July 29 Enable easily starred on a big weekend of racing with a dramatic, hard-fought victory over Crystal Ocean in the Grade I King George at Ascot, moving one step closer to a bid for a third straight Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Laurens returned to the Group 1 winners' ranks in France, paving the way to some major European and UK turf events in the second half of the year -- and maybe the Breeders' Cup in November.
Meanwhile, Saudi officials set Aug. 7 at Saratoga as the official launch date for the brand-new, possibly $20 million Saudi Cup. The race is set for Feb. 29 in Riyadh and top American dirt horses will be sought most eagerly. See more below.
It's summer. It's hot. And so is the racing. Let's get going, staring with Enable and her supporting cast -- sporting owner Prince Khalid Abdullah, masterful trainer John Gosden and irrepressible jockey Frankie Dettori.
Saturday's Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot was billed as a race for the ages and fully lived up to expectations as Enable battled through the final furlongs with Crystal Ocean, separated by the narrowest of margins, and eventually prevailed by a neck. The 5-year-old Nathanial mare won the King George for the second time and did nothing to dim her prospects for a third victory in October in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
A third Arc seems almost unthinkable. But the King George was no easy task, either, and Gosden had laid verbal groundwork to cover the prospect of a defeat. But Dettori rode Enable as if he had no more doubts than the filly herself, confident through the entire race and riding hands and heels through the stretch run.
Enable was drawn widest of 11 and Dettori was forced to stay wide down to Swinley Bottom, where he had only three rivals beaten. Climbing the hill, Enable began to make progress and she emerged widest of all around the turn to reach contention. By that time, James Doyle had moved Crystal Ocean in pursuit of the tiring leaders and those two were the only ones who counted the rest of the way.
Even though Crystal Ocean may have had a nose in front at one point and despite the narrow margin of victory, it never seemed Enable was in danger of giving way to her rival as she strode out to her 11th straight win. Waldgeist was third.
"I'm exhausted, emotionally," Dettori said. "Wow! She's very good but she's also very brave. She's brilliant. It was a fantastic horserace ... We're on the road to Longchamp now."
Dettori, 48, has won just about every meaningful race on some of the world's top horses but called Enable "an amazing horse, in every way. She gives me emotion that no other horse has given to me ... I love her."
Gosden added, "It's what you wanted to see. He headed her and she came back. Two great athletes. They've put up a great King George.
"We'll just play with her now. We'll quietly let her come along the next 10 days and we'll make a decision where we want to go with her," Gosden said, adding Enable is "slightly penciled in" for the Yorkshire Oaks, which runs six weeks before the Arc. "But it's all about (Juddmonte owner) Prince Khalid. It's all down to him. He bred her and has had the courage to keep her in training at a 5-year-old."
The victory earned Enable a guaranteed spot in November's Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, which she won last year at Churchill Downs, through the "Win and You're In" program. It would be beyond sporting for her owner to send her to that race on the back of the Arc.
On Saturday at Newmarket, the Juddmonte forces had a minor setback as Jacksonian, a homebred Frankel colt, could manage only second in a maiden event chock full of promising types. Godolphin finished first and third, with Military March ridden out for a 1 3/4-lengths score under jockey Hector Crouch, and the odds-on favorite, Ursa Minor, surrendering second in the final strides to Jacksonian. The top two were having their first go. Ursa Minor, a Sea the Stars colt trained by Gosden, was second in a previous run behind another Godolphin 2-year-old, Al Dabaran.
Franking the result of the Newmarket race, Al Dabaran, a Dubawi colt, returned Saturday at Newmarket to win the Wooldridge Group Pat Eddery Stakes, formerly the Winkfield Stakes, in the final strides over Sun Power.
Amongst the 2-year-old fillies, Under the Stars rallied from last to lead a parade of long shots home in Saturday's Princess Margaret Stakes, opening the Ascot card with a bang. The Godolphin-campaigned favorite, Summer Romance, got home sixth. Under the Stars, a daughter of 2015 Lockinge winner Night of Thunder, improved to 2-for-2 for trainer James Tate.
Laurens worked to the lead halfway through the straight mile of Sunday's Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville and held the advantage the rest of the way, winning by 1/2 length from the fast-closing With You. Obligate raced with the pace but could only stick around for third. Laurens, a 4-year-old Siyouni filly, ended a three-race losing streak that extended back to her last win in the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes last October. As a 2-year-old and into last year, she was a multiple Group 1 winner, defeating some of the best of her generation.
"At the beginning of the year we actually thought she was stronger and faster, and her work in the spring was brilliant," said Laurens' trainer, Karl Burke. "We felt from 2 to 3 she had a very early start with the Guineas and it told on her at the end of the year. We wanted to finish (this) year well and hopefully that's still the plan with maybe the Breeders' Cup."
Danceteria, under Jamie Spencer, made up all the ground from the rear of the field in Sunday's Group 1 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen at Munich, led the final 100 yards and won by 1 1/4 lengths from Wai Key Star. Danceteria, a 4-year-old gelding by Redoute's Choice, finished the 1 1/4 miles on good turf in 2:14.96. He was coming off a fourth-place finish in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, won by Enable, and the victory was his first at the top level.
Goodwood takes center stage through the middle of the week with two Group 1 events and a pair of Group 2's. The lineup is stellar, including Stradivarius versus Dee Ex Bee, Too Darn Hot versus Circus Maximus and Japanese star Diedra versus Magic Wand, I Can Fly, Nyaleti and Mehdaayih. Personally, we'll be cheering for Flippa the Strippa, a 2-year-old daughter of Outstrip, running in the final race Wednesday. Come back Thursday to see how that turns out!
Coming up later:
Saudi sports officials on Aug. 7 will unveil a new international race designed to be the world's richest. The announcement, at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion at Saratoga, is to feature Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.
Invitations to the event indicate the race will be run Feb. 29, 2020, at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh. The distance and purse were not specified although longtime British racing figure Harry Herbert, now "Saudi Cup Global Ambassador," said, "It will be the world's most valuable horserace."
That would peg the purse north of the $16 million offered for the Dubai World Cup, set for its 25th running a month after the Saudi Cup. Rumors of the Saudi race, circulating for more than a year, have had the purse at $20 million.
"Since it will be a dirt race," Herbert said, "His Royal Highness thought it most appropriate to announce the details at Saratoga. The aim is to outline the plans for the race and to talk a little about the history and potential of racing in Saudi Arabia."
Trainer Bob Baffert, an early and highly successful supporter of the Dubai World Cup, said the situation in Saudi Arabia is significantly more challenging than Dubai in 1996.
"In Dubai," Baffert said, "you had a good idea what the track was like and there was an established international team involved in planning and running the race. A lot of those questions still have to be answered about Riyadh ... But when you put up $20 million, you're going to get good horses in the starting gate, no matter what," Baffert said, volunteering that figure.
"And when you put up that kind of money, it helps convince owners it worthwhile to buy good horses," he added. "You've got the Breeders' Cup and Dubai and the Pegasus and now this. It makes it easier."