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British Champions Day tips – best bets for the Ascot action

It's Champions Day at Ascot

Champions Day

What are the best bets on British Champions Day at Ascot?

It’s British Champions Day at Ascot and our racing expert has run the rule over all six races

ASCOT 13:25 QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS LONG DISTANCE CUP (GROUP 2)

A field of 10 will go to post for the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup Stakes over 2m, due off 1.25pm.

Who’s favourite?
The race revolves around Ascot Gold Cup winner Order Of St George and whether he has recovered sufficiently enough after his lung-busting third in the Arc just 13 days ago. His trainer Aidan O’Brien issued a positive bulletin this week, saying: “He seems in very good form. He came out of the Arc very well.” Even so, he arrives here on the back of a long old season and was turned over at odds of 1/7 only last month, so on balance he’s opposable at odds-on.

Who’s next best?

Last year’s St Leger heroine Simple Verse would appear to be the best alternative after she got back to winning ways last time. However, she only scrambled home in that Group 2 contest and remains below her Classic-winning form, although she may have more to offer now she steps up to two miles for the first time. She certainly promises to stay this far and, if she does, she surely won’t be far away getting the 3lb sex allowance.

And the rest?

The 2014 winner Forbidden Rules has been trained for this by Dermot Weld, who has sent out four winners from seven runners on Champions Day since its inception, and you can put a line through his eighth in last year’s race as he was badly hampered when switched to challenge in the home straight. He’s a real mudlark, though, and I’m not sure the ground (currently ‘good’) is going to be soft enough for him.

Quest For More won a substandard Group 1 in last time, coming from well off the pace, and is equally effective when making the running as she showed when landing a Group 2 at York and then getting collared close home by the reopposing Sheikhzayedroad in the Doncaster Cup. But he’s another who has been very busy of late and it could be a case of going to the well too often.

The freshest horse in the line up is undoubtedly Litigant, who has not been seen out since hacking up in the November Handicap, all of 343 days ago. But he goes well fresh as he showed when beating Wicklow Brave (conqueror of Order Of St George last month) in the Ebor Handicap and he may have been feeling the effects of the York race when only ninth in last year’s renewal. His trainer Joseph Tuite has been quick to snap up the services of the in-demand James Doyle and reports the gelding in A1 condition.

The remainder don’t look good enough.

What’s the verdict?

The Ballydoyle runners are renowned for being tough, but three races in the space of a month could find out Order Of St George and I’d rather back LITIGANT each-way against him, albeit to small stakes. He’ll need one or more of the principles to underperform and at this time of the year that’s entirely possible.

SELECTION

Litigant each-way @ 14/1 Sky Bet (money back as a free bet up to £25 if 2nd or 3rd)

ASCOT 14:00 QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS SPRINT STAKES (GROUP 1)

A field of 14 will go to post for the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes over 6f, due off 2.00pm.

Who’s favourite?
Speedy filly Quiet Reflection is going for her third Group 1 of the year and her high cruising speed and ability to quicken make her the one they all have to beat. Her only defeat in five runs this year came in the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket where she had to settle for third behind Limato and Seudois on ground quicker than ideal. She bounced back nicely after an eight week break at Haydock last month (soft) with a near two-length gap back to the reopposing The Tin Man and she is proven over track and trip having landed the Commonwealth Cup at the royal meeting (good to soft). Now for the negatives. While she has won on the forecast ‘good’ ground, she’s undeniably better with some cut and her stable has been badly out of sorts of late, with coughing effecting some inmates.

Who’s next best?

The aforementioned The Tin Man could finish closer to the favourite having been slow away at Haydock and looked a little uncomfortable on the soft ground. He’s never won above Group 3 level, though, and could only finish fourth in last year’s renewal.

A bigger threat to the favourite then may come from Shalaa, who was one of last season’s top juveniles, signing off with a Group 1 success in the Middle Park, and made a winning return over course and distance two weeks ago when looking like the race would bring him on. Trainer John Gosden eased any concerns over the bounce factor (horses can run poorly on their second quick run back after a layoff) with an upbeat bulletin this week, saying: ‘The run has put him right. He probably went into that 80 per cent fit but is now exactly where we want him.” Frankie Dettori rides.

And the rest?
Twilight Son won the Diamond Jubilee over track and trip in June (good to soft), but was well beaten on faster ground at Newmarket on his next start. That would be the worry here as, unless the forecast is wrong, he may again find conditions a tad too quick. He will do well to better last year’s second.

Mecca’s Angel is stepping up to 6f for only the second time (well beaten on her first try) and has looked best over York’s 5f. I can’t have her here. Librisa Breeze on the other hand is dropping back to 6f having won a couple of big 7f handicaps at this track this season. As a strong traveller he’s definitely worth a try over shorter but whether he’s up to Group 1 standard, I don’t know.

