How to Bet the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot
Although Saturday’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) is shaping up as a chalkfest, there’s still one overpriced horse eligible to go close, and make the Ascot feature worth betting.
But first, we’ll have to sort through the principals in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). (Feel free to scroll right toward the end if you just want the value play.)
The “big three” – #1 Cracksman (3-1), #2 Crystal Ocean (2-1), and #4 Poet’s Word (2-1) – may well decide the matter among themselves, assuming they all run. As of Friday afternoon, Cracksman’s participation is hanging in the balance, depending upon whether enough rain hits the course.
It’s understandable that trainer John Gosden and owner/breeder Sir Anthony Oppenheimer would want to get Cracksman back on easy ground after Poet’s Word toppled him on good-to-firm in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) last out over the course. After all, he exhibited championship form last season on rain-affected tracks. Perhaps we were a bit too optimistic about his ability to duplicate that form in much quicker conditions, particularly over a 1 1/4-mile trip that’s his minimum.
Of course, the going is just one factor. Cracksman got soft ground in the 1 1/2-mile Coronation Cup (G1) two back, traveled listlessly much of the way, and only just righted the ship in the final yards to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I agreed with the view that chalked it up to the peculiarities of Epsom, a course that doesn’t suit the long-striding galloper that well. (See his narrow score in last year’s Derby Trial and third in the Derby [G1] itself).
Gosden has floated theories to explain both subpar runs. Cracksman banged his head on the gate in the Coronation Cup, and in the Prince of Wales’s, he lost his focus when amorously inclined toward the fillies and mares in the previous race. (But Gosden would run him against two fillies, one of them a stablemate, on Saturday.)
Whatever the cause, the champion was simply not himself in his past two. It’s possible that his zest is gone (Arrogate 2.0?), but his demise may be exaggerated. Cracksman still found a way to win at Epsom, and he still ran a strong race in the Prince of Wales’s in a fast time with another eight-length gap to Hawkbill in third. Hence I’d prefer to give him another chance in his ideal conditions, namely 1 1/2 miles around a course he’s proven to handle. If some portion of the forecast verifies, and an adequate amount of rain falls on ground that was watered during the week, it’s likely to be perfect for him. Gosden is leaving the decision to run as late as possible, after he walks the course Saturday morning.
If Cracksman runs, he’d be my top pick. The fact that Rob Havlin takes the reins from the suspended Frankie Dettori isn’t a concern for me. He’s a longtime member of Team Gosden who reportedly plays a critical role in the operation, and as Cracksman’s routine work rider, he’ll know his every idiosyncrasy. Indeed, considering how well Cracksman works, maybe it’s not a bad idea to make him think the King George is just another exercise.
Less clear is whether Crystal Ocean or Poet’s Word is the better half of the Sir Michael Stoute team. I’d give a slight edge to Crystal Ocean if forced to choose. Partly that’s because the Sea the Stars colt was well-regarded enough to be on the classic trail at three, and he finished a close second in a fantastically deep St Leger (G1), a key race that’s produced the winners of the Melbourne Cup (G1) and Ascot Gold Cup (G1). Virtually maturing before our eyes as 2017 unfolded, Crystal Ocean has built upon that foundation with a perfect season so far at four. He made it three-for-three in the June 23 Hardwicke (G2), over this course and distance, and it’s almost palpable how Stoute has gradually brought him up to this target.
Poet’s Word brings outstanding form in the book thanks to his conquest of Cracksman, with the proviso that his peak performances have all come at 1 1/4 miles. He’s effective at this 1 1/2-mile distance, having captured last year’s Glorious (G3) and placed second to Hawkbill in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1). But neither of those efforts is quite up to his level going shorter. And there’s also the matter of his coming off a new career high in the Prince of Wales’s, a significant step forward. Can he duplicate that?
So where’s the value? The sneakiest horse in the race is the “other” Gosden, the filly #6 Coronet (10-1).
Like the Stoute pair but with less fanfare, Coronet is herself improving with age, as a daughter of Dubawi is entitled to do. She’s already been tested versus males in each season of racing. Coronet won the 2016 Zetland in juvenile course-record time at Newmarket, beating Permian and future Derby upsetter Wings of Eagles. Last year she was a creditable fifth in the aforementioned St Leger, and most recently, she just missed on an unlucky head-bob in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) to Waldgeist. (Third-placer Salouen is the one who almost upset Cracksman in the Coronation Cup). Thus her form against males, past and present, intersects with the top of the class.
But Coronet also owns useful form in her own division. Best of the rest behind superstar Enable, last year’s King George and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) heroine, in the 2017 Yorkshire Oaks (G1), Coronet was up in time in last summer’s Ribblesdale (G2) at this course and distance. In her only other appearance here, she was a staying-on third to Hydrangea in last October’s British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) on soft ground. The two have gone in different directions since, and I’d contend that Coronet will turn the tables on her Saturday.
Coronet opened 2018 with a smart score in the Middleton (G2), over an about 1 5/16-mile trip that might have been thought a bit sharp for her. The form’s been franked with the rest of the superfecta coming back to win stakes, and Coronet nearly added to that haul at Saint-Cloud.
Most effective on anything from firmish to good-to-soft going, Coronet is likely to find conditions in her wheelhouse on Saturday. If the late runner gets a modicum of pace, she’ll unleash a potent rally, and the three-pound weight concession from the males will come in handy.
Note that Gosden has won three of the past seven renewals of the King George, twice with fillies (Enable and Taghrooda in 2014). Both were sophomores capitalizing on a more substantial weight break, but the general point stands.
Consider betting her to win and place (especially in light of the Winsurance promotion below), and definitely use her underneath in exotics permutations.
Check out the TwinSpires.com promotion for King George Day. Opt in, and get your Bet Back up to $10 if the horse you bet to Win runs second at Ascot July 28. Detailed terms on the Winsurance promotion are available here.
Photo of Cracksman edging Salouen in Coronation Cup courtesy of Racenews