Stars set to collide in glittering line up for 10th anniversary of QIPCO British Champions Day
A glittering cast is on course to illuminate the 10th anniversary of QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday after the five-day confirmations were revealed on Monday.
There are highlights at every turn, as befits Britain’s most valuable raceday, which this year offers prize money of £4,091,250, up 61% on last year’s totals. The QIPCO Champion Stakes is set to be the richest race in the UK this year with £1.2 million in prize money, with the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) also run for in excess of £1 million.
In total, 26 Group 1 winners remain engaged and between them they have won 56 races at the highest level. Eight Classic winners remain in contention to run – including three of this year’s British Classic winners in Mother Earth, Snowfall and Adayar.
It could be a momentous afternoon for John Gosden, now training in partnership with his son Thady, as he is set to saddle five leading contenders in six races – Stradivarius (QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup), Free Wind (QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares), Palace Pier (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO)), Mishriff (QIPCO Champion Stakes) and Sunray Major, favourite for the Balmoral Handicap. The Champion Trainer will be seeking to add to his haul of eight winners on QIPCO British Champions Day – the same tally as Aidan O’Brien.
“QIPCO British Champions Day has become the definitive season-ending meeting. It’s wonderfully sponsored and a great event, with Group 1s from six furlongs to a mile and a half, as well as a very valuable Group 2 for stayers, but I think what’s most interesting to me is that it attracts a much younger crowd,” Gosden said.
“I’ve said this before, but it’s very noticeable as you go through the grandstand that a lot of them are in their teens, twenties and thirties, and that’s so important to our business if we are not going to wind up irrelevant. Ascot has a different feel on QIPCO British Champions Day, and that’s a great positive. The more we can encourage it the better.”
William Haggas, who won last year’s QIPCO Champion Stakes with Addeybb, is another big fan of the meeting. He said: “QIPCO British Champions Day is a huge and momentous occasion. It’s the culmination of a long season in Britain. Everyone wants to win there.”
The going at Ascot is currently Good to Soft, Soft in places on the straight course, and Soft, Good to Soft places on the round course. The latest Going Stick readings were 7.7 (straight) and 5.4 (round).
QIPCO CHAMPION STAKES (£1.26 MILLION): GROUP 1
Last year’s winner Addeybb is firmly on course for a bid to become the second dual winner of the QIPCO Champion Stakes since it was moved to Ascot in 2011 as the centrepiece of QIPCO British Champions Day.
However, he is set to face stellar opposition, with Cazoo Derby and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes winner Adayar still a possible runner, alongside Juddmonte International winner Mishriff and the winners of many more of the world’s top middle-distance races.
William Haggas, who also plans to run the talented but frustrating Al Aasy and the supplemented three-year-old Dubai Honour, reports the popular seven-year-old “in as good shape as we could possibly have him”. If successful he would become the Champion Stakes’ oldest winner since 1887, when Bendigo won a Newmarket running of the race at the same age.
Addeybb, who was also second to Magical two years ago, is among 14 possibles for the race, 10 of whom are already winners at Group 1 level.
Haggas said: “We are very pleased with Addeybb’s condition. We’d like rain for him, and the more the better, but it doesn’t look as if we are going to get it. I’d be surprised if it was quick ground though, as it was so wet there at the last meeting, and he’ll run.
“I’d have loved him to have had a run, as it’s a top, top race, but he goes well fresh and he can win off a lay-off. His last two weeks have been really good.”
He added: “Dubai Honour is a nice young horse who has won two Group 2s. He’s doing very well physically and he’s a pretty useful horse. This will be a big rise in class for him but we’ve got nothing to lose. I’m running Al Aasy too, and he’s not without hope, dropping back in trip. Everyone questions him bar me, but he’s a very, very talented horse.’’
Mishriff was down the field 12 months ago but has had a massive year, taking his earnings past the £11m mark with wins in the Saudi Cup, the Dubai Sheema Classic and the Juddmonte International as well as places behind St Mark’s Basilica in the Coral-Eclipse and Adayar in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes.
