Our racing expert has a tip for each of the six races at Ascot on Champions Day.
1:25 2m (1m7f209y) Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup (Group 2) (Class 1) (3yo+)
Stradivarius is a worthy favourite having carried all before him this season, winning all four outings and including a couple of Group 1s. But his most recent success in the Group Lonsdale Cup was the least impressive visually, having been made to battle by a relative outsider, and he was beaten in this race last on soft ground, which again seems likely to prevail. That makes him opposable at around the even money mark and the obvious alternative is Aidan O’Brien’s Flag Of Honour, who completed a hat-trick in the Irish St Leger last time and the fact he was supplemented for this suggests he’s the stable number one hope.
But he too might not be so effective on soft ground – his form figures on such a surface read 039 – and that can’t be said of stablemate SIR EREC, who sluiced through the mud when winning at Limerick just seven days ago on what was just his fourth start. That was only a Listed contest but he comfortably beat a rival rated 15lb superior off level weights, and is clearly a stayer going places. By Derby winner out of an unraced sister to St Leger runner-up Mahler, he looks certain to stay this extra half mile and it wouldn’t surprise if he were to finish in front of his better fancied stablemate.
It’s just a shame the field has cut up to seven runners as an each-way bet now makes far less appeal and I would have liked bigger than the current 9/1 (from 12/1), but it’s still hard to resist a small interest.
2:00 6f Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes (Group 1) (Class 1) (3yo+)
The market is dominated by the last two winners with The Tin Man bidding to regain his crown and Librisa Breeze attempting to follow up his success of 12 months ago, when delivered late to collar Tasleet (now tried in blinkers). Both need a strong pace to show their best, which again seems likely, and the forecast soft ground holds no terrors for either. But Librisa Breeze has shown next to nothing this season, albeit he hasn’t had his ground, whereas The Tin Man looked as good as ever when landing the Group 1 Sprint Cup last month (several of today’s rivals in behind) and looks the one most likely of the pair to run his race.
But this is far from a two-horse race and BRANDO, who has just half a length to find with The Tin Man on their Haydock running, shouldn’t be far away and is a shade of value at the current 8/1. Apart from a well beaten effort in France two starts back, when seemingly drawn out of things, he has been running up to his best all season and has now finished second in two of his last three races in Group 1 company (also a length third behind The Tin Man in the 2016 renewal of this race). With his stable in excellent nick and no worries over the ground), he gets the vote, although a dual forecast with his old rival makes sense for insurance purposes.
As for the rest, it’s hard to enthuse over the chances of Harry Angel given his awful record at this track and that he seems to have taken an aversion to the starting stalls of late. Ayr Gold Cup winner Son Of Rest won’t mind conditions one bit but this is much tougher, while Limato is arguably best over 7f.
One relative outsider who might outrun his odds is Sands Of Mali as he is a horse who likes plenty of cut and his latest fifth in the Sprint Cup (heavy) was a step in the right direction after losing his way a bit. At 33/1 with Betfred, who are paying out on four places, he’s one for each-way backers.
2:40 1m4f (1m3f211y) Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (Group 1) (Class 1) (3yo+)
Just a week after her younger brother Too Darn Hot did the business in the Dewhurst, Lah Ti Dar bids to bag her first Group 1 victory after two Listed wins and a second in the St Leger last time out. The daughter of Dubawi was beaten by a stronger stayer, Kew Gardens, in the Doncaster Classic and she should be suited by dropping back in trip, although she is untested on ground slower than good to soft. That’s not to say she can’t win in the conditions and she has always been considered a soft-ground filly by her trainer John Gosden, but it’s enough to make you think twice about backing her at just 11/8 and there’s also a possibility the Doncaster run has taken the edge off her.
Besides, there are quite a few who could could give her a race on their best form and they include French raider Kite Surf, who has made steady progress all season and clocked a good time when pipping Magic Wand in the Prix Vermeille last month, and last year’s third Coronet. Hydrangea, the winner 12 months ago, also has to be considered as, while she has been below form this term, she will finally get back on the soft ground she needs.
But I’m going to take a chance on one at an even bigger price in the shape of Roger Varian’s PILASTER, who looked a smart filly in the making when completing her hat-trick in a Group 2 at Goodwood in August. Despite not looking entirely happy on the drying ground, causing her to hang left, she showed a likeable attitude to edge it in a head-bobber over Maid Up and was value for more than her short head margin of victory. I thought she was a good thing for the Park Hill (1m6f) at Doncaster, lumping on at shortish odds, only to see her go down in third by a half a length. Ouch. She would surely have won that race had their been a stronger pace on and she had been ridden more positively, so I’m sticking with her and especially as her proven ability to stay further is going to be a huge asset in the conditions.
