Stradivarius toiled in the Long Distance Cup
You would have got massive odds against the collective might of John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien failing to land a Champions Day winner but even the best can have rotten days at the office.
The pair had previously enjoyed 16 Champions Day winners between them and had 19 darts to throw at the board, including ten Group One winners and three hot favourites. But the day ended with them having fought out a 0-0 draw; no finisher closer than third. For good measure Frankie Dettori drew his first blank at the meeting for five years.
The pattern was set from the opening race when Stradivarius beat one home in the Long Distance Cup. Gosden blamed the holding ground but the brilliant stayer has encountered most surfaces in his fabulous career and didn’t look happy from an early stage. O’Brien ran a trio but none finished closer than fifth.
Gosden and O’Brien had between them won the past four renewals of the Fillies & Mares but this time their four runners were out of the frame; and then the odds-on Palace Pier fluffed his lines in the QEII with two-time Royal Ascot winner Circus Maximus fading tamely.
Dettori said Palace Pier wasn’t using himself properly. "You can't go a mile with just one leg, you have to use both and I tried to get him to change,” he said. “It was very unlike him. You can't win a race with three wheels - you need all four."
The richest race of the year, the £750,000 Qipco Champion Stakes, offered the promise of salvation. The Big Two were responsible for half of the ten-runner field, including the first three in the betting, but again were left looking for excuses. Magical, who was third, and Derby winner Serpentine, fourth, fared best of the O’Brien trio but Mishriff, Japan and Lord North filled the last three places.
The Revenant was one of five geldings to win on Saturday. No colt or entire went closer than runner-up Roseman
Geldings are excluded from some Group One races in Europe, like the British Classics and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but everybody is welcome to the party at Champions Day.
And, my word, they had a ball, winning everything bar, of course, the Fillies & Mares. They were a cut above in every sense and three of them - Trueshan, Glen Shiel and Njord - are owned not by the sport's big hitters but by syndicates.
The best performance by a colt or entire was not Palace Pier, Stradivarius or the Raaeq, but the unheralded Roseman, who was runner-up in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Cirrus Des Aigles had been the last gelding to win the Champion Stakes, in 2011, while none had won the QEII since Solow five years ago. And the Long Distance Cup had not been won by a gelding since Sheikhzayedroad in 2016.
And the bad news for the colts and fillies in 2021 is that all this year’s winning geldings are very likely to be back.
Hollie Doyle established herself as one of the jockeys in the weighing room long ago but her exploits on Champions Day might well catapult her to the next level.
She landed the first two races in the most contrasting fashion possible. The Alan King-trained Trueshan became the widest-margin winner of a race on Champions Day by landing the Long Distance Cup by seven and a half lengths before Glen Shiel scooped a tremendous renewal of the Sprint by a nose.
In truth, just about anyone could have won aboard Trueshan, who revelled in the holding ground, but Doyle was seen to maximum advantage on Glen Shiel as the combination repelled the late thrust of Brando and Tom Eaves in a blanket finish.
Trueshan’s previous wins under Doyle had been at Wolverhampton and Ffos Las, while Glen Shiel was having his eleventh run of the year (no Champions Day winner has been so busy) after starting the campaign getting beaten in handicaps on the all-weather.
The winning horses, like Doyle, are simply getting better and better.
Doyle and Tom Marquand are racing’s golden couple and had a dinner date arranged for Saturday night even before their remarkable exploits on Saturday.
Doyle won the first two races and then Marquand got in on the act with victories on Addeybb in the Qipco Champion Stakes and Njord in the Balmoral Handicap. If you happened to put them in a fourfold the odds of reward would have been 17,399-1.
“We will probably sit there smiling for a couple of hours,” Marquand said and who could blame them?
The highlight, of course, was Addeybb’s convincing success, which owed a lot to his rider attacking early in the straight. Twelve months ago, William Haggas’ star could not get to grips with Magical but this time the tables were turned with the mare, seeking an eighth Group One triumph, unable to lay a glove on him.
Marquand was full of admiration for Addeybb, on whom he won two Group One races in Australia in the spring, but played down his positive tactics which included going for home two out. “I just bombed the straight,” he said, matter-of-fact.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
David Menuisier arrived at Champions Day, in his seventh season as a trainer, having never trained a winner at Ascot and admitted “it plays on my mind a little bit”.
Recalling his near-misses at the track, he said beforehand: “The one I remember vividly was when Make Time made his debut at Ascot [four years ago] when he was touched off by The Queen’s horse, Frontispiece on the line. The official margin was a nose but it was more like half a whisker and I have to admit I haven’t really recovered from that yet.”
The popular Frenchman will be recovered now as broke his duck in style with the stamina-laden Wonderful Tonight galloping on powerfully to land the Fillies & Mares Stakes jut a fortnight after her Group One win at the Arc meeting a fortnight earlier.
It was only the third time we had seen her in action in Britain and her main aim next year will not be on shores, either. The trainer and owner, Chris Wright, have their sights fixed on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Njord was a commanding winner - how far can he climb next year?
The Balmoral Handicap’s uncanny knack of yielding Group One winners was extended when Glen Shiel, fourth in last year’s renewal, landed the Sprint Stakes.
Lord North, the runner-up 12 months ago, won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes earlier this summer, and in previous years Lord Glitters, Accidental Agent and Zabeel Prince have also won at the highest level after running in it.
Don’t be surprised if Saturday’s impressive winner, Njord, follows suit next year.
The four-year-old could be named the winner of Saturday’s race from some way out, having been unfortunate in similarly competitive handicaps in his native Ireland earlier this year.
Rated 102 coming into the race, he can expect to go up to something like 110 after this. That leaves him some way shy of dining at the top table, or does it?
His winning time was just a fraction slower (0.1 sec) than The Revenant recorded in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes an hour earlier, and he was carrying 1lb more. It’s not quite that straightforward, of course, given no two races are rarely run the same, but Tom Marquand did not have to go for everything late on and, up until the final furlong, Njord was quicker than The Revenant.
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