Brando and Signs Of Blessing head the remainder but it’ll be a surprise if the winner doesn’t come from those already mentioned.

What’s the verdict?

Three-year-olds filled the first five places 12 months ago, perhaps as a result to their sprinting programme, and I’m keen to side with one from the Classic generation this time around. With doubts over Quiet Reflection (ground / stable form), the one to be on is SHALAA, who is likely having his last run before going to stud (so connections will be hoping for a big run) and appears to have retained all his ability.

SELECTION

Shalaa @ 13/2 Paddy Power

ASCOT 14:35 QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS FILLIES & MARES STAKES (GROUP 1)

A field of 13 will go to post for the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes over 1m4f, due off 2.35pm.

Who’s favourite?

As expected, Aidan O’Brien has rerouted Minding and Found elsewhere but he still has an able deputy in Seventh Heaven, who is the current 2/1 market leader. She flopped in the Epsom Oaks but has won all four of her other starts this season, most recently when comfortably beating Found in the Yorkshire Oaks, with her reopposing stablemates Even Song and Pretty Perfect well beaten off. With the runner-up going on to land the Arc, that form looks exceptional and the only real negative is her absence since.

Who’s next best?
Dermot Weld has placed Zhukova superbly to win all three of her starts this season and anything he runs at this meeting deserves utmost respect, as evidenced by his record of four winners from just seven runners since its inception in 2012. However, her form doesn’t quite measure up to that of the favourite and a half-length defeat of the disappointing US Army Ranger (a stablemate of Seventh Heaven) may have been overrated. While she handles the forecast good ground, the suspicion is that connections would have preferred to see some rain as her most impressive wins came with plenty of cut.

And the rest?
John Gosden’s Journey heads the home team and she should make a bold bid to go one better than last year’s second as she looked better than ever when and easy winner at Newmarket two weeks ago. That will have put her spot on and she is peaking at just the right time.

Speedy Boarding couldn’t land a blow in last year’s renewal, but she has blossomed into a true Group 1 performer this season, adding a second success in this grade at Chantilly last time out. However, all her wins have come over 1m2f and therefore may be found wanting at the business end.

Architecture looks best of the remainder but she has nearly three lengths to find with Seventh Heaven on their running in the Irish Oaks in July.

What’s the verdict?
The temptation is to put up Journey each-way at 7/1 as it’s hard to see her finishing out of the frame, but if SEVENTH HEAVEN runs up to anywhere near her best – and you can trust in O’Brien for that – there can only be one winner.

SELECTION

Seventh Heaven @ 2/1 Hills

ASCOT 15:10 QUEEN ELIZABETH II STAKES (GROUP 1) (SPONSORED BY QIPCO)

A field of 13 will go to post for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over 1m, due off 3.10pm.

Who’s favourite?

Aidan O’Brien had the choice of three races for Minding so his decision to drop his dual Classic-winning heroine back in trip is perhaps a tip in itself. While it’s unusual for an Oaks winner to drop down to a mile for the end of the season, there can be little doubt that she has the necessary pace to cope – the outstanding turn of foot she showed when putting the 1m2f Nassau Stakes to bed is confirmation of that. Last time out she did nothing wrong when coming home third in the Irish Champion Stakes, with only the outstanding duo of Almanzor and Found in front of her, and this is arguably an easier opportunity. She’s a worthy favourite then.

Who’s next best?

Richard Fahey’s Ribchester couldn’t match Galileo Gold (who reopposes) or Massaat in the 2000 Guineas, but he’s got better through the season, scoring clear victories either of a narrow defeat in the Sussex Stakes, won by Galileo Gold. This has been his aim since landing the Jacques Le Marois in August and his trainer has been very pleased with him since. Likely still improving, the track and the way the race should be run to suit as he loves to chase a strong pace and will have the help of a pacemaker in Barchan.

And the rest?

As good as the aforementioned Galileo Gold was when landing the 2000 Guineas in April, it would be some training feat from Hugo Palmer to get him to peak one more time for this. The trainer is sounding confident in that respect but his charge has been on the go a long time and the record of Guineas winners at this time of year doesn’t bode well. Since 1988, 20 winners of the Newmarket Classic have run in September and October and their collective tally of 32 races has yielded ten wins compared to 22 defeats. The last three to run in this race have all been beaten. Coming off what was his least effective performance of the season, an eighth place at Deauville, he’s not for me.

The rest are priced at 10/1 or bigger and they are headed by Irish 2000 Guineas winner Awtaad, who returned to winning ways when seeing off solid yardstick Custom Cut in a Group 2 at Leopardstown in September. The bare form leaves him with something to find with the market leaders and he’s run below-par on his two forays across the Irish Sea.