John Gosden, who is now in partnership with son Thady and is looking to add to his two runaway wins with Cracksman, has freshened Mishriff up since his stunning six-length defeat of Alenquer and Love in the Juddmonte International at York and is pleased to see the ground drying up.
Gosden said: “We’ve been happy with Mishriff since York and we are looking forward to running him again. It’s always one race at a time, but we wanted to space his races in case we go on to run later in the year, possibly at the Breeders’ Cup.
“It looks like being a good race and we should get better ground than last year, when he really didn’t like it. He can handle soft, but last year it became specialists’ ground. Full marks to all of the winners that day, but it’s hard to quicken on that stuff.”
A decision upon the participation of Adayar is unlikely to be made until later in the week, but the Charlie Appleby-trained Qatar Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe fourth would be a fascinating contender for Godolphin, who were last successful with Farhh in 2013. Only Sir Ivor (1968) and New Approach (2008) have won both the Derby and the Champion Stakes in more than 50 years.
Aidan O’Brien, who won with Magical two years ago, can choose between two outstanding fillies in Love and Snowfall, both of whom are dual Classic winners, but they have also been confirmed for the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes. O’Brien has also confirmed his Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes winner Bolshoi Ballet.
Other possibles include the Irish 2000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney and the high-class French three-year-old Sealiway, who was one place behind Adayar in the Arc, having won a Group 1 on the same weekend 12 months previously, plus Qatar Nassau Stakes winner Lady Bowthorpe, who has also been confirmed for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO).
QUEEN ELIZABETH II STAKES (SPONSORED BY QIPCO) (£1.1 MILLION): GROUP 1
Rising one-mile star Baaeed will face by far the toughest test of his career to date when he bids to stretch his unbeaten run to six in the £1.1m Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO), which on the tenth anniversary of Frankel’s memorable QIPCO British Champions Day debut in the same race has attracted a line-up worthy of the occasion.
The William Haggas-trained three-year-old made his racecourse debut only four months ago but he is already a Group 1 winner in the Prix Du Moulin at ParisLongchamp and is disputing favouritism with last year’s champion miler Palace Pier in a line-up which also includes last year’s winner The Revenant, this year’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas runner-up Master Of The Seas, and top-class fillies Alcohol Free, Lady Bowthorpe and Mother Earth.
Haggas has been delighted with Baaeed and said: “With the likes of Palace Pier and Alcohol Free in the field it could be the race of the day, but Baaeed’s preparation has gone well and he’s in good shape. He’s a nice horse and he’s come a long way in a short space of time.”
John Gosden sounds just as pleased with Palace Pier, who is already a five-time Group 1 winner, including twice at Ascot, but met his only defeat in a ten-race career when third here 12 months ago.
He said: “It was frustrating when Palace Pier had to miss the Sussex Stakes with that blood disorder but he has since won the Prix Jacques Le Marois and it was always the intention after that to wait for this race.
“He’s been training well and he’ll appreciate what will hopefully be nicer ground than last year. A little over a week ago it was bottomless, and while we don’t expect it to dry out to good to firm, it won’t be like that.”
The Revenant is peaking at the right time once again judging from his fast-finishing short neck second behind Real World in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein at ParisLongchamp last weekend, when having his first race since May. However, drying ground could be a concern.
In an interview for QIPCO British Champions Series last week, trainer Francis-Henri Graffard said: “Two years ago on his first attempt he ran a fantastic race to finish second to a good horse (King Of Change), and when we went back last year we were very confident because he had come on a lot for his run at Longchamp. He had his ground and he was spot on, and he delivered, which was very good. If he has his ground again he will be ready to defend his title.”
The Coronation Stakes and Qatar Sussex Stakes winner Alcohol Free missed last weekend’s Kingdom Of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes to wait for this, and if successful again here the prize money would provide a massive boost to Andrew Balding’s hopes of winning a first trainers’ title after he lost the lead to Charlie Appleby at Newmarket last weekend during the Dubai Future Champions Festival.
Balding said: “The QEII has always been the aim for Alcohol Free. We sidestepped the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket as we felt that it might be a bit tight going to Ascot oly two weeks later, and she seems in great form.”
