British Champions Day 2017 Preview and Tips
The newest, and one of the best, end of season showdowns, British Champions Day has grown from a pooh-poohed concept to the best single day of racing in the British flat calendar in just six years.
It's a show that has perennially presented a headline act: from Frankel in the first two years, to Cirrus Des Aigles, Solow, and the wonderful Almanzor last year. And, if the weather doesn't put any more than a literal dampener on proceedings, the cast assembled for the 2017 edition looks deeper than ever if perhaps lacking that standout star of previous renewals.
1.25 British Champions Long Distance Cup (Group 2, 2m)
The first of the short-priced favourites on the card, Aidan O'Brien's Order of St George was beaten over a half mile further here at Royal Ascot when odds on, and he was beaten in this race last year when odds on. If that tempts one to look elsewhere, fair enough. But keep in mind that his record on soft ground reads 11114, the 4 being recorded in the Arc two weeks ago.
Whether that race will have taken a toll on OoSG's wellbeing - it certainly seemed to last season when that fourth place in this race (sent off 4/6) followed a third place in the Arc - is anybody's guess. On balance, I'm happy to look for an each way alternative to the current even money jolly.
Big Orange is a grand type, but his form on softer than good reads 46154734. Even with an easy lead he has to do something he's failed to do in eight starts with the exception of a small field handicap on good to soft in 2014. Not this time, old pal. Stradivarius also looks to have something to prove on the ground, his only run on softer than good being a valiant third in the St Leger on a good to soft Donny piste.
Nope, the one to be with - if you can overlook a lamentable last day effort - looks like Dartmouth. The Queen's horse has had a light season, the clear highlight of which was a win on soft in the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup. His Ascot form, all at a mile and a half, includes a good fourth in the G2 Hardwicke in June, a win in the same race last year, and third in the Group 1 King George last year. Stamina wasn't lacking on his only attempt at this two mile range in the Lonsdale Cup in August - he was beaten a nose there - and at 22/1 he represents good value as long as that last day effort was a one off.
Duretto, a winner on heavy last time and still improving at the age of five, is another each way play worth considering. He's 11/1 at time of writing
2.00 British Champions Sprint Stakes (Group 1, 6f)
A belting race featuring another shortie at the head of the market. Harry Angel is the best sprinter in Britain and Ireland right now, but he was undone by team tactics in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup over course and distance at the Royal meeting in June. There, Intelligence Cross took Harry on for the lead, softening him up ahead of Caravaggio's late rally to victory. The same crowd line up again here, and there is no reason to believe the script will be any different.
One thing in Harry Angel's favour since then is that he's proven himself a formidable force on heavy ground, the official going for his Haydock Sprint Cup (G1) romp last month. The Tin Man was a solid third there but, despite being the reigning champion, he ought not to be able to reverse form with his Haydock conqueror.
Caravaggio is two from two on soft ground and two from two at Ascot. He will have this race set up to suit, assuming either or both of Intelligence Cross and Washington DC are able to handle the sodden lawns in their presumed spoiler attempt. He is a perfectly credible alternative to the favourite at 9/2.
Quiet Reflection is a very fast filly on soft ground, as she showed when winning last year's Haydock Sprint Cup, and on her most recent start. Those are her only two runs on soft, both Group race wins. She comes here fresh and well and 13/2 makes her the each way pick.
2.40 British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes (Group 1, 1m4f)
Not the highest class renewal of this race, but a decent field all the same. On soft ground, the horse to follow may be BATEEL. Four from four in Britain on such rain-eased terrain, she added to that soft turf tally in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille last month when easily beating Journey. That one lines up here as the defending champion, and John Gosden's mare was second in the 2015 running of the race. The Vermeille effort was her only soft ground form and, while she'll have been trained with this in mind and can be expected to step forward a touch, she has a fair bit to find with the French-trained former Ralph Beckett inmate.
