Mike Cattermole: Al’ of a bet!
Ascot is certainly the place to be on Saturday with the sixth QIPCO British Champions Day promising treats aplenty.
Almanzor is Mike's selection for the Champion Stakes
Four fabulous Group One's, a Group Two and a fascinating handicap to finish it all off, it's absorbing stuff.
Nobody can complain about the quality of the equine participants, the best of which between them have won 39 Group One races between them.
1.25 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup Stakes
Order Of St George is going to start a short-priced favourite here after enhancing his reputation with a superb third in the Arc at Chantilly just under two weeks ago. He was brilliant when he won the Gold Cup here in June but having probably endured the toughest race of his life last time – and his second defeat in succession – I will pass him over.
I much like the chances of Simple Verse who is well worth a go at this trip after her excellent comeback win in the Park Hill at Doncaster which, don't forget, is only a furlong and a half shorter than this trip of two miles.
I liked the way she travelled there, suggesting that she was back on song again, and she quickened like the class act she is to get out of an unpromising position to beat Pretty Perfect, who had got first run on her.
Ralph Beckett's filly was at her best this time last year when winning the St Leger and then triumphing here in the Fillies and Mares and, after a relatively quiet season, she will be fresh and looks poised to run a big one.
Forgotten Rules won this in 2014 and suffered a terrible run in it last year. His belated reappearance at the Curragh last month would have primed him for this and he has to be respected.
Quest For More gained a deserved win at the highest level in the Prix du Cadran a fortnight ago and has never let anybody down, including when collared on the line by Sheikhzayadroad in the Doncaster Cup. Whether he has had time to recover for another tough ask remains to be seen, though.
Meanwhile, Sheikhzayadroad, third here in the Gold Cup, has the ability to trouble them all but is such a tough ride as he hangs so badly. I feel he is better on left-handed tracks, however.
Finally, don't rule out a bold show from Litigant. He is massively talented, should get the give in the ground he needs and is said to be in A1 condition.
2.00 Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes
The ground has ruled out Limato but, no matter, Henry Candy can still win this with Twilight Son who has his underfoot conditions and can show again that he is a seriously good sprinter.
He was beaten only by Muhaarar in this race 12 months ago, and I think we all agree that Muhaarar is the best sprinter we have seen for some time.
Candy was kicking himself after allowing Twilight Son to run in the July Cup when he never looked comfortable on the ground. He won the Haydock Sprint Cup last term and showed he is as good as ever by landing the Diamond Jubilee here over C&D in June.
Quiet Reflection has had a superb campaign and after her win in the Commonwealth Cup over C&D, she bids to emulate the mighty Muhaarar who also won both championship races here last season.
Last time, she landed this year's Haydock Sprint Cup after travelling fluently throughout but the strong impression was that she got first run on The Tin Man who gamely chased her home after blowing the start of the race.
The Tin Man, fourth in this last year, remains capable of running well again and if things fall right, there may not be much between him and Karl Burke's filly this time.
Shalaa warmed up for this when doing just enough to land a Group Three here two weeks ago but the bare form of that means he has to improve to trouble the best here.
Mecca's Angel steps up to 6f for the very first time, as her 19-race career has been entirely over the minimum distance. I confess to being a bit disappointed with her in the Prix de l'Abbaye last time when her usual strong finish was missing and she flattened out close home. But if you look back at her superb defeat of Limato in the Nunthorpe at York she wasn't stopping at the end then.
Also trying out 6f for the first time is Librisa Breeze who produced an astonishing burst to win the big 7f handicap here last time and has form figures of 211 on the straight course at Ascot. It will be fascinating to see how his smooth travelling style translates to this shorter distance and better opposition.
2.35 British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes
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On the back of her fine recent win at Newmarket, Journey is going to turn up here and make a bold bid to go one better than last year when she was collared close home by a peak-form Simple Verse.
John Gosden made the point that Journey would have needed that run after a four-month lay-off and it is clear that this is what she has been aimed for all season. She is said to be physically stronger than ever and warrants a bit of each-way support.
That said, I just wonder whether another Classic-winning filly may have her measure again in the shape of Seventh Heaven who is surely going to be very hard to beat.
It didn't work for her in the Oaks at Epsom, when she got badly hampered, but in the other two Oaks she has won, the Irish (from Architecture) and Yorkshire versions, she has looked very strong indeed. I love the way she finishes off her races, hitting the line powerfully. However, her defeat of Found at York should not be taken entirely at face value as Found was said to be in need of the race that day.
Zhukova, from the Dermot Weld yard who won this with Sapphire in 2012, is clearly a very exciting filly but she faces Group One opposition for the very first time. Her defeat of US Army Ranger, the Derby runner-up, and Bondi Beach at Leopardstown was most encouraging and she could be a danger to all.