Benbatl will also merit respect. Saeed Bin Suroor’s globe-trotting seven-year-old has been a Group 1 winner at racecourses as far afield as Caulfield in Australia, Meydan in the UAE, and a little closer to home in Munich, Germany. His recent Newmarket Group 2 defeat of Pogo suggests his enthusiasm is undimmed.
The ten confirmations for the race are completed by Njord, who has been Group-placed on several occasions since winning the Balmoral Handicap (Sponsored By QIPCO) for Jessica Harrington on last year’s card and 2019 Queen Anne Stakes winner Lord Glitters.
QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS FILLIES & MARES STAKES (£500,000): GROUP 1
Aidan O’Brien has retained both Love and Snowfall, along with possible pacemaker La Joconde, for a high quality £500,000 QIPCO British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes, but both also feature among his possible QIPCO Champion Stakes team.
No trainer has strength in depth among fillies and mares to compare with O’Brien, who won here with Hydrangea in 2017 and Magical in 2018 and has had fillies placed in both subsequent runnings. Either of his principals would take a lot of beating if given the opportunity here.
Love’s five Group 1 wins include the 2020 QIPCO 1000 Guineas and Investec Oaks, plus this year’s Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, but she was narrowly beaten by La Petite Coco under a penalty in a Group 2 at The Curragh and then missed the Arc for a second year running.
Snowfall won the Oaks, Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks by a cumulative distance of almost 30 lengths before a surprise defeat in the Prix Vermeille and a respectable sixth in the Arc.
Whichever O’Brien elects to run here might not have it all their own way however, for Free Wind could hardly have impressed more when a seven-length winner of the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster last month and looks a worthy rival from the Gosden stable, which has also enjoyed two recent wins in this race, with Journey (2016) and Star Catcher (2019).
The easy winner of what is sometimes known as the ‘Fillies’ St Leger’ has been beaten only twice in six starts and she is set to be partnered again by Frankie Dettori, who rode both of those previous fillies to victory at QIPCO British Champions Day.
John Gosden said: “We were thinking about the Prix Royallieu for Free Wind, and her owner Mr Strawbridge was over, but luckily we waited owing to concerns about the ground. She’s hopefully going to be better on a better surface.”
La Petite Coco, for whom success here would be a first at Group 1 level for up-and-coming stable of Paddy Twomey, is improving with every race and had won Listed and Group 3 races before her game defeat of Love on Irish Champions’ Weekend.
Invite, who won a Listed race at Chester on her debut for Andrew Balding, is another interesting runner.
Balding, who has also confirmed Tribal Craft, said: “Invite is a candidate for the Fillies and Mares so long as the ground remains slow. She’s not exactly an extravagant worker but I liked what I saw when she won at Chester on her only start for us. That was nice to see and she’s obviously a filly with plenty of ability.”
Dermot Weld’s dual Irish St Leger winner Search For A Song would be another key runner, but she has also been confirmed for the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup, in which she was second last year.
QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS SPRINT STAKES (£531,250): GROUP 1
Glen Shiel is on course to try repeating last year’s win in the race in which his trainer Archie Watson gained a breakthrough first Group 1 success 12 months ago.
However, the betting suggests that the stable has an even stronger candidate this time in Dragon Symbol, who was promoted to favourite in most lists following the news that Darley July Cup winner Starman has been retired to stud after suffering a minor setback.
Glen Shiel, who gave Hollie Doyle a career-first Group 1 win when beating Brando a nose on a memorable afternoon last year, looked as good as ever when running Dream Of Dreams close in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, but he has not been in quite such good form since.
The four years younger Dragon Symbol, on the other hand, has been one of the sprint season’s success stories, winning his first four starts in the spring before being controversially relegated to second after beating the American challenger Campanelle in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, since when he has continued to run well at Group 1 level.
Watson said: “If reproducing their Royal Ascot form either of them ought to be very hard to beat. It’s going to be lovely racing ground, which will be spot on for ‘Dragon’ but might not be ideal for ‘Glen’.
