The waiting is almost over. The build-up has been quite extraordinary. Much has been said about the equine stars that are missing, and major concerns have been raised over race conditions after an exceptionally wet October. But come Saturday afternoon, such troubles will be forgotten.
With a staggering £4 million in prize money, the Qipco Champions Day is the richest raceday in Britain. Six wonderful races, including three Group 1’s, bring the Champions Series to a close for another year.
Cirrus Des Aigles is without doubt the main attraction, and so he should be. He runs in the most valuable race, the Champion Stakes, and was victorious in 2011 before finishing runner-up in 2012 and 2013. He is a truly stunning looking ‘beast’ of a horse. Two years ago, he had the audacity to come within striking distance of the great Frankel.
As an eight-year-old he appears to have retained all his ability, with three Group 1 wins to his name this season alone. He defeated Treve in a sensational battle back in April, and was then too strong for Arc runner-up Flintshire at Epsom in June.
With conditions now certain to be in his favour, it could be a thrilling day for connections, and especially his devoted trainer Corine Barande-Barbe. Punters are sure to be on his side, and though they would never admit it, I’m sure the organisers would be thrilled to have such a popular winner of their most prestigious race.
But it would be rude, and somewhat foolish to dismiss his opponents in such a competitive event. Ruler Of The World won the Epsom Derby in 2013, and was only half a length behind ‘Cirrus’ in last year’s showpiece. He was held up for a late run on that occasion. Prominent for a long way in this year’s Arc, chances are that he will be ridden more positively again on Saturday. He looks sure to be in the shake-up entering the latter stages.
Another that should relish the testing conditions is Noble Mission. A full brother to the mighty Frankel, he has improved markedly as a five-year-old. He’s likely to be ridden from the front, attempting to take the sting out of his illustrious opponents. Trainer Lady Cecil appeared thrilled when talking of her horse, “He did his last piece of work on Saturday and just loved it.”
Still something of an unknown in the field for various reasons is Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle. He could be a superstar in the making. His return from injury at Leopardstown was certainly impressive, and the win came in a fast time. But this race is an altogether different proposition, and will be run in totally different conditions. His Dam however, has already produced a Champions Day winner. Polished Gem’s daughter Sapphire won last year’s Fillies and Mares in soft ground. It could be a big day for the mare, as she has another son, Custom Cut, in the Champions Mile.
Finally I feel the need to mention Roger Charlton’s Al Kazeem. He seems to be the forgotten horse in the race. An interrupted season has seen him arriving at Ascot an unconsidered outsider. Yet just a year ago he was the winner of multiple Group 1’s and a fine sixth in the Arc. He is capable of a huge run if returning to near his best.
There’s every chance that this race will create many of the headlines from a thrilling day’s racing. It could be the making of this year’s event. After such a turbulent week, the Champion Stakes could again ensure that this Champions Day lasts long in the memory.