Batman & Robin. Starsky & Hutch. Laurel & Hardy. Bert & Ernie. Double acts who provide a warm glow at just the mere mention of their names.
Racing has its own dynamic duo: Gosden & Dettori. Punters love them, bookmakers fear them. And make no mistake, QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday will revolve around them.
Dettori had the layers on their knees on the third day of Royal Ascot this summer when he rode the first four winners. He came close to extinguishing a few when failing narrowly to win the fifth race, reviving memories of his famous Magnificent Seven at the track in 1996.
Listen to what Dettori had to say about his Ascot rides on The Friday Club
On Saturday, Dettori again has the potential to have them begging for mercy. He has a ride in every race, five of them for Gosden.
Four of them are favourites and the other pair warrant more than a second glance. One is called King Of Comedy but the bookies will not see the funny side if the charismatic Italian, having already ridden a personal best 17 Group One winners this season, gets on another roll.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The odds suggest it is 6,415-1 that he goes through the card.
Gosden and Dettori make for a great combination. The former is always a sea of calm and coolness; the latter is like a bottle of pop that has been shaken up for an hour or two. When the lid comes off, prepare to get a soaking of excitement, smiles, tears, flying dismounts and kisses.
Perhaps predictably, Gosden has played down his chances of dominating Champions Day for the second successive year. The champion trainer, who leads Aidan O’Brien by about £700,000 in this year’s race, was the toasts of punters when enjoying a glittering treble on Britain’s richest raceday last year.
Dettori has already had 17 Group One winners this year
Cracksman (QIPCO Champion Stakes), Roaring Lion (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes) and Stradivarius (Long Distance Cup) all justified short-priced favouritism to leave the bookmakers cursing.
He will field a powerful team of ten tomorrow, with Dettori on all his principal contenders. The only race in which Gosden will not be represented is the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes but the bottle of pop will not be twiddling his thumbs as he will partner the well-fancied Advertise, for Martyn Meade.
Asked if he could again win half of the races on a card carrying more than £4 million in prize-money, Gosden said: “I don’t think so, no. Have a treble on Champions Day and imagine you are going to do that again? You might be smoking your socks if you think that! We’ll be thrilled if we have a winner.”
Gosden is hoping to give Stradivarius the green light to defend his crown in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup. The supreme stayer has not lost for two years and extended his winning sequence to ten with an easy success in the Doncaster Cup last month.
Imperious all season, it will be hugely deflating if he is scratched before racing gets under way.
“He’s been in very good form since the Doncaster Cup,” Gosden said. “He breezed on Wednesday morning and worked on Saturday, and Frankie was very happy with him.
Stradivarius has been invincible for two years
“I have made it clear that because I’m not conversant with the so-called inner track I will be walking that in the morning, which I did last year for him on the normal track. I shall then discuss everything with Mr Nielsen. Last year we discussed it and decided to run and I hope that it’s the same this year.”
He added: “Horses like him who can travel so well and then quicken up are rare, and it’s what make them a class apart. To do it at the end of these long races is a great attribute.”
In his blog for Ladbrokes, Dettori said: “I am not worried about the ground for Stradivarius because we will be racing on the inside track; although I have never raced on it. He can cope with soft and I don’t think it will be any worse than soft on the day. I love the horse so much and he has become the peoples favourite so I just hope he does his stuff.”
Gosden has a second string to his bow in the Long Distance Cup in the shape of the lightly-raced Royal Line, who was a fluent winner of the September Stakes at Kempton last month.
“He’s a horse who loves soft ground,” Gosden said. “Stamina-wise he is going into unknown territory, there’s no doubt about that. We haven’t run him over that far but he finishes his races out strong over a mile-and-a-half and gives the impression [he will stay].”
Star Catcher scoops the Irish Oaks
Gosden scooped the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes with Journey in 2016 and last year was responsible for the second and third horses home. This time he launches a three-pronged attack with Star Catcher, Anapurna and Sparkle Roll all taking their chance.
Star Catcher has reeled off successive wins in the Ribblesdale Stakes, Kerrygold Irish Oaks and Qatar Prix Vermeille, while Anapurna, a daughter of Frankel who will be having her final race, won the Investec Oaks in June and secured another Group One prize when winning the Qatar Prix de Royallieu at Longchamp this month. Sparkle Roll, third to Star Catcher in the Ribblesdale, is part-owned by the raceday sponsors.
