Britain’s richest raceday, with £4.35 million of prize money on offer, is still on the cards for a star-studded cast, after the latest forfeit stage in the run-up to the eighth QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday 20th October.
The John Gosden-trained trio of Roaring Lion, Cracksman and Enable are still engaged in the QIPCO Champion Stakes, while other equine A-Listers to stand their ground include Stradivarius, The Tin Man, Harry Angel, Librisa Breeze, Lah Ti Dar, Laurens, Recoletos and Crystal Ocean.
QIPCO British Champions Day has established itself as a wonderful finale to the European season and features four Group 1 races, a Group 2 and the richest mile handicap in Europe. In total, 31 Group 1 winners remain entered and, between them, they have accumulated 56 victories at the highest level.
ROARING LION AND CRACKSMAN REMAIN ON COURSE TO CLASH IN THE QIPCO CHAMPION STAKES
3.50pm: QIPCO Champion Stakes (£1.3 million) Group 1
The QIPCO Champion Stakes is the last of the 35 races in the QIPCO British Champions Series and seems certain to provide a grand finale with the star trio of Roaring Lion, Cracksman and Enable – all trained by John Gosden – among 24 left in the showpiece. Fourteen of those have won at least one Group 1 race.
Cracksman evoked memories of his sire, Frankel, when a breath-taking seven-length winner of the race last year and has added two more Group 1 victories to his CV this term – the Prix Ganay at Paris Longchamp and Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom. On his other start this term, he chased home Poet’s Word in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Roaring Lion has gone from strength to strength this year and has shown a mile and a quarter to be his optimum trip on his past three starts – reeling off successive Group 1 wins in the Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International Stakes and QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes.
The grey, owned by Qatar Racing Limited, also won the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes at York in May in between finishing fifth in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and a gallant third in the Investec Derby.
His appetite for racing seems unlimited and David Redvers, racing and bloodstock manager for Qatar Racing, says that, typically, he has taken his latest exertions, when beating Saxon Warrior by a neck in a pulsating QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes, in his stride.
“Roaring Lion has the most remarkable constitution,” Redvers said. “He was charging around the place and wanting more a few days after his win at Leopardstown, which is quite something when you think of the amount of racing he’s had and that he had a pretty tough race.”
Redvers has particular admiration for the way the son of Kitten’s Joy bounced back from finishing a non-staying third in the Investec Derby.
He said: “The Derby can destroy horses. It’s always a real fear running a horse that you’ve got serious stamina doubts about in a race like that because you can leave him there, and you might never get them back afterwards.
“He clearly did not stay at Epsom and there is never a tougher race than when you run beyond your stamina. Anyone into running themselves will tell you there is nothing worse than either being unfit, or being pushed beyond where you can actually physical go. It can leave its mark, but with him he came straight back out and “wallop”, into the Eclipse and he does it again.”
Roaring Lion has also been left in the QIPCO-sponsored Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day but he will only revert to a mile if underfoot conditions become testing.
“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 so the QEII will definitely be kept as an option if the ground comes up soft,” Redvers said. “We just want the ground to have good in the description, that would be ideal.”
On the prospect of meeting Cracksman, he added: “He’s last year’s champion and, while it’s not been plain sailing for him this year, it’s coming to his time of his year. To see those two square up would be fascinating, potentially explosive. It’s what QIPCO British Champions Day is all about and what it is there for.”
It has yet to be decided whether Roaring Lion will stay in training next season, or instead start his second vocation as a stallion at Tweenhills in Hartpury, Gloucestershire. Redvers said: “I’m itching to get him at Tweenhills as fast as I can, but that decision will be made by Sheikh Fahad and his brothers. It may be made before QIPCO British Champions Day, on Champions Day, or after the Breeders’ Cup.
“We are making preparations so that if it is decided he is going to come to Tweenhills we are all ready for him. We are building a new stallion box, so everything is getting shipshape for him. He will be in high demand and it’s very exciting from that point of view, but I can’t second guess Sheikh Fahad and his family’s decision.”
