The ITV racing team is bringing viewers action at the British Champions Day from Ascot on Saturday. There are four Group 1’s to sink our teeth into with Champion Stakes arguably the best race of the day. This day really marks the end of the flat season and gives racing enthusiasts one last chance to see equines elite on European soil.
The Group 2 Lomg Distance Cup opens proceedings on this star-studded Saturday and it’s the £1 million bonus winner Stradivarius that’ll be top of most peoples lists. John Gosden’s leading stayer has won all four starts this season and is, without doubt, the best stayer in training.
That being said the son of Sea The Stars has been beaten on all four starts with the word soft in the going, including when finishing third in this race last season. Stradivarius wasn’t beaten far that day behind Order Of St George and although the ground conditions are a worry, there is nothing of the same calibre in the field this year.
The main danger will come from Ballydoyle as Aidan is represented three of the seven runners, chief among them being Flag Of Honour. The impressive winner of the Irish St Leger has won his last three starts all of which since he’s been upped in trip. Flag Of Honour seems to be on an upward curve and looks like a Cup horse for next season but I would add a caveat that the forecasted soft underfoot conditions won’t suit this good moving horse.
Considering the ground reservations about the principals it may open the door for one of Aidan’s lesser know inmates Sir Eric, who has only run four times but was an impressive winner of a listed race on heavy ground at Limerick seven days ago. If this race doesn’t come too fast he may be able to capitalise and surprise a few people.
The other horse of note is the Willie Mullins trained Thomas Hobson who had a fantastic duel with stablemate Max Dynamite in the Group 2 Doncaster Cup when last seen in action. He is also a course winner having landed the Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting last year. This dual-purpose performer looks sure to give a good account of himself may come up short.
Selection: Sir Eric
Champion Sprint Stakes
The logical starting point in this is The Tin Man who heads the market following a snug victory in the Haydock Sprint Cup over Brando. That was the first time Oisin Murphy rode Jame Fanshawe’s stable star and unsurprisingly he retains the partnership. He is already a dual course and distance Group 1 winner having won the Diamond Jubilee and this race back in 2016.
On his favoured track and with the ground conditions unlikely to inconvenience The Tin Man, he justifiably tops the market and will be tough to beat.
Librisa Breeze took the contest twelve months ago when getting a great ride from Robert Winston to come fast and late. He beat many of today’s rivals last year on similar ground and although Dean Ivory’s charge has been disappointing in three runs in Europe this season he will undoubtedly have had this as a target and holds strong claims of landing back to back renewals.
Another horse that is re-appearing in the race having finished fourth last year is Harry Angel who like Librisa Breeze has been slightly disappointing this year. He started the season with a victory in the Group 2 Duke Of York Stakes cosily beating Brando. There were excuses when he trailed in behind Merchant Navy in the Diamond Jubilee but there were no such excuses when he finished sixth in the Sprint Cup behind The Tin Man.
Harry Angel is still very lightly raced and I’m sure Clive Cox will get him back on track and this may be the race to prove he is still top class.
Of the others, Brando has run well in many of the top races this season but always seems to be the bridesmaid and never the bride. Tasleet has only run twice since finishing runner-up in the race last season and should run well. The final runner of interest of the Fozzy Stack trained Son Of Rest who landed a gamble in the Ayr Gold Cup most recently. Prior to this, he had finished runner-up in a Group 1 at the Curragh and this is his tie of the year so there could be some further progression to come from him.
Selection: The Tin Man
Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes
This race is all about Lah Ti Dar who is bred to be a superstar and she may just live up to that billing. She won all three of her open career starts and although she came up short against Kew Gardens in the St Leger, this was only her fourth run and first against the Colts. She is now back down in trip and against her own sex which are both big positives, throw in her weight for age allowance and it looks like a penalty kick for John Gosden’s filly.
The only real danger comes from France in the form of Kitesurf who won the Group 1 Prix Vermeille beating Magic Wand by a head. This was Andre Fabre’s filly’s first Group1 success and although she looks sure to run a huge race I think she’ll struggle to give Lah Ti Dar weight.
Hydrangea won this last year but she has been a bitter disappointment in three runs this season. That being said Aidan’s horse weren’t on song for much of the season so perhaps she suffered more than most and considering we haven’t seen her since July, we could see a different horse on Saturday.