“Dragon Symbol hasn’t run a bad race all year and stepping back up to six furlongs will suit him grand. On his Royal Ascot and July Cup form in particular, he should be bang there, and he deserves one of these.
“Glen Shiel ran fantastic races in the Diamond Jubilee and in the July Cup, and then it was funny ground at Deauville, where he was in the middle of the track. It was rattling ground at Haydock, but he ran a much better race at Ascot last weekend and that was always a step towards this race. I’m delighted with the way he is and I’ll put on some headgear, just to sharpen him up.”
Tim Easterby has never made any secret of the huge regard he has for Art Power, and while the four-year-old just came up short when in the frame in both the Diamond Jubilee and the Darley July Cup, he will return to Ascot with his confidence buoyed by a recent easy win in a Group 3 at The Curragh.
Easterby, who is enjoying a record-breaking season, can’t wait for Saturday and said: “He’s an absolute machine and he’s in great form. He goes well at Ascot – not that it would bother him where the race was run as he’s so adaptable – and he’s in great order, so fingers crossed. I see he’s nearly favourite now, so no pressure eh?”
Rags-to-riches three-year-old Rohaan, bidding to give trainer David Evans an overdue first win at Group 1 level, promises to be another major player after a seven-race winning spree culminated in a remarkable success under a big weight in the Wokingham Handicap, also at Royal Ascot.
That was his second win over the QIPCO British Champions Sprint course and distance and his recent eye-catching fifth over five furlongs at the Curragh after losing many lengths at the start has certainly caught the attention of punters.
In an interview last week for QIPCO British Champions Series his trainer said: “He does everything so easily. Nothing is too much effort for him. He’s half asleep most of the time, but he’s got such a turn of foot, so long as he’s close enough to use it. He’s really well and if he’s in one piece and luck goes with him I don’t think there’s anything in the race to beat him.”
Another key contender is Charlie Appleby’s Creative Force, who won Royal Ascot’s seven-furlong Jersey Stakes and would be a first winner for Godolphin if successful, while Ireland, which gained successive wins with Maarek, Slade Power and Gordon Lord Byron between 2012 and 2014, could be represented by Gustavus Weston, Thunder Moon and Twilight Spinner.
Following the supplementary entry of Charlie Fellowes’ recent course and distance Group 3 winner Vadream there are 22 horses remaining for the race, with a maximum field of 20.
QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS LONG DISTANCE CUP (£500,000): GROUP 2
Last year’s runaway winner Trueshan heads a bumper 20 five-day confirmations for the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup, in which Stradivarius may yet make a fifth successive appearance despite connections initially inclining to rule it out after finishing behind Trueshan in the Prix Du Cadran at ParisLongchamp on Arc weekend.
Widely recognised as the outstanding Cup horse of his era, and with a record 15 wins to his name which fall under the QIPCO British Champions Series umbrella, Stradivarius won this race in 2018 but tends to be below his best under autumn conditions and was well beaten 12 months ago.
Trueshan was too good for him in testing conditions in the Cadran, but John Gosden has been encouraged by the weather forecast and is by no means ruling out a quick reappearance.
He said: “We made a mistake running in France on ground which was not what we had been led to expect. On the Saturday they were running on ground that had been used for the Trials and while he ran a valiant race it was just not his ground.
“We very much wish that we hadn’t run there, as it looks as if he will get ground closer to what he wants at Ascot, and with that fresh strip on the inside rail for the first race as they had the rail out at the last meeting. We are not mad keen on coming back after just 14 days, but once it was clear he wasn’t handling the ground Frankie didn’t get after him too much. No decision will be made until well into the week.”
While the drying weather has been welcomed by connections of Stradivarius, it is not what those associated with Trueshan were hoping for. It was testing underfoot 12 months ago when the five-year-old initiated a memorable double for Hollie Doyle by winning impressively by seven and a half lengths from Search For A Song and Princess Zoe, and again when he won the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup.
Alan King has an alternative option for Trueshan back in France a week later, so needs to be sure he has fully recovered from his exertions and that the ground is suitable before he gives him the go ahead.
