There will be stars at every turn on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday, with 21 Group One winners in action.
Adayar, Mishriff and Palace Pier are among the headline acts, with such as Trueshan, Stradivarius, Snowfall and Baaeed joining them. The glittering cast have between them won 48 races at the highest level.
Prize money of £4,091,250 is up for grabs, with the QIPCO Champion Stakes set to be the richest race in the UK this year with £1.26 million on offer.
The Knowledge: Watch our 85-minute Champions Day Preview Show
The title battle between Oisin Murphy and William Buick will be resolved once and for all, while the day will go a long way to determining who will end up the year as champion trainer. Charlie Appleby and Andrew Balding lead that championship, but John and Thady Gosden are primed to pounce.
The going on Friday was described as is good to soft, good in places. Here is a guide to all six races.
TRUESHAN relished the deep ground when trouncing his rivals in last year’s renewal when Morando (fourth) and a below-par Stradivarius (12th) were among those left trailing.
Underfoot conditions will not be so testing but easy going is on the cards and he’s hard to oppose, having cemented his status as the best stayer around with successive wins in the Goodwood Cup and Prix du Cadran. He was simply too strong for Stradivarius in France, with Gold Cup runner-up Princess Zoe fading to be fifth after travelling strongly.
The worry is whether this will come a bit quick after his exertions at Longchamp this month but he’s had a relatively light campaign and has backed up quickly in the past. Champions Day has featured eight winners who previously ran at the Arc meeting and, in any case, his price seems to have factored in the doubt. He'd be odds-on if we knew he was going to reproduce his best form.
Triple Gold Cup winner Stradivarius has a glittering CV decorated by 17 Group race triumphs but is not the invincible force he one was.
The Mediterranean, trained by Aidan O’Brien, is the main hope of the Classic generation after finishing third in the St Leger. However, he’s since been well beaten at The Curragh and O’Brien has overall had a lean time with his runners in Britain since July (3/46).
Also, the Ballydoyle maestro has had just two winners from his past 54 runners. And the form of his 28 runners in Listed and Group races this month is a troubling 5274056600006045476863060806.
Hamish has been lightly raced since having a great tussle with Trueshan at Newbury a couple of years ago. He showed his wellbeing when beating Hukum (easy winner since) on his belated return in a muddling event at Kempton (1m4f) and this stamina test should show him in an even better light.
The prolific Baron Samedi, a staying-on third in the Irish St Leger last time, should go well, while Berkshire Rocco would be a lively outsider if recapturing the form he showed when runner-up in last year’s St Leger.
Top trends: Sixteen three-year-olds have run in the Long Distance Cup, none finishing better than third. That does not augur well for The Mediterranean or Tashkan. Five-year-olds have done well with nine of their 22 challengers (almost 41 per cent) winning or finishing in the first three. Trueshan and Hamish represent that age group.
1. TRUESHAN 2. HAMISH 3 STRADIVARIUS.
A maximum field but not a deep renewal with such as Starman, Dream Of Dreams, Campanelle, Oxted, Emaraaty Ana, Winter Power and Marianafoot – all Group One sprint winners this year – bing absent.
There’s not a runner in the race with an official rating above 115 and, to put that in perspective, there’s never been a renewal with a lower highest-rated runner. For the past six years, the top four-rated contenders all had marks of at least 116.
Glen Shiel is back to defend his crown, in first-time blinkers, after scrambling home by a nose from Brando last year but the first two home coped better than most with the testing conditions that day and, with an aggregate age of 16, look vulnerable.
ART POWER has long looked like he has a Group One race in him but his exuberance, coupled with some overly aggressive rides, has meant it never quite happening for him up to now.
However, the four-year-old put in a hugely professional performance when powering home on good ground at The Curragh last time and his fine record at this track – including near-misses in this race last year and in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in June – suggest he must go close.
His draw in stall 20 is a niggle but dictates that Silvestre de Sousa will have to stick stands’ side to centre. Art Power is good enough to go solo, if requred, even though it would be a brave move by his jockey.
Creative Force, winner of the Jersey Stakes here in June, is feared most. He’s finished just behind Art Power on a couple of occasions on fast ground this year but the combination of this stiff track and slower conditions should play to his strengths. He’d have almost certainly run in the Commonwealth Cup had he not been a gelding, and might well have won it, too.
In his absence, Dragon Symbol was first past the post in that race only to be demoted. I keep thinking his busy year must soon catch up with him – he’s had ten starts since March 1 – but he’s showing no signs of fatigue.
Rohaan has been even busier but the Wokingham winner showed he had some fizz left in the tank when a staying-on fifth in The Flying Five last time. That run had to be seen to be believed as he must have surrendered a dozen lengths or more from the gates. However, slow starts are becoming a feature of his performances and he could be a hostage to fortune in this big field.
