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So Much To Look Forward To…

British Champions' Day is behind us and, for me, it was a bit of a bloodbath punting-wise. Such is the nature of the big meetings, especially towards the end of busy campaigns. Too many horses I wagered were either over the top or couldn't handle the presumed sticky, drying ground at Ascot. It's my contention that the going was what is known in France as 'holding', i.e. gluey.

Holding is called soft or occasionally good to soft here because it is when wet ground dries out. But it is very different from soft or good to soft when dry ground is rained upon. The absence of an additional going description for this is bonkers to me, and a change is long overdue. We are simply betting blind in such circumstances, as nothing in the form book can help us know if a horse will act on a surface on which - heavy and firm aside - the fewest horses can act.

If that sounds like whining, well, I guess it is to a degree. But too many of the top horses underperformed at the weekend to be easily written off as merely being 'over the top'. BCD's slot in the diary means it will always be prone to meteorological inclemency, but this is not about that: it's a more general point about the accuracy of going descriptions.

Frequently I - and many others with more experience and/or acuity than me - believe the clerks of courses mislead with their official going descriptions. Happily, measures are being taken to more closely scrutinize what is reported versus what comes to pass. But here, clerks are totally exonerated on the basis of their hands being tied to a band of descriptions which is insufficiently broad for its role. I don't see any change on this in the near future, but it is something I'll be raising with HBF.

As an example of 'breakout' thinking, the excellent Andrew Cooper, clerk at Sandown and Epsom, described a meeting as soft (holding) in March of this year, and went on to offer a very good description of it in this clip on RUK:

If only clerks were actually 'allowed' to offer such information officially. Closer to home, if only geegeez.co.uk could afford to hire a daily race reader to add an unofficial going description to our results and form. Sigh.

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Before we move on, there has been much animation regarding the performance of Cracksman in Saturday's Champion Stakes. His seven length victory over Poet's Word and Highland Reel was impressive, but arguably less so than has been reported in some quarters.

My view is that the run, whilst clearly extremely meritorious, was not superlative form to that offered consistently by Enable all season. That is not a view shared by one major ratings agency, who immediately put Cracksman at the head of their seasonal ratings.

His overall form creaks - Group 2 wins over second tier horses, defeats in two Derby's - in the context of Enable's thorough demolitions of genuine proven Group 1 animals all season long. Moreover, the horses he beat on Saturday are either just below top class themselves or were ill at ease on the ground, or over the top.

Highland Reel, a class horse and genuine marker on quick, but one that hates such turf, plugged on for third, nearly snatching second from Poet's Word. Poet's Word, for his part, brought dubious top table credentials to the party: second to Decorated Knight in a very weak renewal of the Irish Champion Stakes earned him a six pound elevation to an official mark of 119. Any belief that he ran to 119, and Cracksman should be rated on a line through him, is madness to my eye.

There is little doubt John Gosden's three-year-old colt has improved as the season has progressed, but so too did his three-year-old filly. The depth of Enable's form in multiple Group 1 processions stands far closer scrutiny to the single G1 stroll of Cracksman, at this point in time and in the eye of this player, at least!

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Moving on, and the jumps season really ratchets up a notch in Britain today. Across the Irish Sea, the dogs have already been barking for exciting novices Death Duty and Samcro but, at Exeter this afternoon, it's the turn of an established player, Alan King's Yanworth, to shake off the last vestiges of his aestivation as he embarks on a chasing career in Exeter's Best Mate Beginner's Chase. He has a stone and a half class edge on his rivals on hurdle ratings, and I'm not seriously suggesting he'll get beaten today. But it will be interesting to see how this sometimes awkward hurdler traverses larger obstacles. Hopefully it will be the making of him.

Elsewhere, Anthony Honeyball, whose yard geegeez.co.uk sponsors, takes the wraps off the first of his young team for this term. Anthony has his biggest and best squad for the forthcoming campaign, and geegeez.co.uk syndicates have two horses in training with him this season, East Wing and My Dance. Today sees Acey Milan make his debut in the 'junior' bumper at Exeter, and it will be exciting to see how he goes.

Anthony was kind enough to do a full stable tour 'podcast' with me a month or so ago where he discussed his entire team. You can - and should! - check that out here. He has plenty more runners to unleash in the coming days and weeks, many of which are unfamiliar names, so do check that post out and arm your tracker accordingly!

