As the countdown continues to QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot this Saturday, here is a potted guide to all six races:
1.45 LONG DISTANCE CUP 2M
The main protagonists from this summer’s Ascot Gold Cup, LEADING LIGHT and The Queen’s mare, ESTIMATE, lock horns again. Of the two, Aidan O’Brien’s four-year-old will much prefer the testing ground, but both might be upstaged by up-and-coming stayers such as PALLASATOR and FLYING OFFICER. Sir Mark Prescott’s giant, who has been bought by Qatar Racing specifically to land this race, will love the ground and has already won at the track, but John Gosden’s lightly-raced Flying Officer ran him close at Newmarket last month, despite a long absence and the concession of 3lb. Also not to be under-estimated is proven mudlark WHIPLASH WILLIE, who has been knocking on the door in recent weeks.
2.20 CHAMPIONS SPRINT 6F
The new kid on the sprinting block, G FORCE, will be all the rage after his first Group One success at Haydock last month. Quite how David O’Meara’s three-year-old who, ironically, was ditched by Qatar Racing last winter, will handle the ground is another matter, however. Sure to love the surface are veterans of this race, MAAREK and JACK DEXTER, although horses older than five rarely win it, and also the unbeaten LIGHTNING MOON, who is developing into something special and impressed here at Ascot two weeks ago. Irish trainer Eddie Lynam is unable to saddle his sprinting stars of the season, Slade Power and Sole Power, but boasts a very able substitute in VIZTORIA, who was third last year and bounced back to form last Sunday.
2.55 FILLIES AND MARES 1M 4F
A fascinating renewal, spearheaded by the rapidly improving duo, SILK SARI, who might not appreciate the drop back in trip from her impressive win at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting, and HADAATHA, who will definitely relish going up in trip from her fine effort at Longchamp’s Arc meeting. Don’t rule out a return to form by Aidan O’Brien’s CHICQUITA, who wasn’t far behind the mighty Treve last season and was subsequently bought for six million euros, while Godolphin have a strong hand with TASADAY, who will love the soft ground, and the revitalised ALBASHARAH, who ran away with a race at Newmarket last weekend. Last year’s winner, SEAL OF APPROVAL, has possibly gone off the boil
3.30 QUEEN ELIZABETH II STAKES 1M
A tremendous race probably revolves around the first three home in the Group One Prix Moulin at Longchamp last month, CHARM SPIRIT, TORONADO and NIGHT OF THUNDER. The winner is still improving and will take some stopping, but the third could exact revenge on his favoured ground. After all, Richard Hannon’s colt did trump deadly duo Kingman and Australia in the 2,000 Guineas in May. Sir Michael Stoute’s INTEGRAL would be interesting but for the poor record of fillies in the race, while Royal Ascot winner MUSTAJEEB prefers 7f. The late addition of the consistent CUSTOM CUT and the classy CAPTAIN CAT adds kudos to the contest, while TULLIUS will like the ground more than most.
4.05 CHAMPION STAKES 1M2F
After multiple defections, French legend CIRRUS DES AIGLES is the clear form pick, especially after finishing first and twice second in the last three renewals and especially as the soft ground holds no fears. However, he is now as old as eight and had a hard race at Longchamp only two weeks ago, so it’s easy to see why many will take him on with fast-emerging youngster FREE EAGLE, who arrives as a fresh horse on the back of a scintillating comeback victory last month. He is unproven on testing ground, though, unlike Frankel’s brother, NOBLE MISSION, who will try and steal it from the front. The 2013 Derby winner, RULER OF THE WORLD, finished only just behind Cirrus in last year’s race, on similar ground and after a similarly respectable effort to this term in the Arc, while WESTERN HYMN cannot be totally ruled out given he has his optimum trip and conditions.
4.45 BALMORAL HANDICAP 1M
A 30-runner cavalry charge over the straight mile winds up proceedings. It looks impossible to solve, but I strongly fancy John Quinn’s LEVITATE and have backed him each/way at huge prices. The six-year-old loves this kind of ground, is well handicapped on his performances last season, which included victory in the Lincoln and a good effort at this meeting, and has returned to peak form in recent weeks. Others to consider are CHATEZ, SHORT SQUEEZE, BUCKSTAY and HEAVEN’S GUEST.