Alex Hammond: ‘Term time
Sky Sports racing expert Alex Hammond looks ahead to a "humdinger" of a day at Ascot, where Midterm looks worthy of support.
Midterm: Worth backing each-way in the Champion Stakes
The British flat jockeys' championship concludes at Ascot on Champions Day this weekend and what a superb title race it has been and what a spectacular day we have to look forward to.
I have to admit I was one of the doubters when it came to the changes made to the championship structure, but on reflection I am pleased to admit I was wrong; change can be hard to accept, but it's great when it works out for the best.
Most jockeys have a tough life trying to maintain their weight (who doesn't know what that's like for even a short amount of time?!) and travelling many motorway miles (likewise!) and working incredibly long hours on that strict regime. Would you buy a used car off this man/woman?
The changes have made the season shorter, but I don't think that has resulted in the wrong riders coming out on top. In fact it seems to be a 'win win' situation.
Those lucky enough to be at the top end of the table are able to give it their all from the Guineas meeting through to early October and when it's done and dusted, those further down the table get more opportunities as those that have been involved in a title tussle take a break or ply their trade abroad.
The protracted battle between Jim Crowley and Silvestre de Sousa has added real spice to the last couple of months with Crowley asserting only in the past week or so. Not least because I put him up as my fancy for the title when De Sousa was still odds on favourite a few months ago, so hopefully you got involved.
Congratulations too to Josephine Gordon who becomes just the third female to win the apprentice jockeys' crown, following in the footsteps of Hayley Turner and Amy Ryan. She has really impressed this season and her determination and patience has paid off. The achievements of Hayley and Amy have paved the way for other female riders and Josephine deserves to add her name to the roll of honour. Let's hope she gets all the chances she deserves as her career progresses.
"He was reportedly only 80% fit that day and handles easier ground. Gosden's horses continue to win at a strike rate of 36% this month and with Frankie Dettori up he's the one for me."
Alex Hammond on Shalaa
British Champions Day is also a relatively new concept and hasn't that proved to be a change for the better?
We have six top class races to enjoy at Ascot with the four Group 1 races attracting the highest quality fields you could wish for. Unfortunately, Limato bypasses the Qipco British Champions Sprint as there has been a bit too much rain which has eased underfoot conditions; but that throws the six furlong race wide open.
In his absence Quiet Reflection is Sky Bet's favourite at 11/4, but with trainer Karl Burke admitting a few of his horses are coughing and without a winner so far in October, it might be wise to oppose her at the prices. Mecca's Angel has been a superstar this season, but was a bit disappointing in the Abbaye and this six furlongs isn't her optimum.
French raider Signs Of Blessing is one to keep on the right side of after a solid third in the Diamond Jubilee behind re-opposing Twilight Son on his Group 1 debut before running away with the Prix Maurice de Gheest over six and a half. He has certainly improved this campaign.
The horse that is hard to get away from is John Gosden's three-year-old SHALAA. He won the Prix Morny and Middle Park as a juvenile and then didn't reappear until the beginning of this month when winning a Group 3 over this course and distance. He was reportedly only 80% fit that day and handles easier ground. Gosden's horses continue to win at a strike rate of 36% this month and with Frankie Dettori up he's the one for me and is a 5/1 shot.
Onto the British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes where Aidan O'Brien's SEVENTH HEAVEN is Sky Bet's 9/4 favourite for the mile and a half contest. My word doesn't she deserve to be as short for what looks like a top-quality race?
Her only blip this season came in the Oaks and other than that Epsom run, she has done little wrong. With wins in the Irish and Yorkshire Oaks on her last two starts, including a defeat of subsequent Arc winner Found at York, a reproduction of that would see her sign off with another big win. It can be a difficult time of year for fillies and mares as the weather changes and they can lose their sparkle, but hopefully she comes here in the same sort of form and can stamp her authority on this field.
The main threat appears to come from fellow Irish raider Zhukova for Dermot Weld. She won at Leopardstown last month on her first start since May and looks the type to excel in the Autumn after a quiet year so far. It's a step up in class, but she deserves a crack at this level.
Then we have the Qipco Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the three year-olds can dominate in this mile event. The brilliant Minding is 2/1 favourite, but dropping back to the mile may not be ideal, so at the prices I think she's worth opposing despite an excellent effort to finish third behind Almanzor and Found in the Irish Champion Stakes over 10 furlongs last time out.
"Sir Michael Stoute's Sandown Classic Trial winner and one-time Derby favourite is 20/1 for Saturday's feature race. He has to step up on all known form, but on reputation could feasibly run into a place."
Alex Hammond on Midterm
It could be fought out between Richard Fahey's Ribchester and Galileo Gold for Hugo Palmer. The pair have met before of course, most notably when Galileo Gold was second to Ribchester's third in the Sussex Stakes behind the now retired The Gurkha. Ribchester has improved all season though and has since won the Prix Jacques le Marois; Galileo Gold ran a shocker at Deauville and was eighth after pulling too hard in the early stages. He's a horse that needs managing as he's very highly strung and has had some tough races this season. I think this race is RIBCHESTER'sfor the taking and I've taken some of the 5/2 with Sky Bet.
The fourth Group 1 is the Qipco Champions Stakes and this race certainly lives up to its billing. Irish Champion Stakes winner Almanzor has been aimed at this race rather than a tilt at the Arc by trainer Jean-Claude Rouget. It must have been tempting to re-route him to Chantilly when the stable's La Cressonniere was taken out of the Arc, but he stuck to his guns and the colt is 6/4 favourite for this humdinger of a race.
It's hard to find any chinks in his armour and he deserves to be market leader.
What can I say about Found? She was majestic in winning the Arc, but has the race left its mark? We won't know until it's too late, but it would be marvellous to see her win this too. Fascinating Rock comes here as the reigning champion, but there have been mixed results since his defeat of Found in this 12 months ago. He was beaten by Found on reappearance in a Group 3, but redeemed himself in the Tattersalls Gold Cup when the mare was beaten odds on favourite. However, he has only run once since then when finishing second in a Group 3 at the Curragh in August and he will need to be at the top of his form to win the race again this time round.
This is no easy return to action for Jack Hobbs on his reappearance from five and a half month's out with injury. He was third in this race last year and I think we may need to see him back over 12 furlongs for him to shine.
Almanzor has everything in his favour and will take all the beating, but a horse that appeals as an each way alternative is MIDTERM. Sir Michael Stoute's Sandown Classic Trial winner and one-time Derby favourite is 20/1 for Saturday's feature race. He has to step up on all known form, but on reputation could feasibly run into a place. He returned from four months off to finish second in the Prix Niel behind Japanese runner Makahiki. Granted that horse didn't frank the form in the Arc, but Midterm needed the run at Chantilly and I feel the price is too good to overlook him for his top stable.
Enjoy the racing this weekend, for flat racing connoisseurs it doesn't get much better than this. For jump racing fans, this marks the winding down of the flat season with some excellent sport to look forward to over the coming months… another 'win win' situation.
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