Enable is set to defend her Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe crown on Sunday and Gosden has other potential strings to his bow in Without Parole, the St James’s Palace Stakes winner, and Monarchs Glen, absent since winning the Wolferton Stakes at Royal Ascot. Like Cracksman, the pair are sons of Frankel, who signed off his flawless 14-race career by winning the QIPCO Champion Stakes in 2012.
Sir Michael Stoute could be represented by Mirage Dancer and Crystal Ocean. The latter won the Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal Meeting before being touched off by Poet’s Word, his stablemate, in a compelling QIPCO-sponsored King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. On his latest start he again had to settle for second, finding a concession of 8lb to Enable too much to handle in the 188Bet September Stakes at Kempton.
Laurens, who will seek a fifth Group 1 win in the Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, remains a possible, while Aidan O’Brien, yet to savour a QIPCO Champion Stakes success, has left in seven entries.
French-trained challengers to stand their ground include Talismanic, winner of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf last year, plus Study Of Man and Patascoy, the one-two in this year’s QIPCO Prix du Jockey Club.
STRADIVARIUS SET FOR INTRIGUING CUP CLASH WITH FLAG OF HONOUR
1.25pm: QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup (£500,000) Group 2
The QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup is the first race on QIPCO British Champions Day and promises to get things off to a flyer with Stradivarius, who has carried all before him in this year’s staying races, set to face an intriguing new challenger in Flag Of Honour, winner of the Comer Group International Irish St Leger.
Flag Of Honour is not among the 22 entries left in the race but Aidan O’Brien, his trainer, has indicated that the three-year-old son of Galileo will be supplemented provided he continues to please in the build-up to the two-mile feature.
He has thrived since being upped in distance and on his latest start made all for Classic success at the Curragh. Asked to volunteer intended Ballydoyle runners on QIPCO British Champions Day, O’Brien said: “Flag Of Honour would be one we’d be thinking of sending over. The QIPCO Long Distance Cup over two miles is what we have in mind for him.”
O’Brien, whose nine other entries include Kew Gardens, the William Hill St Leger winner, won last year’s QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup with Order Of St George and Irish-trained challengers have won six of the previous eight runnings.
John Gosden has been responsible for one of the two British-trained QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup winners – Flying Officer prevailed for him in 2016 – and he has an outstanding candidate this time around in Stradivarius, who has established himself the best stayer in training.
Successive wins in the Mansionbet Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, Qatar Goodwood Cup and Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup – all of them QIPCO British Champions Series races – earned his connections a £1 million bonus offered by Weatherbys Hamilton.
The four-year-old, a close third in the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup last year, had to dig deep to extend his winning spree under regular rider Frankie Dettori at York last time but he still had a length and a half to spare over Count Octave at the finish.
“I saw him on Friday morning. He’s had a nice break and recovered well,” said Bjorn Nielsen, his owner-breeder. “The weather forecast for at least the next two weeks is good and, provided it’s not heavy ground, he will run.
“Frankie said he was flat at York but they are very happy with him now. Those four big races he had are tough on any horse and he’d had only a three-week break between Goodwood and York, whereas he’ll been having six weeks before.
“Don’t forget he had that 3lb penalty to carry last time. If you take that away he’d have won by five lengths, with nine lengths to the third and 12 lengths to the fourth and everyone would have been saying ‘wow, what a performance’.
“That 3lb is three lengths over two miles and it makes a big difference. They raised him afterwards [from 118 to 120], which shows the handicapper thought it was his best performance.”
Nielsen has yet to enjoy a success on QIPCO British Champions Day, although Biographer carried his colours to second in the 2014 running of the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup. He said: “Everybody loves those stayers. Stradivarius is on target and fingers crossed everything stays as it is.”
If Stradivarius wins, he will become only the second horse to have won five races that fall under the QIPCO British Champions Series umbrella in the same season. The mighty Frankel achieved the feat in 2012.