3:15 1m (Str) Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Group 1) (Sponsored By Qipco) (British Champions Mile) (Class 1) (3yo+)
Roaring Lion runs here instead of the 1m2f Champion Stakes with his connections clearly hoping his superior class – he has at least 7lb in hand over his rivals – will be enough get him home in front in the testing conditions against specialised milers. John Gosden’s colt has thrived since finishing a one-paced fifth in the 2000 Guineas, the last time he raced over this trip, with his latest victory in the Juddmonte International making it a hat-trick of Group 1 successes over 1m2f. But for all his proven ability at the highest level, I suspect he might prove vulnerable dropping back in trip and then there is the ground worry as he relishes a fast surface and has never run on ground as soft as this.
That said, I’d still rather have him over French challenger Recoletos, who looked a false favourite for this earlier in the week given there is nothing in his form to suggest he’s much better than his rivals and that he needs to prove himself at Ascot, having been well beaten on his two previous runs at the track.
But this race is not all about the front pair and, as strange as it may sound for a Group 1 contest, the winner may come from this year’s Lincoln Handicap, a classy affair in which Addeybb had nearly three lengths to spare over LORD GLITTERS. The latter enjoys an 8lb pull this afternoon but what makes him of real interest is his phenomenal Ascot record, which reads 2122 and includes a victory in the Balmoral Handicap on last year’s card and a narrow second in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, both run over this straight mile. He’s yet to finish outside the first three in Britain and his latest well beaten effort at Woodbine can be ignored as the ground was rattling fast and his rider gave him far too much to do. Back at his favourite track and on the soft ground that clearly suits him best, he looks certain to be involved at the finish and is an each-way bet to nothing at the available 15/2 with four places up for grabs.
3:50 1m2f (1m1f212y) Qipco Champion Stakes (British Champions Middle Distance) (Group 1) (Class 1) (3yo+)
Cracksman ran away with his race last year and and will do so again if turning up in the same sort of form, but I wouldn’t want to be taking odds-on quotes on that happening. While he did win Group 1 races on his first two outings of this year, the Prix Ganay and Coronation Cup were far from vintage renewals and he only just scrambled home in the Epsom contest when long odds-on. Another odds-on defeat over this course and distance followed in July and while it’s easy to blame the prevailing fast ground, the fact his trainer John Gosden is reaching for first-time blinkers hardly suggests he’s confident of the four-year-old bouncing back to his best.
If you still want to back him at 5/6, you’re a braver man than me and the obvious alternative is CRYSTAL OCEAN, who finished a close second in the King George (1m4f) before attempting the impossible at Kempton, where he finished a clear second best behind Enable, giving the dual Arc winner 8lb. That rates as the best form in 2018 and Sir Michael Stoute’s should be fine dropping back 2f as he has plenty of tactical speed and his extra stamina will be an asset in the conditions. There’s not much not to like, albeit he’s plenty short enough now at 11/4.
There are eight runners in total and that is good news for each-way backers, who should seriously consider Monarch’s Glen at bet365’s 14/1. Cracksman’s stablemate has won half his ten starts and looked to be still improving when winning a classy edition of the Wolferton Handicap (1m2f) at the royal meeting, with Frankie Dettori able to ease up a long way before the line. That was on fast ground but he’s won on soft and is relatively fresh having been limited to just the two starts in 2018.
4:30 1m (Str) Balmoral Handicap (Sponsored By Qipco) (Class 2) (3yo+)
A hugely competitive handicap to close out proceedings and send bookmakers home happy (perhaps), but I can’t help thinking that HUMBERT is going to run a monster race under Josephine Gordon, who is 3-5 on him. Hugo Palmer’s gelding struck twice on the all-weather earlier this year and has continued to run well on turf since, including when finishing second in big-field handicaps at Doncaster and Newbury, with the ground riding on the soft side on each occasion. He could only finish seventh of the nine runners at Chelmsford when last seen out in August but he was slowly away and then had a wide trip, so that is easily forgiven. Just 2lb higher than successful at Newcastle in June and with his stable in flying form (7-26 in the last fortnight), he’s crying out to be backed each-way at 20/1.
Ascot 1.25, Sir Erec @ 9/1 bet365
Ascot 2.00, Brando @ 8/1 bet365 / Sands Of Maili each-way @ 22/1 Betfred (1/5 odds, 18.104.22.168)
Ascot 2.40, Pilaster each-way @ 12/1 bet365
Ascot 3.15, Lord Glitters @ 7/1 Betfair
Ascot 3.50, Crystal Ocean @ 11/4 bet365 / Monarch’s Glen each-way @ 14/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, 1.2.3)
Ascot 4.30, Humbert each-way @ 20/1 Coral (1/5 odds, 22.214.171.124.5)
All odds were correct at time of posting.