Simon Holt: Be Lucky!
Channel 4 Racing commentator Simon Holt previews British Champions Day at Ascot and picks out his best bets on the card.
Third Time Lucky looks ready to regain the winning thread
There can be no question that Aidan O'Brien has been the trainer to follow at Group One level this season and, after saddling the first three home in the Arc and the first two in last week's Dewhurst Stakes, the master of Ballydoyle is responsible for the likely favourite in three of the four races in which he is represented at Ascot on Champions Day.
The shortest priced of these is likely to be Order Of St George, a fine third when dropped in trip behind stable-mates Found and Highland Reel at Chantilly, who is back in more familiar territory over two miles in the opening Qipco Long Distance Cup.
Providing he has recovered from what must have been a hard race two weeks ago, this year's Gold Cup winner (over two-and-a-half miles here in June) is bound to take plenty of beating with Simple Verse the one most likely to take advantage on her first try at the trip which she appeared to be crying out for when catching O'Brien's Pretty Perfect close home at Doncaster in the Park Hill Stakes (1m6f) last month.
In the Qipco Fillies and Mares Stakes (won last year by Simple Verse), Irish and Yorkshire Oaks winner Seventh Heaven has to be the form pick and could prove too good for the undeniably progressive Zhukova, who runs here after beating the O'Brien-trained pair US Army Ranger and Bondi Beach at Leopardstown.
At around 9/4, Seventh Heaven looks perhaps the most backable of her trainer's runners at the meeting, though she was possibly flattered by her defeat of Found at York as the runner-up was returning from a mid-season break and clearly improved for the run.
Last year's runner-up Journey overcame a four-month absence to gain a second victory in the Nayef Stakes at Newmarket recently and should again be thereabouts while Architecture, second to Minding in the Oaks and behind Seventh Heaven in the Irish version, and Prix de l'Opera winner Speedy Boarding, who steps up in trip, are others to consider.
One of the stars of O'Brien's stellar season has been Minding who, in the Qipco Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes, takes on the smart colts Galileo Gold, Ribchester and Awtaad on her first attempt over a mile since running out an impressive winner of the 1000 Guineas in the spring.
Unbeaten in her next three starts after Newmarket, including when producing an act of escapology to beat Architecture in the Oaks, the daughter of the all-conquering Galileo was a creditable third behind Almanzor and subsequent Arc heroine Found in a red-hot Irish Champion Stakes last time. That form could be good enough though she was unimpressive previously in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood and, like her main rivals, has been on the go since the spring.
A back-to-form Galileo Gold will be a big danger if he can overcome a below-par effort behind Ribchester in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville in August when he pulled much too hard.
Earlier in the season, Hugo Palmer's colt had beaten Ribchester into third in the 2000 Guineas and was a place ahead of the same horse when second to The Gurkha in the Sussex Stakes (Lightning Spear sixth, Awtaad eighth) at Goodwood.
In the St James's Palace Stakes over this course and distance in June, Galileo Gold was given a fine ride by Frankie Dettori to secure a victory over The Gurkha with Irish Guineas winner Awtaad nearly two lengths away in third, and it's just a question whether he too might have trained off a bit.
Awtaad has since bounced back to winning form in a Group Two at Leopardstown while the connections of Ribchester have great confidence in their colt who has clearly made progress since winning the Jersey Stakes over seven furlongs here at the Royal meeting in June.
Later, it says something for the class of the French-trained colt Almanzor that O'Brien's Arc winner Found is unlikely to start favourite for the Qipco Champion Stakes.
There was just three-quarters of a length between the pair at the end of the Irish version in which Almanzor swept past the entire field in the home straight, displaying the same brilliant turn of foot which had secured earlier successes this season in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) and in the Prix Guillaume D'Ornano at Deauville.
Found was not at her best in the first half of the year but her campaign has been geared towards the autumn like last year when, after looking unlucky in the Arc and finishing second to Fascinating Rock in this race (Jack Hobbs third, Racing History fourth), she went on to beat Golden Horn at the Breeders' Cup.
The draw could be a factor here; Almanzor is drawn in stall one right on the inside and could need some luck in running when asked to engage top gear in the short home straight while Found has drawn 11 of 11 which is not ideal either with the bend at Swinley Bottom coming up soon after the start.
Last year's winner Fascinating Rock is not much better drawn in stall 10 and it could be unwise to take his defeat of Found at The Curragh back in May at face value. Dermot Weld's smart five-year-old was surprisingly beaten by Success Days on the same course in August but will have been trained to peak again here.
In the Qipco Champions Sprint, leading three-year-old speedster Quiet Reflection returns to the scene of her Commonwealth Cup victory in June since when she finished a good third in the July Cup (on ground a bit too quick) and then beat The Tin Man in Haydock Park's Group One sprint.
Karl Burke's filly must have a massive chance, albeit at short enough odds, against main market rivals Mecca's Angel, a superb sprinter at five furlongs but now trying six for the first time, and Shalaa, a dual Group One winner as a two-year-old who made a successful return from injury under just hand riding against weaker opposition over the course and distance a fortnight ago.
Diamond Jubilee winner Twilight Son would have strong claims too with enough give in the ground, though had only a neck and a short-head in hand of SIGNS OF BLESSING at the Royal meeting, and the latter has since won the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville. A line through the Deauville fourth Suedois suggests the improving French raider could be over-priced and good each-way value.
Meanwhile, Librisa Breeze, who produced a tremendous finishing burst to catch Firmament here over seven furlongs last time (and also won here in July as well as finishing second in the Royal Hunt Cup), is another fascinating contender dropped back to a sprint trip.
Finally, the closing Balmoral Handicap ought to give Firmament a good chance of gaining compensation for his recent narrow defeat back over his best distance of a mile but he is up another 2lb in the ratings, and last year's Cambridgeshire winner THIRD TIME LUCKY, a creditable fourth in the same race last time despite not getting the clearest of runs, is much better handicapped and looks ready to regain the winning thread.
A little out of sorts earlier in the season, Richard Fahey's grey showed distinct signs of a comeback when fifth behind Firmament, who he now meets on 11lb better terms, at York in August and comes here a relatively fresh horse.
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