1) at San Isidro in Buenos Aires; Quarteto de Cordas (BRZ), who captured the Grande Premio Brasil (G1) at Gavea in Rio de Janeiro and Poet's Word in the Prince of Wales's Stakes.
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