Clive Cox believes the return to Ascot can help My Dream Boat scale new heights in a star-studded renewal of the QIPCO-sponsored King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Saturday.
Britain's premier all-aged middle-distance contest, which carries prize money of £1.15 million and forms part of the Middle Distance category of the QIPCO British Champions Series, has attracted a glittering final field of ten.
My Dream Boat is one of six Group 1 winners in the line-up – his finest hour being when winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot last year at the expense of Found, the subsequent Arc heroine. He also put up a bold show back at the Berkshire venue in October when fourth to Almanzor in the QIPCO Champion Stakes.
The five-year-old ran his best race of this season when filling the same position behind Zarak in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on his latest start (beaten little more than two lengths) and Cox, who has already enjoyed QIPCO British Champions Series glory this month with Harry Angel in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket, is also encouraged that his stable stalwart is likely to have the give in the ground that brings out the best in him.
“He’s not as effective when it’s too firm and the recent rainfall has been very welcome. It looks like he will get his favoured conditions,” Cox said. “He ran a pleasing race in France last time and, while he is quite laid back at home, he’s been giving us the right signals and gives us the impression he’s at the top of his game.
“It’s a seriously high quality race and the calibre of the opposition means he will be an outsider, but he loves Ascot and usually picks up well in the straight. He stays a mile and a half but has only run over a mile and a quarter there in the past.”
My Dream Boat took a bit of galvanising when runner-up to Hawkbill at Newbury on his penultimate start and as a consequence he wore cheekpieces at Saint-Cloud last time. “He raced a little bit lazily at Newbury and the cheekpieces helped last time, so we will keep them on,” Cox said. “We took a long time to settle him [in his early days] but now he has learnt that job almost too well.”
Frankie Dettori is seeking a fifth success in the race and believes Enable, runaway victor of the Investec Oaks at Epsom in June and Irish equivalent at the Curragh this month, has the attributes required to help him achieve it.
“She has all the weapons you need,” the 46-year-old said of the John Gosden-trained filly. “Three times - at Chester [in the Arkle Finance Cheshire Oaks], Epsom and in Ireland, she has shown to me and the racing world she has a good cruising speed and great turn of foot. At the back of my mind I knew she would win [last time at the Curragh] but even I was taken by the way she done it. I was probably more impressed than at Epsom. Her turn of foot was electric for a stayer.”
Gosden will also be represented by Jack Hobbs, an emphatic winner of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby in 2015 who impressed when landing the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic on rain-softened ground at Meydan in March.
Highland Reel, Ulysses and Sixties Song have also won at the highest level. In addition, Idaho and Decorated Knight have been placed in at least one Group 1 race.
Highland Reel won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes last year, when making all the running, and seeks to become only the third dual winner after Dahlia (1973-74) and Swain (1997-98).
The globetrotting five-year-old showed typical tenacity when winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot on his latest start, in the process chalking up his sixth Group 1 success and taking his career earnings to almost £6 million. No son of the mighty Galileo has accumulated more on the racecourse.
He will be joined in the starting gates by his year younger brother, Idaho, who won the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal Meeting. It will be the first time the siblings, out of Australian mare Hveger, will have met in a race. If either are successful it will mean a ninth success for trainer Aidan O’Brien in this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series.
The regally bred Ulysses (both his sire and dam won Classics at Epsom) has finished behind Highland Reel the two previous times they have met but he confirmed himself as a top-notch performer when edging out Barney Roy in a pulsating Coral-Eclipse this month, when Desert Encounter kept on from off the pace to be third.
“Ulysses has always been held in high regard and it was great it all came to fruition,” Jim Crowley, his rider, said. “He’s won over a mile and a half, a mile and a quarter, and the way he travels he could probably win over a mile. He’s just a very high class horse.”
Ulysses had previously finished a close third to Highland Reel in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and Crowley is likely to show his hand as late as he dares on Saturday. The reigning Stobart champion jockey said: “It was the first time I’d ridden him and I might have got there a little bit too soon against a horse like Highland Reel, who loves a fight. It was always in back of my mind [in the Eclipse] to hold on to him a bit longer.”
This year’s renewal will also feature the first South American-trained runner in Sixties Song, trained by Alfredo Dassie in Argentina.
Sixties Song is a son of Sixties Icon, the 2006 St Leger winner, and is a two-time Grade 1 winner in South America. He won the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano at Valparaiso, Chile, in March, having previously scooped the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini at San Isidro, Argentina, in December.
Sixties Song arrived in Britain over the weekend and has been boarding at Abington Place Stables in Newmarket. The field is completed by Benbatl, who won the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last time after finishing fifth in the Investec Derby, and Maverick Wave, the latter likely to be deployed as a pacemaker by Godolphin.