He said: “I’ve left Trueshan in and we’ll make a decision on Thursday. We’ll do a bit with him mid-week and see how everything pans out, but I can’t see any rain in the forecast.
“He has only cantered since Longchamp but he looks a picture. The Prix Royal-Oak the following weekend is there if we need it instead, but I’m told there’s not much rain about in France either and I’d prefer to go to Ascot.”
Lightly-raced Hamish is a fascinating contender for the William Haggas stable, stepping up to two miles for the first time after the form of his September Stakes defeat of odds-on Hukum was seemingly massively boosted by the runner-up’s easy subsequent success in Ascot’s Cumberland Lodge Stakes.
Haggas said: “If you want to take the Hukum line at face value Hamish would definitely have a chance. I don’t think we saw Hukum at his best at Kempton, but Hamish is a good horse all the same. The ground might not be as soft as he’d like, but there’s a big difference between summer good and autumn good. It might be a bit quicker up the straight, but not down at Swinley Bottom.
“I also run Roberto Escobarr, who has quite a bit to find but will like the drying ground. He proved last time that he stays and we are going to put cheekpieces on. He’ll be a big outsider but he’s thoroughly likeable and is worth a shot.”
Berkshire Rocco, who has raced just twice this year, is an intended runner for Andrew Balding, who has also confirmed mud lover Morando.
Balding said: “The QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup has always been the aim for Berkshire Rocco and we’ve kept him fresh for it. He’s hopefully going to go there in good form and there’s a possibility it might just cut up a bit, as some of them had hardish races in France.”
Princess Zoe, only fifth behind Trueshan when bidding to repeat last year’s win in the Prix Du Cadran, is expected to feature in a typically strong challenge from Ireland, which has been responsible for six of the ten winners of the QIPCO BRitish Champions Long Distance Cup.
Three of those winners were saddled by Aidan O’Brien, who has confirmed Amhran Na Bhfiann, Interpretation, Passion and The Mediterranean this year, and another by Dermot Weld, whose Search For a Song will be bidding to go a place better than a year ago.
Baron Samedi, trained by O’Brien’s son Joseph, is another key contender, having last month stayed on strongly to finish on the heels of Sonnyboyliston and Search For A Song when the latter was bidding to win the Irish St Leger for a third successive year. His stable-mate Master Of Reality is another possible.
Charlie Appleby’s Manobo, who stretched his unbeaten run to four with ParisLongchamp success in the Qatar Prix Chaudenay, has also been confirmed.
BALMORAL HANDICAP (SPONSORED BY QIPCO) (£200,000)
Aldaary will be bidding to become the first three-year-old winner of the Balmoral Handicap (sponsored by QIPCO). Trained by William Haggas, he recently beat the Andrew Balding-trained Symbolize in an Ascot seven-furlong handicap a couple of weeks ago.
Ridden by Jim Crowley, he was one of three runners whose riders elected to race close to the far rail, and he won every bit as easily as favourite for this race Sunray Major. However, Sunray Major still needs plenty of horses to come out before making the field, with a maximum field of 20 runners.
Haggas said: “We’ll run Aldaary with his penalty, as well as Johan and Montatham, who are also guaranteed to get in. I don’t think the others will make the cut, but it’s a £200,000 handicap and they will run if they do.”
John Gosden has saddled the runner-up here five times, most recently with subsequent dual Group 1 winner Lord North in 2019. Aside from Sunray Major, he also has Al Rufaa, King Leonidas and Magical Morning in a strong team.
Gosden said: “Sunray Major could be exciting if he gets in. There’s not much more for these horses for the rest of the year and we’ll just see what gets in.”
While neither Haggas nor Gosden has won the Balmoral Handicap before, David O’Meara has won it twice, with Lord Glitters (2017) and Escobar (2019), both horses relishing the strong pace over the straight mile and coming from near last to first.
Escobar, one of several possible representatives for the stable on Saturday, also came second in between, but he has now gone two years without a win. Friday’s penalised York winner Shelir would be another interesting one from the stable were he to make the cut.