Cheval Grand finished an "unlucky" sixth place in what turned out to be an epic running of the 69th King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday.
Cheval Grand, the 7-year-old challenger from Japan who went off at local odds of 33-to-1, ran his heart out on slightly yielding turf at the famed racecourse but crossed the finish line a distant sixth as Enable just held off Crystal Ocean, the highest rated racehorse per Longines World's Best Horserace Rankings, for her 11th consecutive victory. Enable's jockey Frankie Dettori won the race for an incredible sixth time.
Cheval Grand's trainer Yasuo Tomomichi lamented the downpour the previous night that led to the softening of the track which did no favors for the son of Heart's Cry, who came in third in the 2006 edition of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes.
"It's a real shame about the rain from last night because he had been in excellent condition and would have preferred a good going," Tomomichi said. "He was working so well in Newmarket until yesterday, coming along so well. Just leaves us thinking what if. He was in that kind of form.
"He seemed perfectly fine after the race, catching his wind right away. There should not be too much damage on him. We know the race was held late in the evening back in Japan and we really appreciate all the support for him.
"We will try to regroup as well as we can for our next start, the International Stakes," he said, referring to the Juddmonte International Stakes at York on Aug. 22.
Cheval Grand traveled third from the rear and gingerly made his way toward the front amid the turf conditions but by the time the party of 11 reached the home straight, the race had become a showdown between Enable, champion in 2017, and Crystal Ocean, who ended runner-up for the second successive year.
Oisin Murphy, who was aboard Cheval Grand, said it just was not the day for the 2017 Japan Cup winner with the rain and two of racing's biggest superstars in the mix.
"He got off to a good stat and was fine initially but tripped up a little on the backstretch," Murphy said. "He didn't look capable of handling the going after the rain last night. He was in very good form thanks to the team, but was unlucky this time around. Just very unfortunate (about the weather)."
Japanese fan favorite Dettori described the race as one for the ages after his 5-year-old mare, the 8-to-15 first choice, triumphed to a ninth consecutive top-level win by a neck over the 5-year-old Crystal Ocean, trained by Sir Michael Stoute. Third-place Waldgeist was another length and three-quarters behind.
"She's brilliant," said the 48-year-old Dettori, no stranger to some of the finest moments in racing history with more than 3,000 career victories. "(Crystal Ocean) is a great horse, I knew he was the one to beat. We gave the public what they came to see, and they got a fantastic horse race.
"In all my career that's probably the hardest-fought Group One I've ever had. Two great champions, the last two furlongs. It doesn't come every day."
The John Gosden-trained Enable will now attempt to capture an unprecedented third straight title at Europe's richest race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October, which will be her swansong. Before that, Cheval Grand could get another crack at the living legend in the International Stakes.
"She is extraordinary and she really surprised me," Dettori said. "She's an amazing horse in every way – ability, courageous, uncomplicated.
"I love her, I ride her twice a week. She's special, she gives me emotion that no other horse has given me in my life and she's only with me for another three months, so I'm trying to enjoy every moment. You will probably only see her two more times, at York and the Arc, so let's enjoy her. She's a superstar."
Murphy summed it up best: "Enable is the best since Frankel," he said, referring to the legend who was retired in 2012 for a breeding career following 14 successive wins and was also owned by Khalid Abdullah.Added Gosden, "Crystal Ocean showed all the courage in the world, and the first two are wonderful - they put up a great King George."