It’s Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday, when the jockeys’ and trainers’ titles will be decided.
There are matters to settle between equine rivals on the track too, and we have a selection in every race other than the Champion Fillies and Mares Stakes on what promises to be a fantastic day of action.
We begin however down under, where the Melbourne Cup odds are about to be shaken up again.
7.15 Caulfield (Caulfield Cup – Group 1 Handicap) – NONCONFORMIST
Incentivise has been all the rage at the top of the Melbourne Cup market, his long unbeaten run now including the Makybe Diva and Turnbull Stakes.
He’s been given a killer barrier for this AU$5 million race, but so have most of his chief rivals and so his short price is to be expected.
That said, at the weights he is very vulnerable over this mile-and-a-half trip. Craig Williams’ mount Nonconformist is given 8lbs here, is drawn four gates inside of the favourite, and showed absolute top level form last time when running Probabeel to a short head at Group 1 level over a mile-and-a-quarter.
He’s value to upset the favourite, Incentivise being next on the list ahead of Melbourne Cup contenders Young Werther and Delphi.
1.25 Ascot (British Champions Long Distance Cup – Group 2) – STRADIVARIUS
This race has proven once again to be quite difficult to handicap. Strad hasn’t always had the happiest time in this race, but he battled on stoutly behind his old rival Trueshan in Paris two weeks ago in conditions that these days suited the other horse much, much better.
Back over two miles and definitely on a sounder surface, he now looks good value to finish the season and perhaps even his career with one last big race success.
Hamish may improve further for this trip although that’s not guaranteed, while Trueshan can still be a threat even if he doesn’t get things all his own way, and Baron Samedi will need to take a step forward.
2.00 Ascot (British Champions Sprint Stakes – Group 1) – CREATIVE FORCE
There are plenty in with chances on the book here, but three horses did stand out.
2020 Gimcrack winner Minzaal made a very satisfactory return to action last time in the Rous Stakes, in which he was slowly away and perhaps found the five furlongs too sharp. Here he can take a leap forward and he promises overall to be a top-class sprinter so cannot be ignored.
Art Power has done it all before. An easy winner at the Curragh last time, Tim Easterby’s colt was a close-up fourth in this contest last year and looks primed for another big run.
He was also a close fourth to Starman in the July Cup, just a neck ahead of younger rival Creative Force who now gets the vote to prove he is the best of this bunch.
The faster six and quicker ground that day would’ve suited Art Power just a little better than Charlie Appleby’s three-year-old, who earlier this season routed a Listed field at Newbury before scoring from out wide in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot.
He is progressive, already has some solid Group 1 form, but crucially has been described by his trainer as a horse who is only just learning to sprint and we could see it all come together this weekend.
3.10 Ascot (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes – Group 1) – PALACE PIER
This mile championship event promises to be one of the races of the season.
Lady Bowthorpe has chased Palace Pier home already and won the Group 1 Nassau, Mother Earth is a classic winner, Benbatl carries the Godolphin first colours, The Revenant is the defending champ and Alcohol Free is a rock-sold Group 1 winner. Still, none of them made the top three!
William Haggas’ Baaeed is a classy colt. He’s unbeaten and is now a Group 1 winner. He has faced some rather unsatisfactory opposition so far in truth however, has beaten a regressive El Drama and on a line through Order Of Australia still has some catching up to do with Palace Pier. He may also want a 1¼ miles.
The pedigree of Master Of The Seas in the Godolphin second colours doesn’t scream fast ground, so that’s a plus. He was a whisker away from beating Poetic Flare in the Guineas which is truly top-level form, and had his run interrupted when returning from injury behind Benbatl in the Joel Stakes on a day when they broke the track record at Newmarket.
In an ordinary year he’d be the selection, but none of this bunch have achieved what Palace Pier has and he’s far from done yet. He’s the best horse in this race, has reached the best form level several times over, and always runs as though he can pull out more if and when challenged close home. He should prove his class once again.
3.50 Ascot (Champion Stakes – Group 1) – ADAYAR
A brilliant renewal. Dubai Honour is on a roll but is in a little deep here, while defending champion Addeybb is another year older and may want it even softer than it is.
The likely favourite is Mishriff who was simply brilliant in the Juddmonte International in August. He peaked there and while this trip is his ideal, he really wants a flatter/faster mile-and-quarter and he has already been beaten by Adayar this season.
Adayar really is the big dog. He missed his prep for the Arc and ran too fresh, while the lack of pace also didn’t help. He shapes as though, even as a stunning Derby and King George winner, that he could be even better over this distance and given how big and strong he is, the three-year-old weight allowance could really play a factor too.
Al Aasy cannot be discounted over this trip either and he could yet spring something of a surprise, but Adayar is taken to round off a terrific season for himself, William Buick, Charlie Appleby and Godolphin in the best way.
4.30 Ascot (Balmoral Handicap – Class 2) – SUNRAY MAJOR
Aldaary loves this track, it should be soft enough for him and on breeding the step up to a mile should prove no barrier.
King Leonidas made a very encouraging reappearance in a race that ultimately suited proper middle-distance types, so given that he looks like a real miler we should see a big performance now.
The choice of Frankie Dettori however is Sunray Major and it’s easy to see why. His progress has been beautiful since coming back from injury, there is nothing wrong with race conditions for him and he simply looks too far ahead of the handicapper for the others to cope.