Further rain at Ascot today saw the going changed to soft, heavy in places. With the unsettled spell set to continue right through the week, heavy ground on Saturday looks a certainty. The weather ensured that Toronado would be rerouted to the US and a crack at the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Jockey Richard Hughes was adamant that the horse would not have handled conditions at Ascot.
The jockey’s switch to Night Of Thunder has seen the Guineas winner installed as favourite for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Though his Newmarket Group 1 success in the 2000 Guineas came on fast ground, he was impressive as a two-year-old on soft. Vibes from the stable are positive, and with three-year-olds having such a good record in the race, he has every right to be at the head of the market.
Indeed this appears to be a race where testing conditions are set to suit many of the leading contenders. Charm Spirit continues to prove popular with the punters. Should Freddy Head take up the entry and travel over from France, the recent Prix du Moulin winner looks sure to go close. He defeated Night Of Thunder that day, though Hannon’s horse appeared unlucky in running and finished strongly. Head sounded confident when recently saying, “He has improved a lot since he last came to England. The ground at Ascot will not bother him.”
Top Notch Tonto was second in the race last year. Trainer Brian Ellison will have been thrilled to see so much rain fall, as his stable star relishes a mud fight. Dale Swift has been confirmed as the big-race jockey. Owner Keith Brown spoke of his pride and joy, “The horse could not be in better form. We really can’t wait for it.”
Tullius is another that loves to get his hooves mucky. His season’s best came in the mud at Sandown when thrashing Montiridge. He then ran well on quicker ground behind the two Hannon absentees, Olympic Glory and Toronado, at Newbury and Ascot. Ground is definitely the key to this fella, and a big run is anticipated on Saturday.
With so many horses swerving the ‘big day’, it’s great to see David O’Meara taking a chance with the progressive Custom Cut. Supplemented at a cost of £70,000 the trainer is confident his horse will handle the conditions. It could be an incredible day for O’Meara, with his G Force currently favourite for ‘the sprint’. Any success on Saturday would cap an unforgettable year.
Two powerful stables that cannot be overlooked are those of Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien. The latter in particular has a terrific record in the race with three wins from the last eight renewals. Kingsbarns is a possible runner and was third in the race last year. Integral is sent into battle against the boys. She has proved herself the best of her sex at the distance and the stable appear confident of a big run.
Top-class contenders may have fallen by the wayside, and the elements have done their utmost to dampen enthusiasm, but of all the ‘Champions Day’ races it seems to me that the QE2 has come through relatively unscathed. If anything the race has been enhanced by circumstances. A mix of David and Goliaths of the Flat racing world will compete for the major prize, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will rise from the mud victorious.