Cirrus Des Aigles has a favourite’s chance to become the first horse other than Frankel to win more than one race on Champions Day when the horse runs in the Champions Stakes at Ascot on Saturday. Maarek is looking to achieve the same feat in the sprint race at a meeting that identifies the champion horses in several divisions. Dawn Approach can end the season on a high by winning the QE11 Stakes at the Flat season deciders at the weekend.
This is the third renewal of Champions Day and it keeps its slot towards the end of October. The concept has been welcomed by the racing professionals but the date in the calendar has caused some criticism. The feeling is that autumnal weather and particularly rain could see the races run in a bog. Indeed persistent rain during the week has raised doubts about some of the main participants racing on Saturday.
The whole concept of Champions Day has been blessed in the first two years with fine weather and the appearance of the great Frankel. The horse cannot only be classed amongst the top 10 thoroughbreds that ever raced but was part of a more human interest story in the form of Sir Henry Cecil who lost his life earlier this year due to inoperable cancer.
Cecil is arguably the greatest ever racehorse trainer but also seemed to have a human touch. He could have appeared lofty and superior when in fact he was a man at ease in the company of royalty and the common man. In the 1980’s and 1990’s when Cecil sent a maiden to a provincial track the result was almost a foregone conclusion. The reception he received at York last year after Frankel won the Juddmonte International showed how highly he was regarded by the betting public.
Cecil’s favourite meeting was Royal Ascot where he trained 75 winners. After his death at the start of June his wife kept the show on the road and the stable had two winners at the Royal meting. Even in a week of celebration there was still sadness as Thomas Chippendale lost his life after winning the Hardwicke Stakes. Riposte was the other winner for the stable and this horse looks a decent prospect if kept in training for next season.
Cirrus Des Aigles got closer to Frankel than any other horse when finishing less than 2 lengths adrift in last year’s Champions Stakes. That meant the horse was the highest rated in Europe when Frankel retired. On ratings the French trained horse has something in hand in this year’s Champions Stakes and at a shade of odds against looks a decent bet.
The favourite for Saturday’s championship had a moderate start to the season. He ran five times before winning but even in defeat there is some solid form in the book, particularly against Novelist who confirmed the form by winning the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. In 2012 Cirrus Des Aigles was the second highest rated horse in the world, nine pounds behind Frankel and a pound better than the Australian wonder mare, Black Caviar.
Declaration Of War is just about second favourite in most bookmaker lists and although proven at the highest level may struggle to beat Cirrus Des Aigles. For those with a good recollection of past champions Declaration Of War is more a Giant’s Causeway than a Sea The Stars or Rock of Gibraltar. The Irish boys look like keeping the horse in training for next year and when an Aiden O’Brien charge is not retired to stud you can be sure the Coolmore gang believe they have a high class animal in his care.
If Cecil was the punter’s pal O’Brien also gets a great deal of respect from the betting public. He still looks about 25 but has been training at the highest level for more than 15 years. In the early days of his career he was best known for training Istabraq for JP McManus to win three Champion Hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival. The relentless demands to keep delivering must be stressful and most of his best horses are ridden by his son Joseph in the really important races.
O’Brien junior is above average in height by normal jockey standards. He is very slim so for now weight is not a problem. His regime to stay within a certain weight range must be demanding and long term he could change tack and become a jump jockey which would then give him more leeway in the battle against the scales. With his family connection and the amounts of money at stake it is testimony to his temperament and ability that he is the first jockey of choice when a Coolmore superstar runs in a high profile and significant race.
Declaration Of War won a race at Royal Ascot but his best run was in the Juddmonte International at York in August. In that race he beat the three times Group 1 winner Al Kazeem and the horse that won this year’s Irish Derby, Trading Leather. Toronado was well back in that race but the run was so bad that it can be dismissed. However, the race showed the ability of Declaration Of War and although beating Cirrus Des Aigles may be beyond him he looks a bet to nothing to make the each-way payout places.
Maarek won the Sprint Stakes on Champions Day last year and is now the clear favourite to win the race again. A year ago four winners on Champions Day were based in Ireland, including Rite Of Passage, trained by Dermot Weld. The trainer doesn’t bring many horses to mainland Britain but his strike with his raiders is testimony to his judgement when deciding to travel with one of his horses.
Maarek did not appear to have trained on after wining the Sprint last year. The horse ran well below its best in five races at the start of the season. However, recent runs at Newbury and Longchamp suggested he has not lost the ability that saw him win the biggest sprint race of last season. Jack Dexter is unproven at this grade and the two Power horses are just below the highest level which means Maarek has a great chance to emulate Frankel by winning two races on Champions Day.
The most popular winner would probably be Estimate, owned by the Queen. The country enjoyed a feel good factor when the horse won the Ascot Gold Cup in June. Images appeared in the Press and on television of Her Majesty’s glee as her horse won the most prestigious race of the meeting run in her name. All we needed was her racing manager to give her a hug and a smacker to make the scene the most viral and watched in YouTube history.
A less emotional winner but a more solid betting proposition is Dawn Approach in the Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes. The race has been billed as the next showdown between Dawn Approach and Toronado but the latter is now unlikely to run. Dawn Approach was the best two year old of last season and but for a bizarre run in the Derby would be now being identified as a potential champion at three.
In the absence of Toronado Olympic Glory could represent connections in the race. The horse is owned by members of the Qatar ruling family who are behind the Qipco brand that sponsor each race and the whole concept of Champions Day. There is not the huge attraction of Frankel this year but Cirrus Des Aigles can join the wonder horse by winning more than one race over the history of Champions Day.