The winners of 79 Group 1 races, including 15 European Classics, feature among a record number of entries for QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday 15th October.
The cream of Europe’s equine performers is enhanced by the inclusion of Gold-Fun, a leading sprinter from Hong Kong, plus Yorker, a multiple Grade 1 winner in South Africa.
With £4.2 million in prize money, Britain’s richest raceday is the only time during the season that a British card features four Group 1 races and a Group 2 and the attached 256 entries – up 10.8 per cent on last year and exceeding the previous highest number in 2013 of 245 – are brimming with quality.
The £1.3 million QIPCO Champion Stakes has alone attracted 23 individual Group 1 winners who, between them, have won 37 races at the highest level (including 11 Classics in Britain, Ireland or France).Almanzor, the Prix du Jockey Club winner, is an intended runner in the QIPCO Champion Stakes and is among 30 French entries in total for the pattern contests.
QIPCO Champion Stakes (Group 1)
The £1.3m QIPCO Champion Stakes is the richest mile and a quarter race in Europe and the 55 entries, up nine on last year (or 20%), include 23 Group 1 or Grade 1 winners.
The first five home last year, Fascinating Rock, Found, Jack Hobbs, Racing History and Air Pilot, may meet again, while the Classic generation could be represented by Harzand, US Army Ranger, Idahoand Wings Of Desire – the first four home in the Investec Derby – plus the outstanding Minding, the QIPCO 1000 Guineas and Investec Oaks winner, who landed the sixth Group 1 of her career when scooping the Qatar Nassau Stakes at Goodwood on Saturday.
Jean-Claude Rouget has already indicated that the QIPCO Champion Stakes is the principal autumn target of Almanzor, the Prix du Jockey Club winner, who is among 11 contenders from France. Another intriguing entry is Yorker, a multiple winner at the highest level in South Africa who is now in training with William Haggas in Newmarket.
“If we can get him back to his best he’s worth a shot at any decent race in Europe,” Haggas said. “He’s had a few issues but at the moment he’s in really good nick.We are hoping very much to get him ready for the Strensall Stakes at York and hopefully it will be onwards and upwards from there.”
The first three home in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown last month – Hawkbill, The Gurkha and Time Test – are engaged, while My Dream Boat, fifth in that feature, having previously landed the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, is also entered.
Hawkbill was winning his sixth race in succession at Sandown and has since been given time to recharge his batteries. Charlie Appleby, his trainer, said: “He had a little bit of a break after Sandown and is on target to run next in the Juddmonte International [at York on 17th August]. I’m sure it will be a good race and have a bearing on who we will see in the QIPCO Champion Stakes on Champions Day.
“Hawkbill had a battle on his hands up the Sandown straight but he’s come out of it well and is getting mentally stronger with each run. It was pleasing to see The Gurkha subsequently go and do the job [in the Qatar Sussex Stakes] at Goodwood. We didn’t totally discard the King George but, with the future in mind and going beyond the Juddmonte, we wanted to give him a little bit more time. He’s our flagbearer this year.”
Gabrial finished a staying-on third in the QIPCO-sponsored Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day last year and could tackle the extra quarter mile of the Champion Stakes this time. On his latest start the seven-year-old, trained by Richard Fahey, kept on to be fifth in the Qatar Sussex Stakes, being beaten under four lengths.
“We are quite keen to go down the Champion Stakes road,” Fahey said. “He’s not been stopping at the end of his races and, though he’s an older horse, he is starting to relax more now. He’s been a star and any soft ground would suit him well.”
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes sponsored by QIPCO (Group 1)
With prize money of £1.1 million on offer, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is the richest mile race in Europe. It has attracted 40 entries (four more than in 2015), including The Gurkha, Galileo Gold and Ribchester, who fought out a thrilling finish to the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. The Gurkha prevailed by a neck from Galileo Gold, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and St James’s Palace winner, on that occasion but many observers felt that Ribchester, who was a short head further back in third, would have upstaged the pair of them had he not had to switch to get a run.
“It was a fantastic race and Ribchester ran a blinder,” said Richard Fahey, trainer of the colt who had previously won the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot. “I’ve looked at the race a few times since and nobody did anything wrong – it’s Goodwood and you need a bit of luck there. He’s progressing all the time and has come out of the race in good order. The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is obviously a race we are all keen on. For his next run we are looking at the Prix Jacques le Marois [at Deauville on 14th August], or he could go back to Goodwood for the Celebration Mile [on 27th August]. We will see how he is this week and make a decision closer to the time.”
On the prospect of meeting The Gurkha and Galileo Gold again in mid-October, Fahey said: “I’m not saying we would beat them, but you wouldn’t be afraid to take them on again.”
Belardo and Gabrial, who filled the places behind Solow in last year’s running, are entered again. The former won the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May and was runner-up to Tepin in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Minding has been given the option of dropping back to a mile, while Qemah, winner of the Coronation Stakes and Prix Rothschild on her past two starts, is among five possible French challengers.
Another exciting entry is Mutakayyef, who beat Dutch Connection, the subsequent easy Qatar Lennox Stakes winner, in emphatic style in the Group 2 Fred Cowley MBE Memorial Summer Mile Stakes over a mile at Ascot last month.
“He’s in great form and likely to go for the Juddmonte next,” William Haggas, the trainer of Mutakayyef, said. “I’m not sure it is going to suit him but he gets the trip alright and there isn’t a lot else for him – he can’t run in the Jacques le Marois or the Prix du Moulin because he’s been gelded. We’ve put him in both the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Champion Stakes to give us the two options. We’ll see what happens.”