“Anapurna had a rough trip in the Vermeille [on her penultimate start] and showed great courage in the Prix de Royallieu,” Gosden said. “You don’t normally come back that quickly but in fairness she’s had a lot of the summer off. She had a big holiday from the Oaks through to the Vermeille, then the Royallieu. She did a half-speed on Wednesday morning and she seems bright and content in herself.
“Star Catcher has been great from the Ribblesdale onwards. She won the Vermeille in good style when she got a clear run of it; and she’s had a nice gaps in her races. She goes there with every chance.”
Of Sparkle Roll, he added: “She’s in tremendous form and will enjoy the ground and the trip. She’s had a funny old summer but she’s come back well in the autumn.”
Star Catcher and Anapurna have each contributed two wins each to Dettori’s bumper Group One tally this year and he admits having to reject one was not easy.
Anapurna triumphs at Epsom in June
“It was a tough decision but I have gone with Star Catcher because she has been great all year,” he said. “It is very hard for me to choose but it is one of those situations that can’t be helped. I can only ride one horse. Anapurna is a good stayer and will be my main danger.
Gosden has won the past two runnings of the QIPCO-sponsored Queen Elizabeth II Stakes with Persuasive and Roaring Lion and this time relies on King Of Comedy, who will be equipped with first-time cheekpieces.
The Kingman colt did not get the rub of the green when touched off in the St James’s Palaces Stakes at Royal Ascot in June before being beaten under two lengths in the Juddmonte International at York. However, on his latest start he was no match for Benbatl, who he meets again, in the Shadwell Joel Stakes at Newmarket.
“He ran into a top horse in top form last time out,” Gosden said. “I was very impressed with Benbatl. He won in tremendous style – someone had to be second and it was us. I take nothing from the winner and think he will take all the beating again, but we’re running under somewhat different conditions. If we handle that ground then I think King Of Comedy will run a big race.”
Dettori shares his optimism, saying: “I think he can run a good race and the ground will suit him. He is a horse who likes to meet the ground; all his best races were at Sandown going up the hill. He ran very well in the St James’ Palace and he could spring a bit of a surprise.”
Frankel won the 2012 Champion Stakes on the final start of his thrilling career, and in the past two years one of his sons, Cracksman, has been a runaway winner of the race for Gosden.
This time the Newmarket-based trainer has declared Mehdaayih, who is herself a daughter of Frankel, plus Coronet, placed in the past two renewals of the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes and winner of Group One races in France on her past two starts.
He said: “Ever since Coronet won the [Prix Jean] Romanet [at Deauville on August 18] we have been waiting to run her in the QIPCO Champion Stakes. We are very, very happy with her and, as I say, it’s been the plan for some time.
“We’ve been absolutely thrilled with her two Group 1 wins this year. She’s such a tough race filly and she will be retiring after this race. Mehdaayih hated the heavy ground in France last time. I’ll be walking that track and we will take it from there with her.”
Dettori has ridden Coronet on ten occasions and won on her five times. He said: “She is an unbelievable horse. She is sweet, she tries, she has won two Group Ones and she loves Ascot. Magical is the one to beat but my horse doesn’t know how to run a bad race.”
Gosden has saddled the runner-up in the Balmoral Handicap on four occasions without manging to win it. This time he will be represented by Lord North, the favourite, and another leading fancy in Kick On, who carries the colours of Qatar Racing Limited.
Lord North landed the Cambridgeshire in commanding style under Dettori at Newmarket last month but will have to overcome a 12lb rise in the ratings if he is emulate Bronze Angel, who pulled off the Cambridgeshire and Balmoral double in 2014.
“This is Lord North’s last chance in a big handicap and so we will give it a go,” Gosden said. “Kick On won a Group Three last time out and he’s a real genuine horse who deserves to run in a race like this.”
Dettori will again be on Lord North and said: “He is a lovely, improving horse. I am not blessed with the best draw; he’s drawn 20 of 20. Historically the low draws in handicaps have been more fruitful so I’ll have to find a way to try to get involved. I am confident about his ability but I’m not very happy with the draw.”
DETTORI’S SUPER SIX ON CHAMPIONS DAY
1.35 Advertise 5-1 2.10 Stradivarius 4-7 2.45 Star Catcher 7-4 3.20 King Of Comedy 10-1 4.00 Coronet 4-1 4.40 Lord North 7-2
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