Beckett runs Alyssa, a last day winner of the Park Hill Stakes on soft. That was most of two miles, however, and this drop in trip and rise in grade is likely to find her out, though she may make a bold bid from the front (and she may face pace contention from either or both of Journey and Hydrangea, who have made it in the past).
Hydrangea, a Group 1 winner two back over a mile, steps up to twelve furlongs for the first time. She was beaten in her two runs at a mile and a quarter, albeit running well in better races than this. Just three wins from fourteen starts is not the sort of profile I want to side with at the top level.
Coronet and Left Hand are others to consider but I think the now French-trained Bateel will take all beating.
3.15 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Group 1, 1m)
One of the two signature races of the day, the QEII Stakes has a fantastic roll of honour including the likes of Kris, Selkirk, Dubai Millennium, and of course, Frankel. This year's field includes the best miler in Britain, RIBCHESTER, and the best miler in Ireland, Churchill. Ribchester is a triple Group 1 winner this term, and narrowly failed to make it four from four on horrible ground in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Churchill won the 2000 Guineas and Irish 2000 Guineas before his form plateaued somewhat in mid-season. He returns a fresh horse and drops back to the distance of his dual Classic successes.
The pair are separated by almost the entire width of the draw, each having a pacemaker/stablemate drawn two away. Richard Fahey's four-year-old son of Iffraaj is a worthy favourite and has nothing to prove, whereas Aidan O'Brien's three-year-old son of, you guessed it, Galileo does have questions to answer. That fundamental difference is insufficiently factored into the market in my opinion making the 2/1 quote about Ribchester far more appealing than an offer of 4/1 about Churchill.
The wild card in the deck is Beat The Bank, a winner of five of his six career starts, all this season. He blitzed the Joel Stakes field by five lengths last time over a mile and was an easy winner of the G3 Thoroughbred Stakes at Goodwood the time before. That was on soft so he's expected to handle conditions. Whether he's good enough is another question entirely, and 9/2 doesn't excite in that context, though he could crown a remarkably progressive first campaign by 'getting the lot'.
Andre Fabre brings Al Wukair over from France. He won the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois last time, but has done his winning in small fields. I'd have reservations about the fifteen runners here notwithstanding that he'll probably enjoy the ground.
If the going turns heavy, our old mate Here Comes When - tipped here at a big price when beating Ribchester in the aforementioned G1 Sussex Stakes - could get in the mix. A winner of only six of 26 career starts, the seven-year-old seems to be improving with age and, as well as that lifetime best at Goodwood, he's won two more of his last six races. Three from twenty before September last year, three from six since. Go figure.
As you can see from this quick query in our Query Tool, his form on soft or heavy is very consistent:
I'm not suggesting he'll win again, but at 25/1 there are worse each way plays with at least some of the main market fancies expected to under-perform on the ground.
Another at a price who could run well is John Gosden's Persuasive. Her only previous run on soft was over this course and distance where she hacked up in the 21-runner Listed Sandringham Handicap last summer, and she's since placed in Group 1 company in her last three starts. Not out of the frame in eight career races, she takes on the boys for the first time. 20/1 is pretty fair.
3.50 Champion Stakes (Group 1, 1m2f)
The feature race on the card, and one which Frankel, Cirrus Des Aigles and Almanzor have helped to cement in its new Berkshire home. Favoured for the ten furlong championship event is Cracksman, a non-winner in Group 1 company at start of play. He was third in the Derby and second in the Irish Derby (after Epsom winner, Wings Of Eagles, went wrong close home), and has since won a couple of Group 2's either side of the Channel, most recently the Prix Niel.
Neither of those races, nor the Classics he ran in previously, offer the strongest form in this race so, while he remains open to improvement, there are better-priced alternatives to go at.
A horse I love is Highland Reel. But I don't love him on soft ground. With the Breeders' Cup Turf just around the corner I have absolutely no idea why they're running him here: he's the defending champ Stateside, and is sure to get his needed fast turf. His form on softer than good is well known as being poor. In fact, the full string reads 62582774. That's more a telephone number than a G1 winning profile and I can only assume connections feel he needs the run after three months off ahead of his Del Mar trip in a fortnight's time.
