Almanzor, Found, Minding and Ribchester, are just some of the stars that appeared on the card at last year’s Champions Day.
Ascot’s season ending extravaganza began in 2011, and acts as a ‘Finals Day’ for five divisions of a Flat racing series. Sprinters, Milers, Mid-distance, Long-distance and Fillies and Mares form the content (along with a one-mile handicap), of a valuable event that has fast become both prestigious and eagerly anticipated.
Its timing (close to the Arc meeting) had, and still does, attract negative press from a standpoint that many of the best racehorses will be otherwise engaged and unable to appear, thereby undermining the status of the occasion. Nevertheless, there’s no doubting that the quality of fields continues to improve, and connections appear to be targeting Ascot in October as a fitting finale for their equine stars.
This year sees a gap of three weeks between the Arc meeting at Chantilly and Champions Day, and there’s every chance that many will take-in both. Just two weeks separated the prestigious events last year, and that didn’t stop Aidan O’Brien’s Found winning the Arc before chasing home Almanzor at Ascot. The extraordinary mare then headed to America for a crack at the Breeders’ Cup Turf. That she finished third at Santa Anita, was testament to both her talent and cast-iron constitution.
Yesterday saw the announcement of entries for British Champions Day 2017, and as we head deep into this year’s Flat season, it’s exciting to look at the likely clashes that will bring the campaign to an exhilarating conclusion.
An incredible 18 Group One winners are entered in the showpiece Champion Stakes, won last year by French star Almanzor. Rouget’s outstanding colt could return in an attempt to defend his crown, though his season thus far has yet to begin due to injury. The French trainer spoke of the possibility, saying: “I have yet to make any decisions, and we will know more after his comeback race on 15th August in the Prix Gontaut-Biron. He satisfied me when working last Tuesday and although he won’t be 100% fit, I’m hopeful of a good performance.”
The prospect of a clash with super-filly Enable is truly mouth-watering, though I have my doubts that John Gosden would come here so soon after a crack at the Arc. Much could change between now and then, but the trainer likes his trips to America, and I’d fancy a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Turf is more likely to follow Chantilly.
Barney Roy and Ulysses are far more likely to line-up, and there is now a real prospect of Churchill attending this end of season bash. He heads to York in a couple of weeks for the Juddmonte, and how he does against Barney and Co will determine the remainder of his campaign. Ballydoyle also have Highland Reel and Winter entered in this, though HR’s target will be determined by the ground, and Winter now looks set to drop back to a mile.
As such she may well take a similar path to Minding and eventually line-up in the QEII on Champions Day. Despite a powerful performance in the Nassau Stakes, her trainer Aidan O'Brien said earlier this week: “Winter is well entered up, but at this stage we're looking at going back to a mile with her in the Matron Stakes. She's come out of her Goodwood win well.” Churchill up and Winter back down appears to be the plan for the Ballydoyle stars at this stage, but October remains a distance away.
Should Winter line-up in the QEII, she’ll be looking to replicate Minding in defeating Godolphin’s Ribchester. This looks the obvious target for Richard Fahey’s classy miler, who now looks set to have a break after the disappointment of losing out in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Speaking earlier this week, Fahey said: “I haven't entered him for the Champion Stakes as I think we're going to stick at a mile with him for the time being. Quite what happened at Goodwood I'm still not sure, but I suspect it was a mistake to try to make the running, and that was my mistake. They were proper extreme conditions. It was just one of those things and we all live to fight another day.”
Andre Fabre could send Royal Ascot winner Le Brivido or Guineas third Al Wukair. Both are high-class and would prove a serious threat if travelling from France. Jean-Claude Rouget also has the recent Messidor Stakes winner Taaref entered. The four-year-old colt is improving at a rate of knots, and would be another exciting addition to a classy looking field.
The Tin Man took last year’s Champions Day Sprint, and looks sure to return. He loves the track, and trainer James Fanshawe is excited at the prospect, saying: “Hopefully we can have him in as good a form as he was last year when we get to 21st October. It’s a great day and we really enjoyed last year. He seems fine after Newmarket and the idea is to aim for the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock next month.”
Brando was third 12 months ago, but connections will be hoping for better this time around, especially after the thrilling recent success in the Prix Maurice de Gheest. Prior to that, the five-year-old was a fast finishing fourth to Harry Angel in the July Cup at Newmarket. There’s no doubting that Kevin Ryan has the sprinter better than ever, and he’ll prove a serious contender come October.
Harry Angel is also likely to be aimed at this. Mightily impressive at Newmarket last time, he lost out to Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal Meeting, and despite the latter seemingly going ‘off the boil’ of late, the pair may well clash again in October. Limato will need his ground, but would be another leading contender should he take his chance.
I’ve already got my ticket for the day. I, like many others, was uncertain about the meeting a few years back, but it has won me over. Its proximity to the Arc remains an issue, but Champions Day continues to grow as a spectacle. The list of outstanding entrants gives hope that this year’s meeting will prove the best yet.