Dee Ex Bee, runner-up in the Investec Derby and fourth in the St Leger, could represent Mark Johnston, while Willie Mullins has left in four entries, including Thomas Hobson and Max Dynamite, who dominated the finish of last month’s Doncaster Cup. Desert Skyline, winner of the Doncaster Cup last year, is another possible.
CLIVE COX HAS HIGH HOPES HARRY ANGEL WILL ‘LAY THE GHOST OF ASCOT TO REST’
2pm: QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes (£600,000) Group 1
The past two winners of the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes, The Tin Man and Librisa Breeze, are on course to try and win the Group 1 prize for a second time. The former heads the ante-post betting after chalking up a third win at the highest level in the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock last month.
The pair are among eight entries of a remaining 26 left in the race who have won at least one Group 1 contest. The others are Brando, Harry Angel, Limato, Sioux Nation, Unfortunately and Clemmie.
Harry Angel was named as the best sprinter in the world at the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings in January, having won the 32Red Sprint Cup and Darley July Cup in 2017, and all his powers looked intact when he gave weight and a beating to the race-fit Brando on his return in the Group 2 Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes at York in May.
However, things have subsequently not gone to script. He got his leg caught of the frame of the stalls when below-par in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, injuring himself in the process, and then faded to finish sixth when defending his Sprint Cup crown at Haydock last time.
Clive Cox is eager for redemption on QIPCO British Champions Day, not least because his stable flagbearer remains without a victory at Ascot after five previous runs at the track. He was fourth in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint last year, when sent off 5/4 favourite.
“At the moment we are all systems go,” Cox said. “He’s a horse I’m absolutely confident is as good, if not better, than last year. I hope the weather stays dry – the forecast is encouraging – and if that’s the case we will be very much looking forward to it.
“He’s in good form and the drier autumn than we have had compared to last year will give us a chance to lay the ghost of Ascot to rest.”
Having had time to digest his latest reverse at Haydock, he said: “On more heavy ground than last year, he quite visibly went a bit too quick. It was plain for all to see that he was just a bit too exuberant on the day.
“I’m very happy with him and he’s giving me all the right signals, as he has done all year.”
Other possible contenders among the 26 entries left in include Tasleet, who was runner-up in last year’s renewal, plus Mabs Cross, beaten a nose in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York in August. Bacchus, the Wokingham winner, and Projection, owned by The Royal Ascot Racing Club, are also possibles.
HYDRANGEA ON COURSE TO BLOOM ON CHAMPIONS DAY FOR A SECOND TIME
2.40pm: QIPCO British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes (£600,000) Group 1
The first three home in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes last year – Hydrangea, Bateel and Coronet – remain on course to meet again.
Hydrangea’s convincing success 12 months ago helped provide her trainer, Aidan O’Brien, with a record 28 Group 1 wins in the year.
O’Brien has enjoyed another fruitful campaign but it has not been without tribulations after a virus swept through his yard during the summer. His team again seem in excellent fettle, though, and with QIPCO British Champions Day on the horizon and he has confirmed that Hydrangea is on course to defend her crown.
Tremendously reliable in 2017, she has not been at her best in three starts this year but O’Brien is hopeful of a revival. “The plan is to go back for the QIPCO British Champions Fillies and Mares race,” he said. “We’ve had plenty of little issues with some of the horses and we’ve never really got her 100 per cent but we think she’s nearly back.”
O’Brien has nine other entries to juggle, including Rhododendron and Happily – who have chalked up five Group 1 wins between them.
Bateel, winner of eight of her 15 races, will be hoping to make it third time lucky in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes, while Coronet would not be winning at the highest level out of turn. She beat all bar Sea Of Class in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks on her latest start and the grey filly has now been placed in six Group One races without quite managing to win one.
Blocking her path, apart from the pair who finished ahead of her last year, will be Lah Ti Dar, her exciting stablemate, who met with defeat for the first time when runner-up to Kew Gardens in the William Hill St Leger last month.
