Champions Day: is this the best card in the world?
Fascinating Rock after victory in last year's Champion Stakes
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) Champions Day: is this the best card anywhere?
By Keith Melrose 2:00PM 14 OCT 2016
IN RACING, sometimes silence is the best response you can hope for. The queue to bash British Champions Day when it was first proposed made the wait for a taxi on Ladies' Day seem like the blink of an eye. Just five years on, you could fit the remaining doubters in the same black cab.
With a line-up that could scarcely be improved without bending the unchangeables of weather (Limato) and injury (The Gurkha), it is reasonable to ask if Saturday's card at Ascot is the best anywhere in the world.
On Saturday we will see the best of the Arc in Found and the horse that beat her the time before, Almanzor. The best three-year-old milers of both sexes will meet the older horses again. Most of the 6f Group 1 winners are represented, as well as the 5f champion punching up. Even the Group 2 on the card has drawn in the Gold Cup winner (and Arc placed) against last year's St Leger winner.
It might be reasonable to ask the question, but it isn't realistic to expect a definitive answer, not least because the terms change from one pair of eyes to the next. We can only explore the angles and see where we end up.
What has happened this year?
This Champions Day looks the deepest yet and there are two possibilities: a spike or a trend. We can investigate if there is something in the trend angle.
Take the Sprint, Long Distance Cup and Fillies & Mares race, the three races puffed up from their former guises to make Champions Day. On RPRs of the winner since 2011, we see a fairly static picture on the last two but a significant upturn in the fortunes of the Sprint.
In truth, this can be rationalised by outside factors. European 6f horses had long been lacking a big race after early-September and they can go to the well more often than middle-distance females and stayers.
Both of those divisions have a more limited pool and natural limits, as we can see in the case of Found and Minding, who would boost the Fillies & Mares but are good enough to tackle the very best races on the card.
Raven's Pass won the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2008 for John Gosden
PICTURE: Sally Duckett
History may end up showing that Champions Day came along at the right time. As it was being inaugurated, America was starting to abandon its experiment with synthetic surfaces, which, among other things, had proved a bit too friendly to European challengers at the Breeders' Cup.
The European raiding party at the Breeders' Cup this year will be light relative to what it was five or ten years ago. Back then it was the most convenient post-Arc option, but no longer. The shorter turnaround is proving less of a barrier than the travelling across the Atlantic (or to Asia) to race under unfamiliar conditions.
Before we get too carried away down this line, though, remember that, while we are looking forward to the best Champions Day yet, America is anticipating a Breeders' Cup like no other. Over there, there are multiple horses with the ability to be the headline act on Champions Day.
Racing Post Ratings expert Sam Walker said: "Champions' Day has drawn many of the stars of the European season, like Almanzor (RPR 126), Minding (122), Found (124), Galileo Gold (124) and Mecca's Angel (125).
"The problem is we haven't had many standout horses in Europe this season, with Almanzor looking like the only horse with the potential to break the 130 barrier on RPRs.
"This is a stark contrast to North America, which has turned up an absolute freak show of stars in 2016, including California Chrome (133), Arrogate (131), Frosted (130), A.P. Indian (126) and the unbeaten wonderfilly Songbird (124)."
Almanzor was always targeted at Ascot rather than the Arc
PICTURE: Alain Barr (racingpost.com/photos)
How does it compare with others?
Sensibly, Champions Day does not step directly on Longchamp (or Chantilly)'s toes, zig-zagging in the gaps between the Arc and Opera, Abbaye and Cadran.
In the foreseeable future, its line-up looks more likely to attract the best of the best than the Arc meeting: a 1m2f open-sex race, the best 1m race in Europe on just about any measure you choose and a 6f race that will pinch more than a few of the Prix de la Foret's chips- notwithstanding Limato, who goes wherever the weather suits his clothes.
Champions Day is more or less designed to appeal to the best Europe has to offer. Perhaps it's for this reason that it is shy on challengers from outwith its wider neighbourhood of Britain, Ireland and France.
Then again, barring Japanese runners in the big race, the Arc meeting has long had a similar problem. With other jurisdictions – not just the US, but Hong Kong and Australia – having their own headline meetings around the same time, the attraction to travelling is no longer the same.
Perhaps a stronger Champions Day, in saturating the European autumn programme, has eased world racing jurisdictions that little further apart. When everyone can legitimately claim that the best is on their doorstep, why travel across the oceans to prove any differently?
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