Lightning Spear is entitled to take his chance after a clear win in the Celebration Mile last time out but he’s always been found out at this level (0-5), while Jet Setting was flattered by her Irish 1000 Guineas victory over Minding and ideally needs the mud to be flying to show her best.

What’s the verdict?
The Classic generation have dominated this race with three-year-olds accounting for 21 of the last 30 winners (seven of the last ten) and it rarely pays to look beyond the obvious, with the last ten winners all emerging from the top three in the market. With Galileo Gold opposable for the reasons given, it looks a match between Minding and RIBCHESTER, with narrow preference for the latter at a bigger price. He has done nothing but improve this season and may well take another step forward after a short break. His trainer’s confidence is infectious.

SELECTION

Ribchester @ 11/4 Hills

ASCOT 15:45 QIPCO CHAMPION STAKES (BRITISH CHAMPIONS MIDDLE DISTANCE) (GROUP 1)

A field of 11 will go to post for the Qipco Champion Stakes over 1m2f, due off at 3.45pm.

Who’s favourite?
Last year’s 1-2-3-4 are back for more but they’ve all got Almanzor to beat. France’s best middle-distance three-year-old and indeed the highest rated horse of that age in Europe swerved the Arc to wait for this and that looks a smart move on the part of his trainer Jean-Claude Rouget, who is enjoying a landmark season and has been sounding bullish about his colt’s chances of landing a third Group 1. While there would have been stamina doubts about him over 1m4f, he’s unbeaten over this trip and was particularly impressive when coming from last to first off a strong pace to beat a genuinely deep field in the Irish Champion Stakes last time out. He’ll be tough to beat if in the same sort of mood and is a worthy favourite (13/8 best with Betfred).

Who’s next best?
Found was a clear second best in that Leopardstown race and she franked the form in no uncertain style when winning the Arc on her next start. This is a quick reappearance and a hard race just 13 days ago is never the perfect preparation, especially on the back of such a busy season – she’s been on the go since April, running eight times and finishing runner-up five times in addition to her two victories. However, her trainer wouldn’t be running her if he wasn’t happy with the way she came out of the Chantilly race and didn’t think she had a chance of going one better than last year’s second.

And the rest?
Last year’s winner Fascinating Rock has been campaigned with a defence in mind by Dermot Weld, whose record at this meeting is an impressive four winners from seven runners since its inception in 2012. It would be dangerous to rule out a repeat, although he would have preferred some rain as all his best form is on ground with plenty of cut.

Jack Hobbs went off even money favourite 12 months ago only to finish third after possibly finding the trip on the short side. He stays 1m4f well and may again be found wanting, especially as he’s been off since pulling up at Newmarket in April.

US Army Ranger gives Aidan O’Brien another string to his bow for a race he has surprisingly never won (0-9 this decade), and he wouldn’t be without a chance if returning to the form he showed when runner-up to Harzand in the Epsom Derby. The drop back to this trip could be a positive move.

Sir Michael Stoute’s Midterm was favourite for that Classic before blowing out in the Dante Stakes, and he was only narrowly beaten in his comeback race at Chantilly when in need of the run. He’s not to be underestimated and nor is last year’s fourth Racing History, who remains unexposed and has been working well ahead of this comeback run.

What’s the verdict?
A fascinating renewal and while Almanzor is very much the one to beat, he’s priced accordingly and you can make a case for several against him. Beyond the obvious, the one that appeals most is US ARMY RANGER. He hasn’t been at his best the last twice, admittedly, but is trained by a genius who is a master at getting horses to peak for the big occasion. Likely to be given a positive ride by Seamie Heffernan as he stays further, he won’t be easy easily passed and must have sound place prospects.

SELECTION

US Army Ranger each-way @ 16/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, 1.2.3)

ASCOT 16:25 BALMORAL HANDICAP (SPONSORED BY QIPCO)

A wide open mile handicap to finish off proceedings and that bookmakers are going 8/1 the field tells you finding the winner won’t be easy. The draw might help narrow down the field, though, as the far-side runners (low numbers) have held sway in both runnings and it could be that they get to race on the faster part of the track at this time of year.

If that holds true again, I give a big chance to the Roger Charlton-trained YUFTEN, who will exit from stall one and is feasibly weighted on a mark of 101. The five-year-old has had a chequered career and is with his third trainer, but he once finished second past the post in a French Group 1 when with William Haggas and thrashed the 116-rated Sir Isaac Newton on his second start for Johnny Murtagh back in April of this year. He was having his first start for his new trainer at Newmarket last month over 7f and really caught the eye in finishing late into fourth, less than a length behind the winner. He certainly wasn’t given a hard time by George Baker on that occasion and his kindness could pay off this afternoon in a race which may have been his target all along.

SELECTION

Yuften @ 10/1 Betway

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