An unbelievable day of top class racing on Qipco Champions Day begins with a mouthwatering Group 1 rematch between Order of St George and Big Orange in the Long Distance Cup.
The latter came out on top the last time the pair met over the longer 2m4f trip in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in what proved to be an epic encounter where the Michael Bell trained hero clung on at the line as Ryan Moore failed with a dramatic late surge.
The rematch promises to be every bit as dramatic with very little between the pair based on that running. Order of St George has been in terrific form since that defeat winning a Group 3 and a Group 1 before a creditable fourth in the Arc last time out and that form is enough to give him the edge here today, so he gets the nod to take his revenge on Big Orange.
Of the rest of the field, Stradivarius can fill the places after a decent campaign also.
ORDER OF ST GEORGE (WIN)
The Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes Sprint then sees the fastest horses in the country take centre stage.
James Fanshawe’s superstar The Tin Man was successful in this race 12 months ago, but he may be up against it to repeat the feat today with some top class younger speedsters making the step up to take on their elders.
Godolphin purchased Harry Angel mid-season and what a wise decision it proved to be when he went on to land back to back Group 1s in the July Cup and the Haydock Sprint Cup. The Dark Angel colt could not have been anymore impressive the last twice and is a worthy favourite here today, but he is worth taking on after a busy season with one horse in particular.
That horse is Harry Angel’s arch rival, Caravaggio, and the two have quite a rivalry going with one win apiece this term when going head to head. The Aiden O’Brien trained colt has a genuine excuse for his defeat in the July Cup to Harry Angel after rearing in the stalls and losing significant ground at the start of the race, but the Scat Daddy colt then disappointed followers again when putting in a shocker in France soon after. Things seemed back to normal, however, for the Ballydoyle superstar when he easily scooted home to win the Group 2 Flying Five Stakes over 5f last time out and that will have him spot on for this so he gets the confident nod.
Dangers are a plenty in such a quality field with the likes of Quiet Reflection, Tasleet and the aforementioned The Tin Man capable of pouncing if the top two fail to fire.
CARAVAGGIO (WIN) – NAP
The Group 1 British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes is next up and this year’s looks a fascinating renewal with a number of runners in with a solid chance here today. The John Gosden trained Coronet has already tasted victory over course and distance this term with an impressive win in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot in the summer, but she has looked out of her depth on Group 1 company since then and may find things tough again today. Frankie Dettori has opted to ride Journey for the same connections and she was the hero of 12 months ago in this race that is back to defend her crown, but she has been out of sorts this term and nowhere near the same level of form so is overlooked here. Bateel is a fascinating contender for French trainer FH Graffard. Formerly trained in England, the 5yo mare has been rejuvenated by her switch across the English Channel and she comes here in search of a four timer. She has won a Group 3, Group 2 and then finally a Group 1 in the Vermeille Stakes at Chantilly last time when she thrashed a very good field including the reopposing pair Journey and Left Hand. She will take an awful lot of stopping back on UK shores and she is the confident selection.
Of the remainder, Hydrangea looks the main danger of the 3yos in the field and the Ballydoyle representative has some nice form in the book to suggest she could run a big race.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes has a whole new reflection about it with the news that Ballydoyle have opted to send their superstar Churchill into battle here instead of the Champion Stakes and that could be a significant move. Ryan Moore’s ride will be right at home dropping back to a mile after sweeping all before it at the trip earlier in the season. The form of his runner up run behind Ulysses in the Juddmonte looks one of the strongest pieces of form on offer and means the dual 2000 guineas winner will take all the beating here today and gets the nod.
There is no doubt about the main danger with Richard Fahey’s stable star Ribchester representing Godolphin in the race. The talented miler is a multiple Group winner and worthy favourite for the race. He can give the selection plenty to think about, but may be vulnerable to an improving 3yo and his defeat to the reopposing Here Comes When may be proof he is not infallible.
Of the rest, the Andrew Balding trained Beat the Bank comes here searching for his sixth win in seven races, while French master Andre Fabre’s runners are always worthy of respect so Al Wukair could certainly get involved.
The Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes looks a really exciting renewal this year as some of this year’s most exciting 3yos get set to lock horns with the older horses over the 1m2f trip. Derby runner up Cliffs of Moher has been something of a disappointment after being pipped by tragic stablemate Wings of Eagle at Epsom and he therefore has something to find here today with the principals.
The focus instead will be on the match up between Cracksman and Barney Roy. Both are already Group 1 winners, battle hardened and will have no fears of taking on their elders again. The John Gosden trained Cracksman finished behind Cliffs of Moher in the Derby, before being pipped in the shadow of the post in the Irish equivalent. He has since won two Group 2 races with ease and looks a prime contender here, but the former rival may just have the edge today.
Godolphin’s Barney Roy has had a much harder route and the form of some of his efforts in defeat probably rate higher than the winning efforts of his rivals. Two runs behind the prolific Group 1 scorer Ulysses as well as his many battles with Churchill will stand him in good stead for this today and he gets the nod to add the Champion Stakes to his Group 1 tally.
Of the remainder, Ballydoyle will have high hopes for their own prolific Group 1 star Highland Reel and he is most likely to pounce should the principals fail.
BARNEY ROY (E/W)
The tricky looking Balmoral Handicap completes the live coverage on Champions Day. The impressive and progressive Zabeel Prince, trained by Roger Varian, is a worthy favourite here for this one after a demolition job of the field in his last race as he landed the hat trick last time out and the exciting 4yo shows no signs of stopping despite another 6lb penalty today. The yard have been very shrewd with their placing of the horse and he is the obvious pick to land the spoils again today for the four timer.
Richard Hannon’s The Grape Escape rates as the main danger and won last time out in equally impressive fashion to land a double. He comes here seeking a hat trick also with a 6lb penalty to deal with, but the trainer of the selection will know what to expect after running the Hannon horse close with another of his horses two runs back.
At a bigger price, it would be no surprise to see Lincoln runner up Oh This Is Us run a big race at double figure odds. He has the assistance of Ryan Moore here today and has some nice pieces of form under his belt already this term.
ZABEEL PRINCE (WIN)