Barney Roy is another for whom soft turf presents a challenge. He was a well held third in the G1 Juddmonte International at York on good to soft last time, his first and only attempt with give underfoot. This promises to be a good bit softer and on that basis, as the Dragons say, I'm out.
The one I like most is Jean-Claude Rouget's BRAMETOT. Owned by Al Shaqab, this son of deeply unfashionable sire, Rajsaman, was a good winner of the French 2000 Guineas back in May. That form was franked when the second, Le Brivido, won the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, and when Brametot himself bagged the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby).
A heavy defeat by Eminent in August was forgivable - it was his first run for ten weeks and a fairly traditional French-style prep for an autumn campaign. On his only subsequent start he was a good fifth to Enable in the Arc over a trip which may have stretched his stamina. Cutting back a quarter mile here, to a similar trip over which he won the PdJC, looks optimal and, on his third start off the layoff, he looks very likely to go well with conditions optimal. He's a well supported 6/1 currently and it is easy to see why he is being backed.
If it gets really muddy, Ken Condon's Success Days might reward small each way support. A Group 2 winner in July, he has three heavy ground scores on his CV, and not a huge amount to find on the book. 33/1 is worth 25p e/w.
4.30 Balmoral Handicap (Class 2, 1m)
Ah, that's more like it. Ahem. Twenty runners spread across the track hurtling a mile down the straight. On deep ground. The first thing to say, as you can see from the below pace map, is that there is nothing in the field that obviously wants to lead...
What little pace there is can be found in the high numbers but, in such situations, it is often the case that a hitherto reluctant leader steps forward and shows some initiative. In other words, caveat emptor!
What about Instant Expert? In a race like this I'm looking for a horse with form in big fields and on soft ground. Zabeel Prince and Firmament stand out on those points. So too, to a lesser degree, does George William, whose price demands a closer look at the lad's form.
First, ZABEEL PRINCE, a 7/2 shot in a field of twenty. If that looks skinny, it's for good reason. A four year old with just four runs to his name, the three starts this term have produced three wins, most recently in a similar twenty-strong mile handicap. He tanked through that race, just about pulling Silvestre de Sousa's arms from their moorings, and was still last off the bridle. One smack and he shot three clear, a margin he largely held to the line against a similar collection of experienced pro's.
He's running here before his new rating of 107 kicks in, which makes him five pounds well in, and there is little doubt he's a Group horse in a handicap. Soft ground holds no fears - he already has two victories on the soggy side - so, while it's far from my modus operandi, I reckon he's worth a bet even at 7/2. bet365's offer of a quarter the first five will see you get most of your money back if he's beats fifteen home which, barring injury or terrible luck in running, he really ought to do.
Firmament runs off 109, the same mark he's failed to win off in his last nine races. While that is testament to his remarkable consistency, it also makes him difficult to countenance as a win proposition. Still, with five places to go at and 20/1 the offer, he may again hit the frame. Soft ground and big fields are, as we can see above, no drama for this lad. Top weight against Group wolves in handicap sheep's clothing is a different story.
George William was a winner last time on soft and ran second of 24 here earlier this season. That was over seven furlongs on good to firm, and he only just managed to get up for silver: the extra yardage and more testing ground ought to suit well. Whether he's quite good enough I'm not sure but he's double carpet so I'll be buying a tiny fraction to find out.
David O'Meara's French import, Lord Glitters, is four pounds well in after running a fine second on his UK bow two weeks ago. Soft ground will be no problem, and he's drawn low, along with Firmament and George William. My inclination is that high may be favoured although there's a good chance they all come up the middle, towed along by Qassem from a high berth. Zabeel Prince is drawn high.
I don't see that Lord Glitters has the improvement that Roger Varian's Zabeel Prince does, and he might just be on the wrong side. Or he might not be. Either way, ZP just wins this, doesn't he?!
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