Saturday is Champions Day at Ascot, Britain’s richest race day.
Yet again the day looks set to be staged on unsuitably soft ground, typical now of Ascot, prompting many to argue the meeting should be moved back to Newmarket and I can’t disagree with that.
That said, it’s an intriguing day of Group One action and while I love the chances of Stradivarius and Palace Pier, they cannot be backed at the prices and as for the rest of the card; I kind of hope Frankie Dettori has got his choices wrong!
1.55 Ascot (British Champions Sprint Stakes – Group 1) – OXTED
The likely conditions have of course been factored into this, but sometimes we have to trust the trainer’s confidence and there’s no doubt about how good Roger Teal thinks Oxted is.
A winner at Newmarket upon racing’s resumption in the early summer, this tough and improving four-year-old also put in a huge performance to land the July Cup on a day when he marked himself out as one of the best sprinters in the world.
While he hasn’t been tested in deep conditions yet, his July Cup win showed off his ability to see things out up the hill right to the line and considering his rating, his recent breathing operation and the fact that he should handle the ground OK here he should prove to be the best of this bunch.
It’s tight in behind, with Dream Of Dreams having finally delivered on his promise of late and Sir Michael Stoute’s entrant is indeed next best, while King Power’s pair of Art Power and Happy Power are closely matched with the former favoured for some place money.
The likes of Sonaiyla, One Master and Lope Y Fernandez are all within 4-6lbs of the selection on private ratings and all deserve a mention, but young Cieren Fallon could be set for another huge day and may land this massive £221,000 first prize at very fair odds.
2.30 Ascot (British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes – Group 1) – FRANKLY DARLING
This is the first race in which I hope wrong choices have been made by connections and let’s face it, it has happened many times before.
The underestimated selection, Frankly Darling, has been apparently overlooked as first choice by both her owner and her usual rider.
Of the two Anthony Oppenheimer fillies, Ed Vaughan’s Dame Malliot carries the first colours while of the two John Gosden-trained runners Frankie has chosen last year’s Nassau Stakes runner-up Mehdaayih.
Of course, those people are better placed to judge how things have been going at home, but often such horses cannot be compared accurately on the gallops and the fact is that neither Oppenheimer nor Gosden run fillies such as Frankly Darling in races like this if they don’t believe they have a serious chance of winning.
To the form book we go then, and we see a filly who demolished a fair maiden field at Newcastle back in June. She followed that up with a taking success at Royal Ascot in the Ribblesdale Stakes, not only winning at Group 2 level but also doing so in a testing enough mile-and-a-half which displayed the battling and staying qualities she’ll need this weekend.
On a line through Star Catcher for the same connections, as well as many a Frankel filly, we can reasonably estimate her level of improvement. So, if all is well it seems she is pretty likely to get to the sort of level needed to beat the aforementioned Dame Malliot and Mehdaayih, as well as fellow overpriced sort Manuela De Vega.
3.40 Ascot (Champion Stakes – Group 1) – LORD NORTH
Last year brilliant filly Magical led soft ground specialist Addeybb home and I was thinking at a glance that it would come down to these two again. In terms of their private battle, I like the latter named here.
Rarely do these horses reach an absolute peak twice in a row. It’s little to do with any deficiencies in training technique of course, it’s just an unfortunate fact that athletes cannot physically do it every time they go out.
It was Ghaiyyath’s turn to falter in Ireland when Magical turned him over, but with some tough mileage behind her it could be her turn now to come up a little short with the fresher Addeybb perhaps taking advantage in perfect conditions.
But, they may both be beaten here. John Gosden runs two including second-favourite and French Derby winner Mishriff, the choice of Frankie Dettori.
The soft ground holds no fears and he has been improving, however the outright level he has reached is not that of Lord North and he is preferred.
The son of Dubawi put in a sparkling run to land his first Group 1 at Royal Ascot in a performance that marked him out as one of the best around, and even in these conditions there’s no real reason to doubt him now.
4.15 Ascot (Balmoral Handicap) – RAAEQ
This is a tough old contest on paper; a full 20-runner field of handicappers going in soft conditions.
It could be that the lower-drawn horses may just hold sway this time given the conditions, and as such it is no surprise that there has been money for likely improvers Raaeq, Tempus and Njord.
The first named, a Kingman colt trained by Brian Meehan, has proven his liking for Ascot and indeed for soft ground as well.
The only chance we take on him really is his ability to see out the mile having watched him demolish a small field over seven furlongs last time but on that score, there shouldn’t be too many worries as the further he went last time the better he looked.
He could be generously ahead of the assessors at this point and looks like being the archetypal Group horse in a handicap, meaning any sort of price above 4/1 looks decent despite the big field.