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Epic clashes await on mouthwatering Champions Day card

14 Oct 2021

Some of the biggest names in training have been entered for Saturday at Ascot

Adayar Entered for Champions Day

The top three active racehorses in the current Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings Adayar, Mishriff and Palace Pier are among the headline acts ready to light up the 10th anniversary of QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday.

The trio feature among 22 Group 1 winners who will be in action with the likes of Trueshan, Stradivarius, Snowfall and Baaeed joining them.

The glittering equine cast on show have won 48 races at the highest level of the sport. In total, 80 runners have been declared for the six races.

There are mouthwatering contests across the card that befit Britain’s richest raceday. To kick the day off in the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup, recent Prix du Cadran winner Trueshan takes on Stradivarius, who has won the most QIPCO British Champions Series races in history with 15. 

In the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO), five-time Group 1 winner Palace Pier clashes with the incredibly exciting Baaeed in one of the most anticipated races of the season. And in the headline race of the day the QIPCO Champion Stakes, impressive Juddmonte International winner Mishriff will face off against Cazoo Derby and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes winner Adayar.

As well as Trueshan , Glen Shiel (QIPCO British Champions Sprint), The Revenant (Queen Elizabeth II Sakes (sponsored by QIPCO) and Addeybb (QIPCO Champion Stakes) will all attempt to win their respective races for the second consecutive year. 

Last year’s Balmoral Handicap winner Njord also makes the step up to Group 1 level this time around in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO).

The 10th anniversary of QIPCO British Champions Day offers prize money of £4,091,250, up 61% on last year’s totals. The QIPCO Champion Stakes is set to be the richest race in the UK this year with £1.26 million in prize money, with the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) also run for in excess of £1 million.

The going at Ascot is currently Good to Soft on the straight course, and Soft, Good to Soft, Soft in places on the round course. The latest Going Stick readings were 7.4 (straight) and 6.4 (round) on Thursday morning.

QIPCO CHAMPION STAKES TAKES CENTRE STAGE

The Cazoo Derby winner Adayar will attempt to pull off a feat only completed twice in over 50 years after he was declared to run in the QIPCO Champion Stakes, the highlight of Britain’s richest raceday, at Ascot on Saturday.

Derby winners New Approach in 2008 and Sir Ivor (1968), trained by Vincent O’Brien and ridden by Lester Piggott, both members of the QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame, are the only horses to have also triumphed in the £1.26 million end of season showpiece in 53 years.

The Godolphin-owned, Charlie Appleby-trained colt returns to the track where he defeated Mishriff over a mile and a half in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes. Adayar now meets Mishriff over his specialist distance of a mile and a quarter in a ten-runner field which also features last year’s winner, Addeybb.

On his last start Adayar finished fourth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Appleby said he has shown no ill-effects from that run on heavy ground, confirming his well-being in a gallop on Wednesday morning.

“It was an easy piece of work to confirm his well-being, and he did it so well. We discussed it with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and the decision was taken to run. We are all looking forward to the rematch with Mishriff, particularly over this trip,” said Appleby, writing on the Godolphin website.

“Adayar beat Mishriff comfortably (a length and three quarters) in the King George, and then Mishriff came out and dominated the Juddmonte International at York, winning by six lengths, over the distance (approximately) of Saturday’s race.

“We are happy to meet him over the mile and a quarter, which is the trip where we believe Adayar’s potential lies next year.”

He continued: “All the signs after the Arc were positive. They went steady for the first half of the race, which is why William (Buick) allowed him to take it up. They really only raced for the last mile. He has been beaten just under four lengths after kicking for home at the top of the straight.

“We have run all the usual veterinary checks on him this week, and he’s in great shape. I’m very happy with him going into Saturday.”

The only three-year-olds to win the QIPCO Champion Stakes in the QIPCO British Champions Day era have been Almanzor in 2016 and Cracksman (2017). 

Beaten Cazoo Derby favourite Bolshoi Ballet will also represent the Classic generation, returning to race in Britain after three races in New York, where he won the Belmont Derby but was beaten on his next two starts.