Owned by Lord and Lady Lloyd-Webber, Lah Ti Dar is a daughter of Dar Re Mi and the older sister of the precocious Too Darn Hot, who is expected to feature prominently in the QIPCO British Champions Series next year. She seemed betrayed by a lack of experience at Town Moor, but should know more at Ascot. John Gosden, the trainer of Coronet and Lah Ti Dar, has also left in the outstanding Enable.
God Given, Horseplay and Pilaster flashed past the post almost as one in the Group 2 DFS Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster last month and are set for a fascinating rematch. Many observers believed the progressive Pilaster was an unlucky loser at Town Moor, a view shared by Roger Varian, her trainer. He said: “She should have won. She’s great, really well but would love some rain. She could run big if getting her conditions.”
Godolphin could be represented by Kitesurf, the Prix Vermeille winner, while another Group 1 victor Urban Fox, emphatic winner of the Juddmonte Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh in July, also remains engaged.
RECOLETOS ON COURSE TO WAVE FLAG FOR FRANCE IN QUEEN ELIZABETH II STAKES
3.15pm: Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) (£1.1 million) Group 1
French-trained horses have won two of the past four renewals of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) and they look to have another ace up their sleeves in Recoletos, who is one of 26 entries – no fewer than ten of them Group 1 winners – to stand their ground.
Trained by 55-year-old Carlos Laffon-Parias in Chantilly, the four-year-old finished fourth to Cracksman in the QIPCO Champion Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day last year but has proven an even greater force back in distance this year.
He won the Churchill Coolmore Prix d’Ispahan at Paris Longchamp in May and struck again at the highest level on his latest start when landing the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp. In between those triumphs, he beat all bar the now-retired Alpha Centauri in the Jacques le Marois at Deauville.
Lightning Spear (winner of the Qatar Sussex Stakes), Accidental Agent (Queen Anne Stakes), Without Parole (St James’s Palace Stakes), Rhododendron (Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes) and Romanised (Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas) have already enjoyed days in the sun over a mile this year, while Lord Glitters, who seems to have a soft spot for Ascot, has been hard to fault since his dramatic triumph in the QIPCO-sponsored Balmoral Handicap on QIPCO British Champions Day last year.
Roaring Lion has won his past three starts, all in Group 1 company, but the QIPCO Champion Stakes is the preferred option of his connections (see David Redvers quotes near the top of the release).
Beat The Bank has chalked up two Group 2 triumphs this season, while Expert Eye, who has twice made the frame in Group 1 company since his runaway win in the Jersey Stakes, and Addeybb, fluent winner of the Group 2 bet365 Mile at Sandown in the spring, are among other intriguing contenders.
Roger Varian saddled Belardo to finish second to Solow in the 2015 renewal at big odds and is keen to run the lightly raced Zabeel Prince, who had been off almost four months because of injury before finishing a half-length runner-up to Mustashry in the Group 2 Shadwell Joel Stakes at Newmarket last week.
“I thought at the two-furlong pole he’d slipped the field and had it won but I suppose the winner had race fitness,” Varian said “Mustashry is a tough horse, isn’t he?
“It was a good run and you would have to let him take his chance in the QEII after that. Look what happened at Royal Ascot [when outsiders fought out the finish of the Queen Anne Stakes]. My guy does want soft ground, so rain would be a help.”
Aidan O’Brien has eight entries to shuffle. He won the 2016 running with Minding and his possible representatives include another filly in the shape of Clemmie, a leading two-year-old last season who hinted she was returning to that kind of level when third behind Laurens and Alpha Centauri in the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes at Leopardstown on her latest start.
“The plan for Clemmie is the Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday and QIPCO British Champions Day is a possible after that,” O’Brien said. “She’s in good shape and if the ground was nice we’d be delighted.”
TOP ENCLOSURES SELL OUT WITH ONLY QUEEN ANNE TICKETS AVAILABLE
The two top enclosures for QIPCO British Champions Day, the King Edward VII and Winning Post enclosures, have now sold out, with the only available tickets in the Queen Anne enclosure. Tickets start from £35, with accompanied under 18s attending for free. For tickets go to britishchampionsday.co.uk