His pedigree (by Frankel out of a Pivotal mare) suggests that the 10 furlongs of the Champion Stakes should prove ideal, yet the trip is touted by many as a concern for Cracksman. His last four outings have all come at a mile-and-a-half, and he looked a powerful stayer when winning both the Great Voltigeur at York and the Prix Niel last time at Chantilly.
Frankie Dettori appears confident that the trip on Saturday will not inconvenience his mount. Speaking on Racing UK he said: “I think he'll be fine over 10 furlongs, he's getting stronger and if the rain comes it will help him and disadvantage some of the others, like Highland Reel and Ulysses. It will make it more of a test of stamina, so I'm praying the rain comes. John (Gosden) has done a brilliant programme for him this year bearing in mind we've got next year to look forward to as well. We're going there with lots of confidence and hoping for the best.”
France have a decent record in the Champion Stakes and have a live contender in the French Guineas and Derby winner Brametot. Racing manager for Al Shaqab in France, Rupert Pritchard-Gordon, said of Jean-Claude Rouget’s runner: “He did his last piece of work on Monday morning in Deauville and all the signs are good. He looks like he's taken the Arc very well and I think a truly-run mile and a quarter will really suit him. He comes into the race relatively fresh having only run twice since June and everything points to a good performance.”
Rouget’s Almanzor won last year’s race, though he was exceptional. Brametot is undoubtedly talented, but has something to find if he is to beat Ulysses. And the French three-year-old form in general looks a little below par this year.
The amount of rain that falls in the next few days may well dictate whether Ulysses takes his place at the start. The main target for Stoute’s classy four-year-old has always been the Breeders’ Cup, and should the ground become testing at Ascot, the Eclipse and Juddmonte winner may well head straight to the States.
“We’ve said from a long way out the aim is Del Mar,” said the Niarchos family racing manager, Alan Cooper. “It was natural to leave him in this after the Arc. The other thing is the ground and we will have to see what the weather is doing.” Stoute has always said that a sounder surface is ideal, and with just two weeks separating Champions Day and the Breeders’ Cup, his participation has to be in some doubt.
A pair that look certain to take up their engagements at Ascot are Ribchester and Barney Roy. The Godolphin owned duo are fancied to go close in their respective races, with Barney, hopefully, set to clash again with his old adversary Ulysses. Pipped in the Eclipse, he was beaten further in the Juddmonte, though tactics look sure to change this time around.
Richard Hannon is clearly looking forward to the day, saying: “He’ll go to Ascot in great nick having had a break. He’s fresh, he’s a very exciting horse. Ride him a little bit differently and anything can happen.” Barney’s last visit to Ascot resulted in victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes, and he is yet to finish outside of the first three in six career starts.
Ribchester is favourite to land the QEII, having finished runner-up to Minding 12 months ago. Richard Fahey sounded happy with his outstanding miler when speaking earlier in the week: “Everything has gone according to plan. He’s a very easy horse to train with no issues, touch wood. He tends to go on any ground. When he got beaten at Goodwood, I’m not blaming the [heavy] ground, I’m blaming the conditions. It was blowing a gale and pouring down with the rain. It was a horrible day. But he’s bounced back and won a Group One in France since, so we are very happy and comfortable with him.”
It could be an exciting day for John Gosden. Along with Cracksman, he has a pair of talented fillies lined up for the Fillies And Mares Stakes. Speaking earlier this week, he said of Journey and Coronet: “Journey’s in great form. She ran a blinder in France when she ran into a filly (Bateel) who loved that ground more than she did. It will be her swansong, she goes to stud after this.”
Of Coronet he appeared just as enthusiastic, saying: “Coronet ran an exceptionally good race in the Yorkshire Oaks to Enable and just found the pace and distance too far in the Leger. She’s a very good filly and she’s getting better all the time. She seems to be racing more alertly now than she used to, so fingers crossed, they will both run good races. I haven’t got as far as riding arrangements. I’ll talk to Mr Dettori, who likes to tell us what to do. If he gets it wrong then it’s his fault, not mine.”