Coronet finished in behind Hydrangea last year but has taken her form to a new level this season, with a Group 2 win and placings in Group One’s on her last three starts, behind the likes of Sea Of Class. She looks sure ot run well but may just ack a bit of quality.
Selection: Lah Ti Dar
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (British Champions Mile)
One of the standout horses of the season has been Roaring Lion, who’s won the Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International and the Irish Champion Stakes in a fantastic year. John Gosden will be hoping the Group One wins haven’t stopped as he bids for a fourth straight win in the British Champion Mile and he could be difficult to contain. This will be his first time dropping back to a mile since finishing fifth in the 2000 Guineas.
It’s another French raider that may prove the biggest threat, Recoletos won the Group 1 Prix Du Moulin at Longchamp beating Wind Chimes when last seen and has run well all season. He was well fancied in the Queen Anne at the Royal meeting but came up well short and I believe a similar fate lies ahead here.
Another horse looking to add the cherry on top of what’s already been a great season is Laurens. Karl Burke’s charge has won four Group Ones in six starts this year which is incredible and if it were not for Alpha Centauri, she would have got far more credit. She is a very simple mare that races prominently and rarely has a hard-luck story.
This will be her first time taking on the colts and she will have to improve to beat them but in receipt of the weight allowance, she may continue her fine run of form.
One of the most interesting horses in the race is Addeybb who hasn’t bee seen since running disappointingly in the Lockinge back in July. This was his first time stepping into Group 1 company having previously been an impressive winner of the Lincoln and Group 2 Sandown Mile on his previous two starts of the year.
Both of those victories were on ground with soft in the description and perhaps he just found things happening too quickly in the Lockinge. If he runs to his Lincoln form then he has a major chance.
Others of note include Lord Glitters, Beat The Bank and Happily.
Eight horses go to post for the Champion Stakes but in reality, only three have chances of landing this Group 1. The three that count are Cracksman, Crystal Ocean and Capri. Cracksman heads the market but it has to be a concern that we haven’t seen him since going down to Poet’s Word in the Price Of Wales’s Stakes.
In truth, he didn’t look like the real Cracksman in his last two racecourse outings as he raced lethargically when just getting the better of Salouen in the Coronation Cup two starts back. It’s no surprise to see John Gosden reaching for first-time blinkers and hopefully, they will have the desired effect.
Crystal Ocean is another horse that’s had a stellar year, having won his first three season starts and was only just denied by Poet’s Word in the King George. Sir Michael Stoute then ran him in the September Stakes at Kempton where all eyes were on Enable including Crystal Ocean as Enable was three lengths ahead of him. He looks sure to run another big race.
Aidan O’Brien’s Capri is the biggest priced of the leading fancies but he has beaten his two main rivals. In the Irish Derby, he beat Cracksman and he defeated Crystal Ocean in last season’s St Leger. Capri showed a real sign of revival when he finished fifth in the Arc behind Enable two weeks and if that run didn’t take too much out of him then he’s my idea of the winner.
The Balmoral is the only handicap on British Champions day and it brings the meeting to a close. There is unsurprisingly a big field going t post for this valuable 1-mile handicap. Jamie Osborne is responsible for Raising Sand who heads the market following a win in the Challenge Cup at Ascot. The slight step up in trip won’t inconvenience Raising Sand and Nicola Currie gets on well with him.
Top weight Flaming Spear finished in behind Raising Sand in the Challenge Cup and he was flying home at the finish, with the extra furlong today I think he will reverse the form. Rober Winston takes over the reins again which means he carries more weight but he still looks sure to run a huge race.
Safe Voyage hasn’t been seen since landing the Ahonoora Handicap at the Galway festival on August. John Quinn engaged the services of crack claimer, Sean Davis, that day and he retains the partnership in a bid to land this big handicap. This was his third win in his four starts which means he has crept up the handicap. I still get the feeling that he is on an upward curve and must go close.
Of the outsiders, Waarif peaks my interest having run very well behind Just hiss at York last week. The softer underfoot conditions won’t inconvenience Richard Fahey’s inmate and he may outrun his odds.
Selection: Safe Voyage