Alex Hammond: Roy can reign
Find out who Sky Sports News HQ presenter Alex Hammond is tipping for QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot.
Champions Day starts with a cracking rematch between Gold Cup one-two Big Orange and Order Of St George. Who wins that head-to-head, or should we be looking elsewhere?
I'm so excited about Champions Day and it couldn't be getting off to a better start with this race. The 'stayers' are a category of racehorse we always seem to take to our hearts, mainly because they are around for a while and we get to know and love their quirks and personalities. That is certainly the case with Big Orange, but for some reason it doesn't seem to be so with Order Of St George. I'm not sure why that is, as he is hugely accomplished and versatile and incredibly talented. Ignore him at your peril here though, as the stars would appear to be aligning in his favour with the changeable autumn weather making its presence felt with a vengeance this week.
Having travelled along the M4 corridor and through the Thames Valley to work and back this week, I have seen all sorts of conditions (including the red moon!) and it will be a miracle if the ground is ideal for Big Orange (again the moon this week could have been an appropriate premonition). He has won on good to soft ground, but that was some time ago and his fondness for a better surface is no secret. Order Of St George on the other hand won't mind it at all and providing his excellent effort in the Arc hasn't left its mark, he will take all the beating. The Paris showpiece was three weeks ago and a look back through his form would suggest that is enough time for him to recover and be ready for business. So, I'll be with Order Of St George (5/4 favourite with Sky Bet) who can get trainer Aidan O'Brien off to a winning start on the day he could equal or even surpass the great Bobby Frankel's record of 25 top level successes in a year; he goes into the day on 24.
Does Harry Angel's Ascot form provide enough of an incentive to oppose him in the Champions Sprint Stakes?
No, he has gone from strength to strength since then and that will have no bearing on Saturday's race. At the time of writing he's even money favourite to win the contest and could be a banker. His performance in the Sprint Cup at Haydock was phenomenal on ground his connections weren't sure he would handle. On that running it's hard to see him being turned over, but surely the first two races aren't going to go that smoothly? The Tin Man is a big favourite of mine, but on recent form Harry Angel has the beating of James Fanshawe's sprinter. He's another horse that wouldn't want the ground to deteriorate too much, but I'll have a pound each way on him for old times' sake; he's 15/2 with Sky Bet. One to watch that could be a threat to the favourite if conditions go soft is the filly Quiet Reflection. Karl Burke's four-year-old showed she had lost none of her fizz when returning from injury to win impressively at Naas last month.
Three-year-olds tend to do well in the Champion Fillies & Mares – who catches your eye this time around?
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None of the three year-olds! Is that going to prove costly? I have a feeling in my bones that Journey could get back to winning ways after three less than impressive runs this season so far. The five-year-old last won a race in this twelve months ago and I think we could be set for a repeat performance. She's 11/4 to repeat that win for John Gosden and Frankie Dettori and it's worth remembering that she was second to Simple Verse the year before; it seems to be her time of year and her race.
Does Ribchester have anything to prove ahead of the QEII? Or is he simply much the best miler around?
So far I think I've nailed this Champions Day lark….I can't wait to enter the @pick7! I'm sure if I don't pick all seven winners it will be the Catterick leg that lets me down! That possibly gives you the clue that I think Ribchester is the one in the QEII. I really can't see a weakness in Richard Fahey's colt, who comes here off the back of a magnificent season that has seen him win the Lockinge, Queen Anne and Prix du Moulin. His defeat at Goodwood in the Sussex Stakes on his penultimate outing was a blip that wasn't of his making when jockey William Buick wasn't at his best and they had to settle for second behind Here Comes When. He is simply, much the best miler around. At 20/1, his conqueror that day, Here Comes When, could be worth a small each way investment for trainer Andrew Balding. The ground has come in his favour and Balding enjoyed big race success recently with Blond Me in the Grade 1 EP Taylor Stakes at Woodbine last weekend.
You can't fault the depth of quality in this year's Champion Stakes – is Frankel colt Cracksman the real deal, or could he be a 'false favourite'?
Well, his life has got a whole lot easier as Ulysses doesn't run for Sir Michael Stoute and will be aimed straight at the Breeders' Cup instead. Regular readers of this blog will know I'm a fan of Richard Hannon's Barney Roy and I think this is one of the most difficult races of the day to sort out as it's such a high class renewal. Not only do we have Cracksman and Barney Roy, but a revitalised Brametot could be a threat for Jean-Claude Rouget and the improving Poet's Voice is interesting in the absence of stablemate Ulysses.
This is when my @pick7 might start to come unravelled.
Cracksman was a shell of a horse earlier in the season when he ran in the Derby, but as the season has gone on he has gained in strength and maturity and it will be no shock if he goes into winter quarters with a first group 1 to his name. Let's be adventurous though and take him on. Brametot will suit the drop back to this mile and a quarter trip, as the mile and a half of the Arc didn't look his optimum. The problem with this colt is his habit of fluffing the start and he won't be able to give much ground to this classy lot.
So, it's Barney Roy that will carry the weight of my cash once again. I have followed him blindly this season after putting him up as my horse to follow and it's fair to say there have been highs and lows. The most frustrating low was that nose defeat by Ulysses in the Eclipse, he ran such a brave race and I was gutted for him to be beaten. Form looks pretty good though doesn't it? I was more disappointed with his third place in the Juddmonte International behind Ulysses and Churchill. Tactically, he helped the horses that finished in front of him at York and I think he will be ridden with more restraint on Saturday. He's 7/2 with Sky Bet and that'll do for me.
Save us sticking a pin in please… where should our money be going in the Balmoral Handicap?
It's ok, I have sharpened my pin! Zabeel Prince will be going in my accumulator. I can't possibly desert him having tipped him when he won at York last Friday and Roger Varian's four-year-old is very much progressive and looks the type to step out of handicap company next season. The rain that is falling won't worry connections either and that's why he is 7/2 favourite in what looks an uber competitive mile handicap. I'll also have a pound or two on Eve Johnson Houghton's runner Accidental Agent (14/1), he another horse that is lightly raced and improving and will most likely be contesting group races next season. He's a horse that has always shown plenty of speed, but he stayed on well over 7 furlongs at this track last time out and his first try at this trip shouldn't stretch him out too far. It's a magnificent days racing and all looks so straightforward at this stage, I can't wait to watch the drama unfold.
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