QIPCO British Champions Day 2018 Ascot
Tough day at the office and I finish the day -4 points to level stakes.
Qipco British Champions Day 2018 has arrived.
There is a record breaking £4.35 million worth of prize money up for grabs and we have four Group One races and a Group Two to enjoy as some of the biggest names in the horse racing game descend on Ascot for the afternoon.
Champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa was ruled out of riding after picking up a ban under totting-up procedures for whip offences but will be present to collect his trophy. De Sousa is due to be crowned champion jockey for a third time in four years. John Gosden should end the day as Champion Trainer being clear at the start of play. He has a strong hand with a number of well fancied runners due to strut their stuff and must pick up a bob or two – I noticed somewhere the Bookmakers are talking of ‘the four horses of the apocalypse.’ referring to the potential Gosden Yankee of favourites.
The going, so often a talking point for this day, is soft (heavy in places on the Round course) after the deluge we had across the country last weekend and earlier this week. ITV Racing are covering the entire card on the main channel.
The Group Two QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup over two-miles gets the day underway at 1.25. Stradivarius is short, 10-11 best, having already pocketed the Weatherbys Hamilton £1 million Stayers’ Bonus for winning the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Stakes in the summer. You would hope he’d be a fresher horse than last year, when third to Order Of St George, as that was of course off the back of a hard race in the St Leger but the going is the big concern as all those wins have come on the fast going of this summer and it was soft last year when third. Even Gosden said earlier this week “He’s best on top of the ground, but he handles soft.” Aidan O’Brien has supplemented Flag Of Honour, last seen winning the Irish St Leger, and he gets 8lb off the jolly but the underfoot conditions must be a concern for him as well especially over two furlongs further than he has ever gone.
We are into the Group One action at 2.00 for the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes at 2.00 over the straight six. The underfoot conditions will be a major factor here I am sure. 2016 winner The Tin Man has been at the head of the market in the build-up and he won the Sprint Cup at Haydock on heavy ground last time. Last years winner Librisa Breeze, on soft going, is also back to try her luck and unsurprisingly is second in the betting. Harry Angel arrives top rated and when he is right he is very good, but he has a habit of playing up and has that Ascot hoodoo hanging over him. That said he showed what he can do when winning the Sprint Cup at Haydock last year in the heavy and I have taken a chance at 6-1 he behaves as if he does he could show these a clean, or should that be muddy, pair of heels. If I could get on after the first furlong I would be a lot happier ;o)
They go over the 1m4f course for the Group One Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes at 2.40. Last years runner-up Bateel will not line-up after suffering a setback during her last piece of work in Chantilly on Monday and has now been retired as a broodmare. Lah Ti Dar is the market leader following her second in the St Leger last month. She did win on good-soft on her debut as a 2yo but she is one of many racing on Saturday that the going raises thus far unanswered questions for. Godolphin have the Andre Fabre trained Kitesurf coming over but the 3yo gets the weight-for-age advantage on her and is arguably the better horse anyway. There has been money for Magical but I can only assume due to her being the mount of Ryan Moore as she was never dangerous in the Arc. Last year’s winner Hydrangea will go again having won on the soft 12 months ago. She had three runs earlier this year on the rattling fast summer ground and looked below par, but, this is her ground as she showed last year. The stable is out from under the well-publicised cloud it was under back when the sun was shining. She has had a nice break since July and at 9-1 she is a tentative pick to retain her crown
We are on the straight mile at 3.15 for the Group One Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Laurens will be taking on the colts for the first time and duly gets the weight-for-age and sex allowances here. So long as her exertions so far this season have not taken their toll she has to have every chance. Her five Group One wins to date have come on ground from good-soft through to good-firm so all being well underfoot conditions will be fine. She reportedly pleased connections in a workout on Sunday (14th) ahead of being supplemented for this. “She worked today I’m very happy with her,” said Burke at the time.“PJ rode her. It wasn’t a hard piece of work, it was just with her usual lead horse, but she looks in great form.” I took 4-1 BPG on Monday. Recoletos was a disappointment when he came over for the G.1 Queen Anne Stakes in June run over this track and trip, but got back to winning ways in the Prix du Moulin last time. Roaring Lion goes in this now rather than taking his chance in the Champion Stakes due to the ground. My concern is the underfoot conditions will surely blunt his turn of foot the same over 8 furlongs as it would over 10 and I feel he is better over that trip as well. He is the class act, and gets the 3yo colt allowance, but will he get stuck in the mud? Lincoln winner Addeybb will be right at home on the going but this would be a huge step-up on what he has achieved thus far - his Bet365 Mile win wasn't the greatest Group Two you will ever see.
The main event is the 1m2f Group One Qipco Champion Stakes at 3.50. Cracksman is warm order to bring the curtain down on his career with a win; It would be a fairytale ending if he can. His connections won’t have minded all the rain that’s been around one bit and Robert Havlin certainly believes it will take a good horse to stop him from registering back-to-back victories saying earlier this week “He worked well on Saturday and hopefully everything should be in his favour.” I am not convinced he is as good as he was though and even Gosden has mentioned how his mind has been on the fillies as much as on racing recently – that’s the horse not, Mr Gosden! They are fitting the blinkers on him to keep his concentration levels up. Crystal Ocean is the main potential party pooper as far as the Clarehaven team is concerned and the Stoute trained four-year-old has a chance. He has some form on softer ground and is currently higher in the OR’s than the jolly. That said I can’t get away from Rhododendron at 40-1! I know she has been out of form since winning the G.1 Lockinge back in May but this is a trip she likes and her sort of ground plus she gets 3lb. Take a look at her winning the G.1 Prix de l'Opera last back end in the mud at Chantilly over 1m2f. She has to be backed each-way as far as I am concerned with most of the runners having questions marks about their form. She could be beaten a country mile, but she might cause a big surprise.
The Balmoral Handicap (Sponsored By Qipco) over the straight mile brings the curtain down on the day. I have said it before and will say it again I am still not sure why this race doesn’t start the day rather than bring proceedings to a close? There is money to be made though and Raising Sand looks a solid option with form over the seven furlong and mile stretches here and on the soft. At 9-2 the six-year-old is the pick ans was backed earlier this week. Safe Voyage might be the biggest danger.
I took the 9-2 on Wednesday about Raising Sand for the Balmoral Handicap as he thrives at this gaff and will relish the going.
The weather has suddenly turned and having had fast ground for months we are now faced with soft everywhere and Windsor unable to race today (Monday) due to standing water! Ascot’s clerk of the course Chris Stickels expects Champions Day to take place on soft ground.
As for the big meeting Laurens is the one bet I have placed thus far, 4-1 in the Group One Queen Elizabeth II Stakes as I think she has a cracking chance and if, as likely, it is soft on the day she shouldn’t be too troubled by that. Owner John Dance stumped up the £70,000 fee earlier today.
John Gosden could switch Roaring Lion from the Champion Stakes if he feels the ground is too soft for him over 10 furlongs; surely he will go for the Champion though.