Khalid Abdullah, John Gosden and Frankie Dettori — owner, trainer and jockey — already figured among the great names of racing. After this year’s Qipco-sponsored King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes they were joined in the pantheon by Enable, the astonishing filly who has been the prime focus of their attentions this year. As she stood in the winner’s enclosure, her flanks heaving with the effort but her intelligent eye still flickering around the gathering of racing’s great and good, both she and we had no doubt that we were in the presence of equine greatness. She has huge ability, she has guts and she has presence.
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the first clash over a mile-and-a-half between the three-year-olds contesting the year’s Classics and their elders, is crucial to racing’s pecking order and although none of this year’s Derby winners in England, Ireland or France had turned up for the contest we knew it promised something special. Up against the flying filly there was Aidan O’Brien’s battle-hardened five-year-old Highland Reel, the accumulator of more than£5 million from races in England, Ireland, France, Hong Kong, the USA and Australia, who won the 2016 King George and this year’s Coronation Cup. Joining Enable from the Gosden yard in Newmarket was Jack Hobbs, winner of the Irish Derby two years ago, and this year’s Sheema Classic in Dubai. Sir Michael Stoute, five times a winning trainer in the King George, was represented by the four-year-old Ulysses, winner of Sandown’s Eclipse Stakes, this year’s first contest of the generations, and to add spice there was the Argentinian-based Sixties Song, the best horse in South America. Enable herself had already won boththe Oaks at Epsom and, just two weeks earlier, the Irish Oaks, both by considerable margins.
On a soaking wet turf, racing in a miserable mist, Enable demonstrated once again that she has that prime quality sought by trainers and breeders everywhere: she loves to race. Both Highland Reel and Jack Hobbs briefly tried to take her on, but early in the straight, with the Irish horses out in the middle of the track looking for slightly better ground, Frankie Dettori gave his filly the signal and she simply exploded away from the field to win by four-and-a-half lengths. At the end only Ulysses had his head down chasing her: it was a performance that reminded one of spectacular King George victories such as those of Montjeu and Daylami.
You can always find a few who argue that the fillies’ allowance and age allowance make it too easy for the girls: the other three-year-old in the race, Benbatl, had to give Enable 3lb and the older horses were another 11lb worse off. But if that does give fillies an unfair advantage, why, in the years since the King George began in 1951, have Park Top, Dahlia, Pawneese, Time Charter, Danedream and Taghrooda been the only others from the distaff side to win it? Enable’s performance was so good that she might well have won the race without any concessions to her sex.
It wasn’t only her performance, though, that was outstanding. Frankie Dettori took a bold course in committing so early on even though he knew his filly stayed. He didn’t want to keep her back and get caught in a scrimmage at the end, but it takes a lot of courage to stay three furlongs out in front in such dire conditions: if she had been caught by a late sprint, the critics would have been merciless. Getting down to her allotted weight of 8st 7lb was another trial for Frankie. He had to lose 7lb in six days from an already spare frame, living, as he told us, on fish and water. Not only that but he has spent a month restoring himself to fitness after fracturing a shoulder.Fortunately, he didn’t let that and the slippery turf deny the crowd his trademark flying dismount.
He may have that joyous Mediterranean temperament but Frankie is so much more than our sport’s national showman. As John Gosden said of Enable’s 46-year-old pilot: ‘He has killed himself to do this weight. His hunger and passion for the game are undimmed and I find that quite remarkable.’ Nor should we fail to recognise the sagacity and skill of Enable’s trainer: John Gosden, who loves the clash of the generations, has now trained the winner of the King George three times in seven years, the other two victors being the filly Taghrooda and Enable’s sire Nathaniel. Bringing out a filly to win two Classics and the King George in a matter of weeks is a formidable feat, whatever her talent. All being well, Enable will next appear in this month’s Yorkshire Oaks before contesting the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Parisfor which she is already the 2–1 favourite: start booking your hotel rooms now because it may be a while before we see her like again.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.