QIPCO British Champions Fillies’ & Mares’ Stakes (Group 1)
The £600,000 contest is one of the richest all-aged fillies’ & mares’ races in Europe. The first three home last year – Simple Verse, Journey and Beautiful Romance – are among 54 entries this year, which is up two on this time 12 months ago. Aidan O’Brien’s middle-distance fillies have carried all before them this year and the Ballydoyle maestro has 11 entries to shuffle.
Minding, the six-time Group 1 winner and dual Classic heroine, is the ace in his pack, with Seventh Heaven, the Darley Irish Oaks winner,Even Song, the Ribblesdale victor, giving him strength in depth, especially with his squad also including Found, winner of last season’s Breeders’ Cup Turf.
One horse who has the race at the top of her agenda is the Charlie Appleby-trained Endless Time, a daughter of Sea The Stars who made it six wins from eight starts when landing the Group 2 bet365 Lancashire Oaks on her reappearance at Haydock last month.
“She‘s a lovely big filly who is getting better with age,” Appleby said. “Her main aim all season has been the QIPCO British Champions Fillies’ & Mares’ at Ascot on Champions Day and we feel she has got all the attributes you need for the race. We will look at the Darley Yorkshire Oaks and the Prix Vermeille along way but Ascot is the target and we are relaxed to be sitting on the sidelines. She won’t have more than one more run beforehand.”
Reflecting on her comeback win at Haydock, Appleby said: “I think her class pulled her through that day. She likes juice in the ground but the heavy going wasn’t ideal first time out, plus they went steady and it turned into a little bit of dash, which again would not be ideally suited to her style because she’s a horse who grinds it out. She’s a filly who wants decent ground, preferably on the easy side of good. That’s when she’s in her comfort zone.”
QIPCO British Champions Sprint (Group 1)
A fantastic entry for the £600,000 sprinting showpiece includes the first five home in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. The quintet, Twilight Son, Gold-Fun, Signs Of Blessing, Magical Memory and Suedois, were separated by little more than half a length in a pulsating finish at the Royal Meeting.
Gold-Fun, trained in Hong Kong, and Signs Of Blessing, from France, would give the race a tremendous international flavour. As if that were not enough, Limato, the electrifying Darley July Cup winner, could take part, not to mention other star names such as Quiet Reflection, The Tin Man, Lumiere, Shalaa, Dutch Connection, Sole Power, Dancing Star and the ever-green Gordon Lord Byron, who won the race in 2014.
Perhaps the most fascinating entry of all, though, is Mecca’s Angel, the outstanding five-furlong sprinter whose only previous attempt over six furlongs was in 2013. She is on course to defend her Coolmore Nunthorpe crown at York this month but Michael Dods, her trainer, is eager to run her in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint.
“If everything is right on the day we’d be be keen to have a crack at it,” Dods said. “This will be her last season before she goes off to stud and we felt she deserved the chance to go for six and this race fits the bill. It will be interesting, I think she will stay. It’s been difficult to give her a run over the six because of the targets she’s already got over five. We considered the July Cup this year but I just felt the Newmarket track would not really suit her as well as somewhere like Ascot.
“A lot of people tried to get us to supplement [for the Champions Sprint] last year. We thought long and hard about it, but decided we wouldn’t because we were going to go for the Abbaye. Then that didn’t work out because of the ground.”
QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup (Group 2)
Order Of St George, the emphatic Gold Cup winner at Royal Ascot this year, stands out among 63 entries for the stayers’ showpiece, which carries prize money of £350,000.
The four-year-old son of Galileo could seek to emulate Fame And Glory, who won the Gold Cup for Aidan O’Brien in 2011 before going on to land the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup.
O’Brien’s other 11 possibles include Idaho, placed in the Investec Derby and Irish version, and Bondi Beach, runner up in last year’s St Leger.
Irish-trained horses have won four of the five renewals of the race and, apart from O’Brien’s squad, they could be represented by Forgotten Rules, winner of the race in 2014, and Max Dynamite, runner-up in last year’s Emirates Melbourne Cup.
There is also plenty of depth to the home team, with Mizzou, runner-up in the Gold Cup, Big Orange, the dual Qatar Goodwood Cup winner, andSimple Verse, the Ladbrokes St Leger winner, all entered. Also engaged are the first four home last year – Flying Officer, Clever Cookie,Wicklow Brave and Pallasator.
Clever Cookie finished best of all on that occasion and has looked as good as ever this term – finishing a neck second to Mizzou in the Longines Sagaro Stakes back at Ascot before going one better in the Betway Yorkshire Cup. He failed to figure in the Gold Cup but Peter Niven, his trainer, said there were mitigating circumstances.
“You can’t come back from being 25 lengths down at Swinley Bottom and expect to win,” the former jump jockey said. “We’d have needed to have started the day before. The QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup is a lovely prize and a race we always target because we know, hopefully, we are going to get decent ground.
“He’s been off a while but everything is fine. He will be back for the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup [at York on 19th August] and then he will either go for the Doncaster Cup [on 9th September] or Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger a couple of days later.”
At eight years of age, Clever Cookie is likely to be one of the oldest horses in action on QIPCO British Champions Day but Niven is unperturbed: “He’s only run 20 times and if he was a jumper he would just be coming into his prime,” he said.