“Bolshoi Ballet was a bit disappointing the last day in America [in the Jockey Club Derby, in which he was fourth],” said trainer Aidan O’Brien. “It was a slowly run mile and a half and he is a horse that likes a high tempo in his races.

“So we are back to a mile and a quarter again, the distance that it looks like his best form is at, and nice ground is what he would like as well.”

In the absence of last year’s runner-up Skalleti, Sealiway will be flying the French flag and will travel to Ascot having finished fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The Cedric Rossi-trained colt was France’s champion two-year-old last year and his latest start was only his fourth run of 2020 and his first since finishing second to St Mark’s Basilica in the Prix du Jockey Club in June.

“It was a good reappearance run in the Arc,” said Pauline Chehboub, whose family owns Sealiway. “He is much better after that race so the plan is the QIPCO Champion Stakes.

“He will have no problem with the distance. What he needs is a good pace but he should love the track and will have no problem with the ground. He can go on heavy and good. He’s an easy horse.

“It’s funny that his reappearance race happened to be the biggest race in France. Logically he should be better for that run and he is better. He is ready to show his best and we feel he will have an advantage in the race as a fresh horse at this time of the season.”

A year ago Addeybb rounded off a campaign that had begun in Australia by defeating Skalleti. This time William Haggas returns with a trio of runners of which Addeybb remains the stable number one even though the ground conditions will be different.

“Addeybbis very effective in soft ground and his ideal conditions would be where they slosh through it after passing an inspection in the morning, so I’m not sure it’s going to be soft enough,” said Haggas. 

“This is hugely competitive, as Mishriff was awesome at York and I’d be really frightened of Adayar, even at a mile and a quarter, as he’ll be hard to pass. 

“But Addeybb stays well and his record around Ascot, and his record right-handed, is fantastic. He’s taken a lot of graft, and his record fresh is excellent, but we weren’t able to get a prep in this year and he’s seven years old now and so knows all the tricks.”

Haggas will also saddle Prix Dollar winner Dubai Honour, who has been supplemented, and Coral Coronation Cup second Al Aasy.

“We all know Al Aasy doesn’t find as much under pressure as he looks like he might, so I hope his jockey will wait a bit,” said Haggas. “At Newbury they went three and a half furlongs from home and exposed him. He’s much better than that and should have won there. He may not be good enough, but he’ll travel strongly and he’s no mug, even in a race of this quality.”

He added: “Dubai Honour is really well, and when I suggested to the owner that we might supplement him he nearly bit my hand off. 

“He’s an intriguing runner. At Deauville they went really hard and fell in a bit of a heap, and Dubai Honour came from the back and won really easily. Then in the Dollar they went really slow and James (Doyle) said he showed a really smart turn of foot and was well on top at the finish.”

BIG GUNS SET FOR EPIC QUEEN ELIZABETH II STAKES (SPONSORED BY QIPCO)

The head-to-head of the day will take place in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO), the richest mile race in Europe this year, when last year’s champion miler Palace Pier, beaten only once in his career, faces Baaeed, the rising star of the one-mile ranks and still unbeaten.

The pair dominate the betting, but it’s by no means a two-horse race, as Baaeed’s trainer William Haggas is keen to underline. Indeed, in what promises to be the defining one-mile race of the year, credible claims are also held by 2020 winner The Revenant, QIPCO 2000 Guineas runner-up Master Of The Seas, Coronation and Qatar Sussex Stakes winner Alcohol Free, QIPCO 1000 Guineas winner Mother Earth, Qatar Nassau Stakes winner Lady Bowthorpe and veteran Benbatl.

Baaeed did not make his debut until June, but he has risen rapidly through the ranks and his ParisLongchamp defeat of Order Of Australia in the Group 1 Prix Du Moulin was his fourth straight win. Haggas thinks the world of him, but he is keeping his feet on the ground and believes that Palace Pier, whose only defeat came when third here 12 months ago on ground he reportedly did not enjoy, ought to be a clear favourite.

Haggas said: “I’m not a punter, despite what many people think, but I’m very surprised Baaeed has been disputing favouritism with Palace Pier. I’d have Palace Pier at even money and Baaeed at 3-1, but that’s irrelevant. 

