Several high profile retirements and worries over ground conditions are inevitably causing concern as Ascot prepares for flat racing’s end of season showpiece.
The list of absentees continues to grow, and yet again calls into question the scheduling of such an event in the racing calendar. Mukhadram, Taghrooda and Olympic Glory are the latest equine stars to take up their pension option. Champions Day had already been rocked with the loss of Australia, Kingston Hill, Kingman and The Grey Gatsby.
But as the saying goes, ‘the show must go on.’ And it still promises to be a fabulous finale to the British Flat season. One race that has actually attracted a high-profile entrant in the last few days is the Champion Sprint Stakes.
David O’Meara’s young sprinting sensation G Force, winner of the Betfred Sprint Cup, has been supplemented at a cost of £20,000. The trainer had his second Group 1 win when Move In Time won the Prix de l’Abbaye in Paris. The North Yorkshire handler has had a terrific year and in G Force has a great chance of ending the campaign in style. The horse has never run in deep ground, and this is clearly a concern. This has not prevented him from being installed as favourite for Saturday’s race.
Gordon Lord Byron was second to him at Haydock. Though trainer Tom Hogan insists that he’s a better horse on decent ground, he won the Group 1 Prix de la Foret on heavy ground over 7f in 2012. There’s little doubt that the conditions will have little effect on his performance, and he is a major player. He continues to be popular in the market for a race that has gone to Irish trained horses in the last two years.
Money also pours in for the second and third home in last year’s race, Jack Dexter and Viztoria. The latter won easily at the Curragh just a few days ago. Her run as a three-year-old last October was sensational. Trainer Edward Lynam has swept all before him in this season’s sprints, thanks to the ‘Power Pair’ of Sole and Slade. He seems to have his filly coming to the boil at the right time, and she looks sure to run a big race.
Jack Dexter has had a pretty uninspiring season to this point. But demanding ground conditions bring out the best in him, and he got within a whisker of Slade Power in last year’s renewal.
Lightning Moon arrives undefeated after three wins as a three-year-old. This Shamardal colt won over course and distance on soft ground last time. The punters have made him a very popular second favourite, and though he lacks experience he is clearly a strong contender.
Tropics was behind him that day when appearing to have plenty of bad luck in running. Previously second at Newmarket in the Group 1 Darley July Cup, he is also hard to discount.
Gregorian is also interesting. Just behind Tropics in July, he will love the ground. Indeed he needs such conditions to be seen at anywhere near his best. He has only tried this trip on two previous occasions but certainly has plenty of class.
Finally Maarek has to get a mention as he won this race in 2012. Another that will appreciate any further rain he won a Group 2 and was second in a Group 3 back in May. His season has somewhat stalled since, and he reared up in the stalls at Longchamp in the Prix de l’Abbaye, sacrificing any chance of success.
And so with scheduling and retirement issues set aside for now, there still remains little doubt that Champions Day at Ascot is sure to be a sensational sporting occasion.