Minzaal shaped well on his belated return a fortnight ago but must be a “bounce” candidate, while the drying ground will not help Kinross, who has looked well served by 7f. Vadream won with something to spare here a couple of weeks ago (Glen Shiel behind) but this requires more.
Gustavus Weston looks the pick of the Irish runners and you can make a case for the highest-rated runner in the line-up being overpriced, but others are more solid.
Top trends: Do not be put off by runners who have had busy campaigns. Glen Shiel was having his eleventh run of the year when successful last year, while Maarek (tenth run of the year) and Gordon Lord Byron (ninth, having started the year in Australia) had also been in regular action. Three of the first four winners were Irish-trained but the past six renewals have all been won by British challengers.
1. ART POWER 2. CREATIVE FORCE 3. DRAGON SYMBOL
The shape of this race changed completely on Thursday morning with La Petite Coco, Free Wind and Love – the first three in the betting overnight - not featuring among the declarations.
Aidan O’Brien had intimated that Snowfall would run in the Champion Stakes but instead she shows up here and, on paper, it’s something of an open goal for her as the official ratings suggest she has got at least 10lb in hand of the opposition.
However, she’s lost some of her lustre since her runaway wins in the Oaks, Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks and this could come plenty quick enough for her after her creditable sixth in the Arc. Throw in the form of O’Brien’s team (see above) and you are braver than me if you want to back her at short odds.
ALBAFLORA looks a value alternative. She was beaten four lengths by Snowfall at York in August but the ground would have been much quicker than she prefers that day and, unlike the winner, she has since been kept fresh, plus she gets a 3lb pull.
In addition, she seems to enjoy the demands of Ascot – running well here last autumn and trouncing Tribal Craft here in May. She’s all stamina and capable of cashing in if the favourite is not at her best.
Ribblesdale runner-up Eshaada was clearly not herself when trailing home last in the Yorkshire Oaks but requires a personal best. That remark is also applicable to Invite, who won at Chester last time having been switched to the yard of Andrew Balding.
La Jaconde has already finished behind Snowfall on four occasions this year, while Mystery Angel was beaten 16 lengths by her at Epsom.
Top trends: Seven of the ten winners had won their previous completed start, four of them in Group One company. Invite is the only runner who won her latest start. Three of the past four victors had run at the Arc meeting before, although Hydrangea (2017) had the luxury of a three-week gap when successful. That stat will comfort Snowfall’s supporters. Fifteen of the horses who have won or been second have been rated between 111 and 115. That points to Snowfall (120) being well up to standard, especially with none of her rivals rated above 110.
1 ALBAFLORA. 2. SNOWFALL. 3. INVITE
A cracking clash in store with most focusing on Palace Pier, a five-time Group One winner who has been beaten just once in nine starts, and Baaeed, unbeaten in five starts and successful in Group One company at the first time of asking in France last time.
The pair might well fight out the finish, although their jockeys will need their wits about them as this could get tactical with no pacemakers or habitual front-runners in the line-up.
We don’t know where Baaeed’s ceiling might be, but PALACE PIER is the more streetwise and ticks just about every box. He’s had a relatively light campaign and I’m prepared to forgive him his one below-par run, in this race last year, when a number of his stablemates also disappointed.
I was half-tempted to take the Big Two on with Alcohol Free, who won the Coronation Stakes and Sussex Stakes in the summer and has the weapons to be fully effective if the race favours speed over stamina. However, Andrew Balding’s team has gone quiet after an exceptional year and she has herself had a busy campaign.
Master Of The Seas came within a short head of winning the 2000 Guineas in May but was then off five months before failing to reproduce that form behind Benbatl in last month’s Joel Stakes. He can be expected to be sharper here but slower ground is an unknown for him.
The Revenant took the spoils last year after finishing runner-up 12 months earlier. Age is against him, though, and he’s at his most effective when the mud is flying.
Benbatl’s window might have also passed. He’s run in five Group One races in Britain and lost them all, plus would prefer quicker going. Mother Earth, the 1000 Guineas winner, has had her limitations exposed, while Lady Bowthorpe was no match for Palace Pier in the Lockinge.
Lord Glitters has never finished closer than sixth in three previous runs in this race. Njord won the Balmoral last year but has not taken his form to the next level.
Top trends: Half of the ten runnings at Ascot have been won by the highest-rated runner in the line-up, with Frankel, Excelebration, Charm Spirit, Solow and Roaring Lion all justifying their lofty marks. Palace Pier (125) is officially rated between 4lb and 15lb superior to his rivals. Seven victors had won on their previous start, five in Group One company. The three qualifiers here are Palace Pier, Baaeed and Benbatl, although the last-named did not win at the highest level. France have had nine runners, scooping three wins and two places. In other words, 55.55% of their challengers have won gold, silver or a bronze. The Revenant has done his bit, finishing second and first in the past two years, and is back for more.
