Roaring Lion will be among the plethora of Group One winners in action on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday but his connections will delay deciding which race he contests until close to declaration time on Thursday.
The brilliant grey has carried all before him over a mile and a quarter in the second half of the season - landing the Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes - and his prefered target is the showpiece race of the whole day, the £1.3 million QIPCO Champion Stakes, run over that trip.
However, with the ground being a mix of soft and heavy after heavy weekend rain, he could be switched to the Queen Elizabeth Stakes over a mile.
Also, perhaps crucially, the Champion Stakes is on the round track at Ascot, while the QEII is on the straight track. The former usually rides deeper.
David Redvers, racing manager for Roaring Lion’s owners, Qatar Racing, said on Monday afternoon: “John Gosden and I are walking the course on Thursday morning and a decision will be made then.”
Gosden said: “He would be the very legitimate favourite for the Qipco Champion Stakes, but would not want it very soft or heavy.
“He’s got the class and speed to run over that mile (QEII) if that were the case and we’ll keep an eye on what’s around us (weather wise).”
Betfair and Paddy Power have pushed Roaring Lion out to 5-1 for the Champion. He is a best-priced 7-2 for the Queen Elizabeth but, if pointed in that direction, will almost certainly usurp French challenger Recoletos as favourite.
Just how good was Roaring Lion at York?
Roaring Lion has not run over a mile since finishing fifth in the 2,000 Guineas but Redvers, like Gosden, would not have too many concerns about him dropping back in distance.
"All along, the form men - the clever boys with their sectional times - have said that he's as good as any of the best milers this year,” he said.
One horse in the Champion Stakes who will relish the expected testing ground is Gosden’s defending champion Cracksman, while the Clarehaven handler has also left in Monarchs Glen and Maverick Wave among the 14 entries.
Robert Havlin knows Cracksman better than most - he has ridden him in the majority of his work all his life - and believes it will take a good horse to him registering back-to-back triumphs. The bookmakers seem to concur, cutting him to a top price of 11-10 on Monday.
“He loves it round there and it looks like he is going to get his soft ground on Saturday,” he said. “I rode him this morning and he is bouncing. He worked well on Saturday and hopefully everything should be in his favour.
Cracksman was a spectacular winner of the Champion Stakes last year
“He was the highest-rated horse in Europe after his win in it last year and if he brings his A-game he will be pretty difficult to beat.
“It’s going to be a strong race, but we’ve been waiting for this sort of ground. We’ve freshened him up, so he goes there a fresh horse and we are expecting a big run. As it is his last race, it would be nice for him to go out on a high.”
Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean will be dropping in trip, with Mirage Dancer also left in by the Freemason Lodge trainer.
Stoute said of Crystal Ocean: “We are planning to run him. It would have been better for the owner if he’d won the King George but it was a very brave effort and we’ve really been pleased with the way he has progressed. He will be dropping back in distance but he is effective at ten [furlongs].”
Last year’s St Leger winner Capri is one of five contenders for Aidan O’Brien and Jim Bolger’s Verbal Dexterity is also in the mix for Ireland.
William Haggas’ Addeybb, and French challenger Subway Dancer, trained by Zdeno Koplik, complete the list.
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