“I think Baaeed is as short as he is on potential, but I was really pleased with him at Longchamp, where he’d had a bit of a hiccup and a bit of a rushed preparation and so I’m pretty sure we didn’t see him at his best.

“Whilst I’ve been enormously impressed by what Baeed has done in such a short space of time, he’s got a big task on Saturday. It’s not only Palace Pier, who is a remarkably tough and very, very useful horse, but also Alcohol Free, Mother Earth, Benbatl and last year’s winner The Revenant. 

“It’s a hell of a strong race – probably the mile race of the season – but the bit that none of us know is what he’s got left. Jim (Crowley) is very fond of him, and he’s a lovely horse to deal with. He’s moving beautifully and he’s as fit as we want him. 

“Dominic Gardiner-Hill, the senior BHA handicapper, has been mightily impressed, even in the novice and Listed races, and they are usually not far off the mark.”

Aidan O’Brien, who last won this with Minding in 2016, saddles another QIPCO 1000 Guineas winner, and whereas Minding started favourite, Mother Earth might have been underestimated at double-figure odds.

O’Brien said: “Mother Earth ran a good race in the Sun Chariot in Newmarket where the winner came up the other side. She is very consistent. She turned around the Matron Stakes form (with No Speak Alexander) by four or five lengths.”

The Godolphin colt Master Of The Seas arrives with similar credentials to 2019 winner King Of Change, having missed the whole of the summer after finishing second in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas. The difference is that King Of Change won his comeback race, a Listed race at Sandown, whereas Master Of The Seas could finish only third in Joel Stakes at Newmarket behind Benbatl.

On Godolphin’s website, Charlie Appleby said: “Master Of The Seas has pleased us since his reappearance in the Joel Stakes last month. He is mentally maturing. The hood is removed this time.”

William Jarvis has elected to run Lady Bowthorpe here rather than in the QIPCO Champion Stakes and said: “Once I saw that the Derby winner Adayar was running in the Champion as well as Mishriff it wasn’t a difficult decision. I don’t think we could beat either of them, but we might be competitive in the mile race.

“Nothing emerged after the Deauville race (beat only one), although she didn’t settle in the stables despite having travelled over there well.  I’ve been delighted with her since and we are all looking forward to this.”

Lord Glitters and Njord, who are both past winners of the Balmoral Handicap on this card and have shown strong Group-race form since, complete the ten-runner field.

SNOWFALL FORECAST IN THE QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS FILLIES & MARES STAKES

Record-breaking Cazoo Oaks winner Snowfall returns to race against her own sex aiming to sign off her season in Europe with a fourth Group 1 win of the year in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained three-year-old will attempt to emulate former stable star Magical by winning the Group 1 race after contesting the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Magical landed the prize after finishing tenth behind Enable three years ago and Snowfall will have the same goal following her sixth place in ParisLongchamp on what was her first start against colts. 

She is the stand-out performer in a field of eight which also includes Mystery Angel, the filly Snowfall beat by 16 lengths at Epsom, the biggest winning margin in Oaks history.

She went on to add victories in the Juddmonte Irish Oaks and the Darley Yorkshire Oaks and, following a surprise defeat in the Prix Vermeille, was supplemented for the Arc, in which she finished four and three quarter lengths behind Torquator Tasso.

Her trainer Aidan O’Brien said: “Snowfall ran well in the Arc. The ground was very soft and there wasn’t much pace. We took our time on her but we probably expected there to be more pace in the race.”

Snowfall will be joined by La Joconde, a daughter of Frankel who ran her best race of the season two starts ago when third in the Prix Vermeille, a place behind stablemate Snowfall in the race won by Teona.

“She was just beaten in the Vermeille and was a bit disappointing the last day over a mile and a quarter,” said O’Brien. “She obviously prefers a mile and a half on good ground and has been in good form since.”

Ralph Beckett, successful with Simple Verse (2015), will be hoping Albaflora will be more of a match for Snowfall on her first start since finishing four lengths behind her in the Yorkshire Oaks.