1. PALACE PIER. 2. BAAEED. 3. THE REVENANT
A fabulous renewal which features many of the sport’s top middle-distance stars. Let’s start with last year’s decisive winner, Addeybb, who was also runner-up 12 months earlier. It doesn’t look like his powers have waned this year but coming here off the back of a 105-day break is not ideal (for all he can go well fresh) and we all know it’s a case of the heavier the better for him.
The drying ground has encouraged connections of Adayar to roll the dice just 13 days after his fourth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. I’m not overly worried by the prospect of this coming too quick for the Derby and King George hero – it may have even added an edge after ten weeks off – but the drop in distance is a niggle because he’s a strong stayer.
He will no doubt be ridden to make the most of his stamina but will have a big target on his back.
MISHRIFF left the impression he was outstayed by Adayar in the King George and went a long way to confirming that this is his optimum trip with his subsequent demolition job in the Juddmonte International at York. I fancy him to turn the tables over this trip, not least because he’s been given time to recharge his batteries and meets Adayar on 7lb better terms. That pull is because of the weight-for-age scale, but has Adayar improved 7lb mentally and physically since late July and now? I’m dubious.
Sealiway finished only a place behind Adayar in the Arc but has attracted a lot less attention. His best efforts have been on deep going but he has been rather overlooked in the market.
Dubai Honour impressed when winning the Prix Dollar at the Arc meeting and has been supplemented for £75,000. This requires more, and if you fancy him then you have to like the much bigger-priced Foxes Tales, who was touched off by him at Newmarket in July and is now 9lb better off.
A gelding operation does not look to have made Al Aasy any more resolute but he makes more appeal than Bolshoi Ballet, who fluffed his lines in the Derby (sent off 11-8 favourite) and has been unable to make the most of easier pickings in America in his past two races. It would be remiss not to mention Helvic Dream, the Tattersalls Gold Cup winner, but I imagine his connections were banking on testing ground.
Top trends: It rarely pays to look beyond the highest-rated runners. On four occasions the top-rated runner – Frankel, Farhh, Almanzor and Magical – has won, while the second highest-rated runner has triumphed as many times via Fascinating Rock, Cracksman (twice) and Addeybb. Crystal Ocean (rated 129 in 2018) and Nathaniel (128 in 2011) have been high-rated runners to have been defeated. The former had the misfortune to bump into Cracksman, who had been rated 130 earlier in the summer, while the latter ran in an epic renewal featuring eight Group One winners.
1. MISHRIFF. 2. ADAYAR. 3. ADDEYBB.
Lord Glitters, Accidental Agent, Lord North and Glen Shiel have all used the Balmoral as a stepping stone to Group One glory. If there’s a top-level performer in this year’s field, then surely it is SUNRAY MAJOR, who promises to take plenty of beating after sneaking in at the foot of the weights.
A half-brother of champion miler Kingman, Sunray Major looked an exciting prospect when winning on his debut at Newmarket last summer only to disappoint 13 days later and spend the next 15 months on the sidelines.
However, the four-year-old is now making up for lost time with his wins at Chelmsford and Ascot this autumn suggesting he is much more than just a handicapper. He was not extended to beat 16 rivals here earlier in the month, over 7f, and is officially 1lb well-in under his penalty with the step up to a mile sure to suit.
His draw on the stands’ side in 21 will perhaps deter a few, as usually the Balmoral runners congregate on the far side. However, it will mean him avoiding any early scrimmaging and remember that Escobar (drawn in 21) and Lord North (20) dominated the finish of this race two years ago.
The Gosden team, responsible for the runner-up in this race on five occasion without landing it, are also represented by King Leonadis and Magical Morning. The former shaped encouragingly on his belated return at Newbury but Magical Morning has to put a dull effort in the Cambridgeshire behind him.
Aldaary impressed here a couple of weeks ago but 7f has looked his best trip and his penalty means he is among six runners in this early-closing contest who are badly in.
Nugget has plenty going for him and will be hard to keep out of the frame if coping with slower ground, while Escobar, the winner in 2019 after finishing runner-up in 2018, can never be discounted in big-field handicaps. The other on my shortlist is Sir Busker, who has a cracking record on the straight track at Ascot.
Top trends: Twenty-four three-year-olds have run in the Balmoral since it was first run in 2014 and none have won. Aldaary and Rhoscolyn bid to buck the trend. Thirteen runners have run carrying a penalty – five of them starting at 6-1 or shorter – and none have finished closer than third. Sunray Major will have to buck that trend if he is to justify favouritism, with Aldaary, Shelir and Kenzai Warrior also carrying penalties. Six of the seven winners have been rated between 100 and 105, with Musaddas (96) the exception in 2015. The top seven in the race are all rated 106 or higher.
1.SUNRAY MAJOR. 2. NUGGET. 3. ESCOBAR. 4. SIR BUSKER.
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