Speedy Boarding has been a revelation on her travels to France this year and was a thoroughly game winner of the Prix de l'Opera at Chantilly. The suspicion is that a mile and a quarter suits her best, however.
3.10 Qipco Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
The title of champion miler could be up for grabs if something wins this with a bit to spare but, in truth, there is precious little between many of them and The Gurkha is not here to make his claim, having been forced by injury into early retirement.
Galileo Gold, Awtaad and Ribchester are old rivals with Hugo Palmer's colt holding a 2-1 advantage against both of them. However, of that trio, it is Ribchester that seems to be the one on an upward curve, having been a little unlucky not to overhaul both The Gurkha and Galileo Gold in a tight finish to the Sussex Stakes when Richard Fahey's colt looked to have been inconvenienced by the steady gallop.
Ribchester, who had been third to Galileo Gold in the 2,000 Guineas earlier, then stepped up again to take the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville and there must be a chance that he has at least caught up with Galileo Gold whose January foal date might have given him an edge on the maturity front in the early part of the season.
Awtaad, twice beaten by Galileo Gold since accounting for him in the Irish Guineas, came back with a nice prep win at Leopardstown and he is going to get some cut in the ground.
For all of theorising, nothing stands out, so Minding is taken to beat them all. Aidan O'Brien, who relied on a filly to do the job in Chantilly two weeks ago, could have gone for the in-form Alice Springs in this but the fact that he has picked Minding to step up speaks volumes.
Trying to work out what is Minding's best trip is not easy as she is so versatile from a mile to a mile and a half. However, she was a brilliant winner of the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and then lost out narrowly to soft ground specialist Jet Setting in the Irish version, which was no disgrace. Given her conditions, Jet Setting is very good indeed and she looked as good as ever at Tipperary recently.
Having been confined to fillies races hitherto, Minding showed she can mix it with the boys with an excellent third behind the outstanding Almanzor and Arc heroine Found in the Irish Champion Stakes, when she tried to make her ground on the inside rail when the other two came wide.
3.45 Qipco Champion Stakes
He could quite easily have run in the Arc but Ascot was always going to be the target for Almanzor, which is a real coup for Champions Day.
On the evidence so far, Almanzor is an outstanding colt, blessed with an amazing turn of foot. Winner of the French Derby, he has done nothing but improve all season and when presented with his biggest test in a vintage Irish Champion Stakes, he showed what he could do when coming from last to first to overhaul Found, who herself had quickened brilliantly and had got first run on him.
So long as Christophe Soumillon keeps it simple and doesn't get boxed in, Almanzor is going to be very hard to beat. His jockey has described him as one of the best he has ridden and that is praise indeed.
Found never misses a gig and was a thoroughly deserving winner of the Arc, a race in which she suffered poor luck in running last year before lining up here and being given too much to do to take second behind Fascinating Rock. She could get closer to him but it is hard to see her turning the Leopardstown tables on Almanzor.
That said, Fascinating Rock has beaten Found on both occasions he has been successful in Group One company and has been primed for this with a decent warm-up run at the Curragh.
Jack Hobbs was third in this last year – as evens favourite – and it looks a tough ask for him to go two better after not being seen since being pulled up at Newmarket in April. Likewise, for Racing History who hasn't been seen at all since his fourth 12 months ago.
My Dream Boat has not returned to the heights of landing the Prince of Wales's Stakes over course and distance in June and was well held by Almanzor in the Irish Champion.
4.25 Balmoral Handicap
A proper punters' puzzle to end a wonderful day of action!
The progressive Firmament ran another super race here at the last meeting when looking all over the winner until Librisa Breeze came from nowhere to get up. The form of that highly competitive race has already been boosted by the fourth, Intisaab, winning at York.
Firmament also won the big mile handicap at the Ebor meeting when Third Time Lucky was back in fifth. Richard Fahey's grey now has a handy 11lb pull this time for a beating of just under two lengths.
And Third Time Lucky, winner of the Cambridgeshire last year, showed his turn was near when again running a stormer in this year's renewal when fourth behind Spark Plug, finishing second in the far side group behind Very Talented who has missed the cut.
Morando is improving but has much more to do now off an 8lb higher mark following his win at Ayr, while Andrew Balding's pair Tullius and Here Comes When both have a touch of class about them. Tullius has not appeared in a handicap since finishing runner-up in the Lincoln two years ago.
The most interesting runner, however, is Yuften who caught the eye under a quiet ride at Newmarket on his debut for Roger Charlton three weeks ago.
This was once a Group One performer who was second past the post in the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly and there was also nothing wrong with his thrashing of Sir Isaac Newton at Dundalk in April. Consistency has not been his thing which is why he has tumbled from a career high rating of 116 to 101 here.
There is no doubt he has the talent to take advantage of that.
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