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Sylvester Kirk strives for King George glory with Salouen

26 Jul 2018

Trainer hopes his stable flagbearer Salouen can provide him with a spectacular first Group 1 triumph

Salouen fights out the finish with Cracksman

Sylvester Kirk hopes his stable flagbearer Salouen can provide him with a spectacular first Group 1 triumph in the £1.25 million QIPCO-sponsored King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.

The mile and a half showpiece, which forms part of the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series, has attracted a final field of eight. It is a distinguished line-up with all of the runners having either won or been placed at the highest level.

Salouen carries the colours of Sri Lankan owner Rohan Balasuriya and Kirk is swift to acknowledge that the four-year-old colt is by far the best horse in his Upper Lambourn yard. That is reflected by the fact that he has won more prize money (about £130,000) this season than the other 34 horses (about £80,000) that the trainer has run so far.

“It gives the place a different feel when you’ve got a fellow like him knocking around,” Kirk said. “He gives everyone a lift and you could not wish for a horse who is more honest, genuine, consistent or easy to deal with.

“I’m so lucky Rohan has kept him with me. It’s an absolute pleasure to have one like him and it would be so good for the owner, not to mention horse, if he was rewarded for his loyalty and persistence.

“We keep aiming at the highest level and Saturday will be another big ask but we’d rather take our chance at the top level again. It’s frustrating not to have got his head in front for a while, but we’d probably only end up bumping into an improver if we dropped him in grade.”

Salouen was collared by Cracksman in the final strides of a dramatic Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom last month under his now regular rider, Stobart champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa, and the combination were beaten little more than a length when third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time.

“The Coronation Cup was wonderful and horrible rolled into one,” Kirk said. “I thought we had it won – it was a real mix of emotions. Last time in France it was a muddling pace and turned into a bit of a sprint. We could have done with going half a stride quicker. Maybe that last run is as good as he is, but he’s consistent and if he puts his best foot forward he should again be there or thereabouts.”

Kirk believes Salouen is versatile regards ground conditions and is inclined to overlook a below-par run at Ascot last season, when he was unplaced in the King Edward VII Stakes.

“He was dropped out in a slow-run race that day when it paid to be prominent,” he said “When the leaders kicked clear he could never get a shot at them. Ground-wise he’s versatile and they’ve looked after it really well at Ascot during the hot weather. I’d say it was nearly good ground there last week, which surprised me.”

Sir Michael Stoute is seeking a record sixth success in the race – Shergar (1981), Opera House (1993), Golan (2002), Conduit (2009) and Harbinger (2010) have been his previous winners – and has two strong candidates in Crystal Ocean and Poet’s Word, who dispute favouritism after their respective victories at Royal Ascot last month.

Crystal Ocean, owned and bred by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, extended his unbeaten sequence for the season to three by landing the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes. Ryan Moore, his regular rider, is required to ride by Coolmore and so William Buick, whose triumphs this year include winning the Investec Derby on Masar, rides him for the first time.

Poet’s Word had hit the post several times in Group 1 company before defeating Cracksman by two and a quarter lengths in the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.

John Gosden has won two of the past four renewals with fillies, Taghrooda in 2014 and Enable 12 months ago, and has declared Cracksman and Coronet. He said this morning that the former, a dazzling seven-length winner from Poet’s Word in the QIPCO Champion Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot in October, “will only run if there is sufficient rain”.

With Cracksman’s regular rider Frankie Dettori banned, Robert Havlin will take over in the saddle if the Frankel colt gets the green light to run.

Coronet, a grey daughter of Dubawi, was beaten a nose when splitting Waldgeist and Salouen in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on her latest start.

Aidan O’Brien has landed the King George four times, most recently with Highland Reel in 2016, and will also saddle two runners. The champion trainer runs Hydrangea, winner of the Group 1 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day in October; plus Rostropovich, half-length runner-up in the Darley Irish Derby.

Desert Encounter, sixth in last year’s renewal, completes the field.