The Kirsten Rausing-bred and owned filly won at Ascot in May and has run with credit at Group 1 level at Epsom and York since.

“She put in a terrific effort to finish second behind Snowfall in the Yorkshire Oaks,” said Beckett. “She has run well at Ascot in the past, which is a positive. She is in really good shape so I am hopeful of a good show.”

Trainers Andrew Balding (Tribal Craft and Invite) and Roger Varian (Eshaada and Lady Hayes) have two entries apiece.

Andrew Balding on Invite

“Invite is a candidate for the Fillies and Mares so long as the ground remains slow. She’s not exactly an extravagant worker but I liked what I saw when she won at Chester on her only start for us. That was nice to see and she’s obviously a filly with plenty of ability.”

LARGE FIELD IN THE QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS SPRINT STAKES

Charlie Fellowes believes the QIPCO British Champions Sprint has been “blown wide open” by the retirement of one-time favourite and July Cup winner Starman as he targets his first Group 1 success with Vadream.

The Newmarket trainer has supplemented the filly into Saturday’s race and is optimistic she can win at least some of it back on a track where she won last time out.

Vadream capped a series of fine efforts at Group level when she captured the Group 3 Bengough Stakes over Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s King’s Lynn. This will be the three-year-old’s first start at the top level since she finished sixth in the QIPCO 1,000 Guineas.

“She’s been unbelievably consistent all year,” said Fellowes. “She’s been dumped in at the deep end and danced every dance so far. We weren’t beaten far in the QIPCO 1,000 Guineas, she ran a blinder on her second start in the Fred Darling, she ran a massive race at Royal Ascot in the Jersey, she was a bit unlucky in France where she got stopped and finally everything fell right in the Bengough.

“She is a very good filly and a quick filly. She has run very well at Ascot which is always a big plus on that straight course. She needs to step forward again but the better ground would not be an issue.

“I feel like the race has been blown wide open with Starman not running. I think you can pick holes in every other horse in the race. 

“We go there very much in hope rather than expectation but she is in cracking form. She worked this morning and went really nicely. She has taken the Bengough extremely well. We are looking forward to it.”

The QIPCO British Champions Sprint has drawn a maximum field of 20which includes last year’s winner Glen Shiel, the mount of Holly Doyle, plus Renaissance Stakes winner Art Power and Rohaan, winner of the Wokingham over the course and distance in June.

All have had busy campaigns in contrast to Minzaal, the 2020 Gimcrack Stakes winner, who made a belated start to the season at Ascot a fortnight ago when he finished second in a Listed race.

Trainer Owen Burrows said: “It was his first run for over a year and I was very pleased with it. The whole team was. You worry a bit about the bounce factor, but he is showing all the right signs at home. He breezed well this morning.

“The track is slowly drying. He got through very soft ground last time but he’s proven that he goes on better ground. When he won the Gimcrack it was the easy side of good and similar in the Middle Park and he was third in that. If it dried to the easy side of good, that would be spot on.”

Frankie Dettori retains the mount on Lennox Stakes winner Kinross, last seen running on late to finish fourth in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp a couple of weekends ago.

Trainer Ralph Beckett said: “He got a bit further back than we would have liked in the Prix de la Foret but he finished off well. I’ve always had a hankering for running him over a stiff six. There is only one way to find out whether that is a good idea or not.”

Archie Watson on Dragon Symbol and Glen Shiel

“If reproducing their Royal Ascot form either Dragon Symbol or Glen Shiel ought to be very hard to beat. It’s going to be lovely racing ground, which will be spot on for ‘Dragon’ but might not be ideal for ‘Glen’.

“Dragon Symbol hasn’t run a bad race all year and stepping back up to six furlongs will suit him grand. On his Royal Ascot and July Cup form in particular, he should be bang there, and he deserves one of these.

“Glen Shiel ran fantastic races in the Diamond Jubilee and in the July Cup, and then it was funny ground at Deauville, where he was in the middle of the track. It was rattling ground at Haydock, but he ran a much better race at Ascot last weekend and that was always a step towards this race. I’m delighted with the way he is and I’ll put on some headgear, just to sharpen him up.”

