ITV Racing usually take in races from two or three courses on a Saturday afternoon but this week the action comes exclusively from Ascot. That is because each of the six races on British Champions Day is of the highest calibre in this now traditional season ending fixture.
Several world class horses will strut their stuff at Ascot on Saturday. Some of those will live up to their billing as favourites in the betting but others will doubtless fall short on a day which has served up plenty of shocks in recent years. We’ve gone through the British Champions Day card to pick out the best bets from each of the races for you below.
1:20 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup
Group 2, 2m
There is one big question surrounding the opening race of the day – how much will Stradivarius’ run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe have taken out of him ahead of his run in the Long Distance Cup? John Gosden’s six-year-old remains the best stayer in Flat racing as he proved with a stunning performance at Royal Ascot when slamming his rivals in the Gold Cup. However, he went for the Arc at Longchamp just 13 days before British Champions Day and nobody is quite sure how long he will feel the effects of that very trying run on heavy ground.
The other concern about Stradivarius’ chances in the Long Distance Cup is that he failed to win last year’s renewal when the odds-on favourite. It took an excellent performance from Kew Gardens and a slight tactical error in running for Stradivarius to get beaten in a photo finish 12 months ago. Even so, this is a race that has been won by 8/1, 11/1 and 20/1 outsiders in the last 10 years and many punters will be on the lookout for the latest horse to spring a shock.
The thing working in Stradivarius’ favour is that it is tough to pick out one horse who can get him beaten. His main rivals are all dangerous stayers but none of them are quite close enough to his level to really convince they can cause an upset. As such, Stradivarius should be able to right the wrongs of last year and win this race for a second time.
1:55 Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes
Group 1, 6f
Dream Of Dreams heads into the British Champions Sprint Stakes in the form of his life. He has long been capable of holding his own at the top level but a gelding operation just four days after beating only one horse in last year’s renewal of this race has brought the very best out of him. The six-year-old was only beaten by a head in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes before proving his class with a comfortable win in the Group 2 Hungerford Stakes. The six-year-old returns to Ascot on the back of winning the Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock in which he beat a number of the horses he’ll face on Saturday, so is very much the worthy favourite at 2/1, odds that look more than fair to us.
The issue for Dream Of Dreams is that only two favourites have won this race in the last 10 years. Moreover, the last three winners went in at the massive prices of 33/1, 28/1 and 10/1. That means punters will be pouring through this year’s entrants to try and find another long odds shot with whom to go to war.
There is a pair of eight-year-olds worthy of consideration in The Tin Man (20/1) and Brando (50/1), both of whom still have enough about them to be competitive at this level. Onassis, the Charlie Fellowes-trained three-year-old, is at the opposite end of her career but she is another who makes each way appeal at big odds of 20/1 as she continues working her way down in trip to get the most out of her natural pace.
2:30 Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes
Group 1, 1m4f
Wonderful Tonight is the bookies’ favourite for the Fillies & Mares Stakes after she secured Group 1 success last time out over in France in the Prix de Royallieu at Longchamp. Tony Piccone gave the three-year-old a great ride that day, certain that she was travelling well and had enough stamina to see off the quality fillies chasing her down. Things did not go entirely to plan after she made her move though as she did not seem to like being out on her own in the lead and idled badly, nearly letting Pista in before battling back to win by a narrow margin.
In contrast to Wonderful Tonight, Dame Malliot is never more comfortable than when out in front. She was ridden prominently in her recent two starts in a pair of Group 1s, first in Germany and then in France. She didn’t win either of those races but emerged with credit and connections should be confident about her chances of making a triumphant return to Britain.
Dame Malloit was last seen in this country when toughing it out to win the Princess Of Wales’s Stakes on soft ground at Newmarket. She can do likewise on similar ground at Ascot on British Champions Day and odds of 9/2 seem a shade big.
3:05 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
Group 1, 1m
British Champions Day is one of the most important days of flat racing of the year. It is, however, a day in which the elements play a major role. Stars of the summer months often have entries for one of the day’s big races only to be pulled out due to unsuitable ground should the autumnal rains leave the course at Ascot too soft. We have had a very wet October and that is exactly what has happened with Kameko, with the 2,000 Guineas hero not having a crack at winning another Group 1 over 1m in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
That means no mouthwatering encounter with Palace Pier, at least until the Breeders’ Cup Turf. It also means that Palace Pier is now even stronger at the head of the market. The two may well have clashed at Newmarket at the start of the season were it not for a leg injury putting a spanner in the works of Palace Pier’s preparations. Instead, he won a handicap at Newcastle before confirming his class by winning a pair of Group 1s. John Gosden’s three-year-old faces some very good, very experienced rivals at Ascot but it is very difficult to see any of them getting the better of the favourite.
3:40 Qipco Champion Stakes
Group 1, 1m2f
The Champion Stakes was first run way back in 1877. Some of the best horses around have won this race over the years including since it was moved to Ascot in 2011. Frankel, Cracksman and Magical are among those recent winners and the latter is back for another crack at the middle distance championship race.
Just like last year, Magical has already won the Irish equivalent of this race this season. The difference is that she didn’t contest the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe two weeks ago so will be fresh and ready to go on Saturday. Her incredible performance to get the better of the brilliant Ghaiyyath showed that the five-year-old mare is at the top of her game right now and the bookies make her the one to beat and rightly so in our opinion. She ticks just about all the major trends and we fancy she should have enough to deliver the goods.
That said, the difficulty for the favourite is that this is a high class contest with plenty of excellent horses lining up to beat her. Mishriff (11/4) is a top class performer over this distance and will relish the soft ground, Addeybb is another who loves a bit of cut in the ground and has every chance of ending an excellent season on a high and Pyledriver (11/1) makes a lot of each way appeal as he drops down in trip. This promises to be a cracking race but we have the right favourite and Magical should get the job done.
4:15 Balmoral Handicap
Class 2, 1m
The final race of the day from Ascot comes in the form of the Balmoral Handicap. In keeping with the class of the rest of the card, this is a hugely prestigious contest in which 20 horses will do battle for the £100,000 prize fund. As you would expect, there are a number of horses to have made the cut who are attractive for punters but there is no denying this is a tough puzzle to unravel.
From the top part of the market, it’s King Ottokar who is the one to support at 8/1. The Charlie Fellowes-trained four-year-old made a decent fist of his handicap debut last time out, showing glimpses of the class that has seen him be competitive in pattern company. He was given a fairly tough mark of 102 and the ground was too firm for him that day at Doncaster so we reckon he did well to out run his odds and earn fifth place. King Ottokar can take advantage of suitable conditions on Saturday.
At much longer odds, the other horse to consider is Ropey Guest at 28/1. Tom Queally’s three-year-old is another who came to handicaps last time out having run in a Group 3 and a Listed race this season. At the time, it looked as though that drop in grade was simply to get him off the mark as he had been unable to lose his maiden tag after 13 starts but connections have decided to have a crack at a big prize. He has bags of class and if he can get a good lead into the race (as his draw suggests he will) Ropey Guest will be one to watch.