Gordon Lord Byron and Charm Spirit flew the flag for the non-GB raiders at last year’s Qipco British Champions Day.
Freddy head’s miler coped best in holding conditions to defeat Hannon’s Night Of Thunder and Toormore in a tight finish to the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Tom Hogan’s wonderful sprinter had his ideal conditions, and made the most of it to take the Champions Sprint.
Gordon Lord Byron returns in an attempt to defend his crown, but this year’s renewal looks tougher. The Singapore trained Emperor Max is the other foreign contender in the field. It’s an ambitious challenge from Stephen Gray and connections, and though the six-year-old is talented, it’s hard to imagine him standing proud in the winners’ enclosure after the race.
So if not the sprinters, where will the main overseas challenge come from on Saturday? The Long Distance Cup has proved a happy hunting ground for the marauding Irish in recent times. The boys from over the Irish Sea have won the last four. Dermot Weld has trained two of those winners, with Forgotten Rules successful last year and Rite of Passage taking the race in 2012.
The former is a likely runner this weekend, and Weld is ably supported in his assault by Willie Mullins, who looks set to have a few runners in the Group 2. Wicklow Brave is the shortest priced of the Mullins brigade. Set to be ridden by Ryan Moore, the gelding was second to Litigant in the Ebor at York and then put in a decent performance to finish third in the Irish St Leger. Any cut in the ground is sure to assist the dual-purpose horse.
Andreas Wohler is another hoping for ground on the soft side if he is to risk Alex My Boy on Saturday. Formerly trained by Mark Johnston, he is two from three for the German handler on testing ground in France. He won a Group Three at Longchamp and then took a Group Two at Deauville when beating Oriental Fox. He’s not without a chance should he take up his entry.
We mentioned that Charm Spirit took last year’s QE2, and it’s that renewal that appears to have attracted the strongest overseas challenge. Indeed, should Gleneagles fail to line up, it would come as quite a surprise should France not repeat last year’s success.
Solow is a well-fancied favourite for the race, and he certainly arrives with all the right credentials. Undefeated in his last eight runs, Freddy Head’s five-year-old, owned by Wertheimer brothers, has proved the dominant force throughout the summer. He took the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot before winning the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. He’s undoubtedly the horse to beat.
Andre Fabre sends his 2,000 Guineas runner-up Territories, and there’s no doubting that the colt arrives with a huge chance. Three-year-olds have a great record in the race, having won seven of the last nine renewals. He’s a classy sort and his sire, Invincible Spirit, was responsible for last year’s winner.
The Qipco Champion Stakes remains Saturday’s showpiece and was captured by Cirrus des Aigles back in 2011. The old warrior is likely to take his chance again, but he has failed to shine this year, and it’s hard to imagine him being involved in the finish.
Aidan O’Brien could carry the strongest threat from the overseas challengers. Found looks set to take her chance, and her run in the Irish Champion Stakes gives her every chance here. Jack Hobbs will take some beating, but O’Brien’s filly has the class to go close.
Another intriguing contender is the German trained Palace Prince. He looked a non-stayer in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden last time (a race won by Novellist and Danedream in recent years), when fading late behind Prince Gibraltar. He finished second in the German Derby back in July, and will be ridden by the Champion Jockey-elect Silvestre De Sousa.
As always, it’s terrific when such a high profile meeting attracts talent from overseas. Qipco British Champions Day has a way to go on that front, but the event is certainly heading in the right direction. Those that take the plunge are sure to enjoy a magnificent occasion.