Sky Sports Racing presenter Alex Hammond takes a look at the feature race at Ascot on British Champions Day, the QIPCO Champion Stakes.
This Saturday sees Sky Sports Racing covering our first QIPCO British Champions Day and I'm thrilled to be there. There is a star-studded card, but I'm going to focus on the big one, the Champion Stakes here. It's been well documented that this race is one of three run on the (inner) hurdle track, but that means the ground won't be as testing as first feared. Having said that, a love of soft ground is definitely necessary.
William Haggas' five-year-old was well beaten in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at this meeting 12 months ago, but that was his first run since May of that year as he didn't get the soft ground he prefers. He's been slightly busier this season and whilst he was disappointing in the Huxley Stakes at Chester back in May, he hasn't done a great deal wrong since. He beat Magic Wand to win the Wolferton after the deluge at the Royal meeting in June, finished a respectable second to Elarqam at York at the end of July and then beat Pondus in heavy ground at Haydock in the Rose of Lancaster last time out. So far though, he's come up short at the highest level and the ground may not be testing enough to level the playing field with some of his rivals.
There's no doubt Sir Michael Stoute's four-year-old has got plenty of ability, but he also has a little quirk. This mile and a quarter is his optimum trip, but whether he wants the ground soft is up for debate. Conditions are possibly the least of his problems, on his day he could give all of these a real fright and there's a chance that with age comes more maturity, so not one to write off, but we may not see the best of him until next season with a bit more experience under his belt.
This classy mare finally got a well-deserved Group 1 victory to her name in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in June and just like buses, she then made it two at the highest level with a win in the Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville a couple of months ago on her latest start. She was desperately unlucky not to reel in Magical in the Champion Fillies and Mares on this card last year and I think she's well capable of making it a hat-trick of Group 1s in conditions that are right up her street with Mr Ascot, Frankie Dettori in the saddle.
Japan's sweetheart showed she could cut it against the some of the best females in Europe when winning the Nassau at Goodwood and is unfortunate not to have potentially bagged two European Group 1s when denied victory in the Irish Champion Stakes when getting no sort of run. She has been big prices each time she's set foot on the track in the UK and Ireland, but definitely shouldn't be overlooked in the Champion Stakes where she looks capable of making her presence felt once again. The main negative has to be the ground as she seems to be much more effective on a sounder surface.
I CAN FLY
Aidan O'Brien's second string looks to be playing a supporting role once again to her better fancied stablemate Magical. The trip stretches her, with her best efforts over seven furlongs and a mile. Having said that, she ran the race of her life in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes 12 months ago when beaten a neck into second by Roaring Lion, but that was over a mile and she hasn't reproduced anything like that since.
What a super mare she is. She has danced every dance this season, only finishing out of the first two once since her win in the Fillies and Mares on this card last year. That came last time out when fifth in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and that wasn't a bad effort by any means. She's unlucky to be around at the same time as Enable as she has finished runner-up to her three times at the highest level in the last 12 months, but there's no Enable in this and she has a great chance of winning once again. There would have to be a worry about the times she has laid herself on the line this season, but she's tough and exceptionally talented. Conditions will hold no fears for her either.
Champion made to measure
Aidan O'Brien senses 10 furlongs and soft ground may prove ideal conditions for Magical
I'm a huge fan of Fox Tal and think that he could step up to the plate and be a leading light in Andrew Balding's stable as a four-year-old next season. He pulverised his rivals in a Conditions Stakes at Doncaster's St Leger meeting last month and whilst he has plenty to prove at this level, I think he has the makings of a top class colt. The ground is a complete unknown, but he has family that went on soft, so I won't be discouraged by that. He's a big each-way player for me.
He has plenty to do on bare ratings, but what he does have in his favour is the ground. He thrives when conditions are like this. The trip suits him well, but I'd be surprised if he's good enough to ruffle some of these feathers.
This filly looked really smart when winning the Cheshire Oaks back in May and to be fair she hasn't done a great deal wrong since then. The Oaks was a shambles for her and I thought she was unlucky not to win the Nassau Stakes. You can put a line through her run at ParisLongchamp in the Prix de l'Opera as she was far too keen and the day as a whole just didn't pan out well for Frankie Dettori. She'll appreciate conditions and she gives John Gosden a decent second string to his bow.
Addeybb is a confirmed mud lover, but it's possible it won't be soft enough for him. The horses I want on my side are John Gosden's duo; CORONET and MEHDAAYIH. Coronet has really come into her own this season and was definitely a touch unlucky in the Fillies and Mares on this day last year behind winner Magical. It's interesting they have decided to go for this race rather than the Fillies and Mares again and she's in the form of her life.
Mehdaayih is another filly I like and you can put a line through her run at ParisLongchamp on Arc day as she pulled too hard that day and she seems decent each-way value to me in this. She's done very little wrong other than her overly enthusiastic display in the Prix de l'Opera and if she hasn't gone over the top for the season can run another good race. I also think Fox Tal can run a huge race at a decent price. It's sure to be a cracking contest.