In the early years Champions Day at Ascot could be sold on the appearance of Frankel but the wonder horse last ran at the meeting in 2012. The appeal since then has been the overall quality of the horses and this year’s renewal on Saturday is no exception. Jack Hobbs is potentially the best horse running based on finishing just three and a half lengths behind Golden Horn in the Derby.
British Champions Day is the end of year highlight of the Flat season. It brings together the best horses in five categories and also includes a competitive handicap. The fixture was added to the schedule in 2011 and combines several major races that were traditionally staged at Ascot and Newmarket. Frankel raced for the last time on Champions Day three years ago and attracted a crowd of 32,000 which is a record for an autumn Flat meeting in the UK.
There has been an ongoing debate about the timing of the meeting which can be heavily ground dependent. The organisers have been quite lucky and not encountered extremes of rainfall and temperatures. The day fits in well with the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe at the start of October and the Breeder’s Cup meeting in the United States next month. Champions Day is the richest single day meeting in British racing.
Ascot is seen as the best course in Britain and is a worthy venue for such a prestigious occasion. The track is known around the world for the Royal meeting but also stages the mid-summer championship that is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The Shergar Cup which has a team format is also held at Ascot in August. The concept received a boost this year when the women’s team won the Cup. Jason Donovan then headlined the after racing show to add a further touch of class!
There are six races at Ascot on Saturday all sponsored by Qipco and here are our comment and tips:
12.45 Long Distance Cup (2 miles)
This stayer’s race matches some high quality National Hunt horses and others that have been bred for the Flat and Pallasator has the form to win the contest. Wicklow Brave and Clondaw Warrior are trained by Willie Mullins and the jumps trainer handpicks British races for his Flat horses. Clondaw Warrior won at the Royal meeting while Wicklow Brave won a race at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Pallasator can be a temperamental animal that often gets unsettled before races. That was the case at the St Leger meeting but the horse was then an impressive winner of the Doncaster Cup. Pallasator has been beaten by two of Saturday’s main rivals but on ratings looks like just about the best horse in the race. The gelding can win for the 7th time in 17 outings.
Tip: Pallasator at 6/1 with Betfred
1.20 Sprint Stakes (6 furlongs)
Muhaarar has by far the best form in this race and is a worthy favourite but the price seems too short. The horse won the July Cup at Newmarket which often identifies the champion sprinter of the season. Muhaarar is the first British trained horse to win three Group 1 sprints in 25 years so has the form in the book to win this race at Ascot. The horse fought hard to win the third race of that sequence in France in August.
Gordon Lord Byron looks a viable each-way alternative and can make the payout places at least or even win the race. The horse cost just 2,000 Euros and was seen as a handicapper before becoming established as a seriously good sprinter. Gordon Lord Byron has won at Group 1 level, including the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock in 2013. His form has dipped since then but he looks a contender on past form.
Tip: Gordon Lord Byron at 16/1 with Hills
1.55 Fillies and Mares Stakes (one mile four furlongs)
Found does not appear in every bookmaker’s list of odds for this race but if taking part can outrun the price for a place or even win the contest. Aidan O’Brien was due to walk the course on Friday evening, mainly to determine if the ground is suitable for Gleneagles. He will also have Found in mind so it will be a late decision to run the horse or run in the Champion Stakes.
Found suffered traffic problems when finishing ninth in the Arc behind Golden Horn. She had finished second in the Irish Champion Stakes, just a length behind Golden Horn and ahead of Free Eagle. That is the strongest piece of form shown by any horse due to run on Saturday and Found has the class to beat a strong field, pending a run and not contesting the Champions Stakes.
Tip: Found at 8/1 with Paddy Power
2.30 Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes (one mile)
Even at a shade of odds-on and shorter Solow cannot be opposed in this race even if Gleneagles takes part. The horse drifted in the betting earlier this week but doubts over the appearance of Gleneagles have resulted in sustained support. Solow is a multiple Group 1 winner and unbeaten in eight starts. He must give weight to younger horses but is a genuine champion. Territories is seen as another threat by the trainer but must find several lengths on all known form.
Gleneagles has threatened to race several times over the late summer and autumn and then decided the underfoot conditions do not suit. Ante-post backers have indicated the ground will again be unsuitable and O’Brien will withdraw the horse. Some bookies see Solow as unopposable as the betting suggests Gleneagles will again be absent. The race would be then easier to win but Solow has a form advantage over Gleneagles anyway and is too good for the rest of the field.
Tip: Solow at 10/11 with Boylesports
3.05 Champion Stakes (one mile two furlongs)
This race is the champion race of Champions Day and has a prize fund of £1.3million. Jack Hobbs has the strongest form in the race and on all known evidence cannot be beaten but nothing is certain in racing. The horse’s case will be firmer if Found takes up the option of running in the fillies and mares race but Jack Hobbs can beat that horse and the rest of a field a few pounds inferior on form this season.
John Gosden trains Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs and decided against a confrontation in the Arc so Jack Hobbs has been saved for the Champion Stakes. He knows the relative ability of his horses and the Derby winning distance of more than three lengths in favour of Golden Horn is about right. Vadamos could be the fly in the ointment as a relatively unexposed horse but will have to be just about a superstar to beat Jack Hobbs after such a short career.
Tip: Jack Hobbs at 5/4 with bet365
3.45 Balmoral Handicap (one mile)
Tip: Shut your eyes, use a pin and say a prayer!