Tim Easterby on Art Power

“Art Power is an absolute machine and he’s in great form. He goes well at Ascot – not that it would bother him where the race was run as he’s so adaptable – and he’s in great order, so fingers crossed. I see he’s nearly favourite now, so no pressure eh?”

David Evans on Rohaan

“Rohaan does everything so easily. Nothing is too much effort for him. He’s half asleep most of the time, but he’s got such a turn of foot, so long as he’s close enough to use it. He’s really well and if he’s in one piece and luck goes with him I don’t think there’s anything in the race to beat him.”

DREAM MATCH UP IN THE QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS LONG DISTANCE CUP (£500,000): GROUP 2

QIPCO British Champions Day could hardly be getting off to a better start to the day after Alan King and John & Thady Gosden both declared their former winners of the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup winners for a mouth-watering opening race.

The participation of last year’s runaway winner Trueshan was in some doubt owing to the proximity of the race to the Prix Du Cadran on the Saturday of Arc weekend, and a concern that the going might not be as testing as he would prefer after the unusually dry run up to the meeting.

As for Stradivarius, John Gosden and owner Bjorn Nielsen initially more or less ruled out a fifth successive appearance on Champions Day after the seven-year-old was soundly beaten into second in the Cadran, and owing to his heavy defeat here last year, which added to what is a relatively undistinguished autumn record by his own extraordinary standards, notwithstanding his 2018 win in this race.

Gosden has been encouraged by the drying weather and has pointed out that Franke Dettori was not hard on Stradivarius in France once it was clear he wasn’t enjoying the ground, so fortunately for the rest of us it’s now all systems go.

King said: “Two weeks isn’t ideal and I’d have preferred another week, but we haven’t got that and I want to run him. I’d run him on good ground, and I can’t see it getting any quicker than that. Everyone’s happy with him and it’s his last run of the season, so if it does come too quick he’s got all winter to get over it.” 

While Trueshan and Stradivarius will rightly be the focus of attention, Tony Mullins has grounds for hoping that his Gold Cup runner-up Princess Zoe can bounce back from her recent disappointment behind the pair in the Cadran and reverse the form shown there.

Princess Zoe, who was beaten only by Subjectivist at Royal Ascot and was bidding to repeat her 2020 win in the Cadran, turned into the straight travelling strongly but faded to finish only fifth, beaten almost eight lengths. It was a puzzling performance from a mare who is plainly a strong stayer, but a possible explanation emerged after the race.

Mullins revealed: “We were dumbfounded when she turned in on the bridle and then didn’t find anything, but she was quite sore when she got home and had a very bad bang on a leg. We are wondering if it happened during the race, and stopped her from quickening, so we have reason to believe she’s going to improve.

“She recovered very quickly and she’s well, so we are happy to take the first two on again, although Trueshan is the new king of the block and Stradivarius is still a formidable opponent.”

William Haggas is two-handed and has a particularly interesting candidate in Hamish, who met Trueshan for the first time two years ago at Newbury.

He said: “If the ground is on the soft side of good it will suit Hamish, who is in good form and looked great when doing his last bit on Wednesday morning. Trueshan has come a very long way since Hamish was beaten a neck by him two years ago, but when Hamish got there about a furlong and a half earlier than planned and was then just run out of it we were mortified.

“His effort in the September Stakes was great, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind thinks Hukum was at his best. I’m not seduced by that performance, but I was very impressed with our horse all the same considering he’d been off such a long time.

“It might be a bit dead for Roberto Escobarr, but he’s a very genuine stayer. We are going to put on cheekpieces and a tongue tie and hope that they can wreak a bit of improvement, although whether it will be the stone or so he needs to be competitive I don’t know. He looks really well.”

A field of 12 also includes St Leger third The Mediterranean for Aidan O’Brien, and Irish St Leger third Baron Samedi as well as disqualified 2019 Melbourne Cup second Master Of Reality for his son Joseph.

O’Brien senior said: “The Mediterranean was third in the St Leger and second in the Curragh after that. He seems in good form. We think two miles would suit him well.”