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Finally, while turf flat racing in Britain and Ireland is all but over for the year, the international bandwagon rumbles on. For the first time for a few years, we have a correspondent covering the Melbourne Cup; and as always I will be covering the Breeders' Cup, which is now just ten days away.

Breeders' Cup 34 will be hosted for the first time in Del Mar, north of San Diego, on the left coast of America. The cast looks excellent - genuinely deep and cosmopolitan - and finding winners will be the usual challenge.

For those who like to play the meeting, I will have a Breeders' Cup Compendium available. It's a product packed with data, factoids and opinions, and you'll be able to get a copy in a day or two.

STOP PRESS: BREEDERS' CUP COMPENDIUM FIRST RELEASE IS AVAILABLE NOW - CLICK HERE

The nature of the beast - with information coming through bit by bit - means the BC Compendium will be released in stages, as and when pre-entries, draw positions and final preferences are known. Rest assured it will be the best Breeders' Cup product this side of the pond!

Enough for now - enjoy the racing at Exeter. What a fantastic time of the year this is.

Matt

British Champions Day 2017 Preview and Tips

British Champions Day 2017 Preview and Tips

The newest, and one of the best, end of season showdowns, British Champions Day has grown from a pooh-poohed concept to the best single day of racing in the British flat calendar in just six years.

It's a show that has perennially presented a headline act: from Frankel in the first two years, to Cirrus Des Aigles, Solow, and the wonderful Almanzor last year. And, if the weather doesn't put any more than a literal dampener on proceedings, the cast assembled for the 2017 edition looks deeper than ever if perhaps lacking that standout star of previous renewals.

1.25 British Champions Long Distance Cup (Group 2, 2m)

The first of the short-priced favourites on the card, Aidan O'Brien's Order of St George was beaten over a half mile further here at Royal Ascot when odds on, and he was beaten in this race last year when odds on. If that tempts one to look elsewhere, fair enough. But keep in mind that his record on soft ground reads 11114, the 4 being recorded in the Arc two weeks ago.

Whether that race will have taken a toll on OoSG's wellbeing - it certainly seemed to last season when that fourth place in this race (sent off 4/6) followed a third place in the Arc - is anybody's guess. On balance, I'm happy to look for an each way alternative to the current even money jolly.

Big Orange is a grand type, but his form on softer than good reads 46154734. Even with an easy lead he has to do something he's failed to do in eight starts with the exception of a small field handicap on good to soft in 2014. Not this time, old pal. Stradivarius also looks to have something to prove on the ground, his only run on softer than good being a valiant third in the St Leger on a good to soft Donny piste.

Nope, the one to be with - if you can overlook a lamentable last day effort - looks like Dartmouth. The Queen's horse has had a light season, the clear highlight of which was a win on soft in the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup. His Ascot form, all at a mile and a half, includes a good fourth in the G2 Hardwicke in June, a win in the same race last year, and third in the Group 1 King George last year. Stamina wasn't lacking on his only attempt at this two mile range in the Lonsdale Cup in August - he was beaten a nose there - and at 22/1 he represents good value as long as that last day effort was a one off.

Duretto, a winner on heavy last time and still improving at the age of five, is another each way play worth considering. He's 11/1 at time of writing

2.00 British Champions Sprint Stakes (Group 1, 6f)

A belting race featuring another shortie at the head of the market. Harry Angel is the best sprinter in Britain and Ireland right now, but he was undone by team tactics in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup over course and distance at the Royal meeting in June. There, Intelligence Cross took Harry on for the lead, softening him up ahead of Caravaggio's late rally to victory. The same crowd line up again here, and there is no reason to believe the script will be any different.

One thing in Harry Angel's favour since then is that he's proven himself a formidable force on heavy ground, the official going for his Haydock Sprint Cup (G1) romp last month. The Tin Man was a solid third there but, despite being the reigning champion, he ought not to be able to reverse form with his Haydock conqueror.

Caravaggio is two from two on soft ground and two from two at Ascot. He will have this race set up to suit, assuming either or both of Intelligence Cross and Washington DC are able to handle the sodden lawns in their presumed spoiler attempt. He is a perfectly credible alternative to the favourite at 9/2.

Quiet Reflection is a very fast filly on soft ground, as she showed when winning last year's Haydock Sprint Cup, and on her most recent start. Those are her only two runs on soft, both Group race wins. She comes here fresh and well and 13/2 makes her the each way pick.

2.40 British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes (Group 1, 1m4f)

Not the highest class renewal of this race, but a decent field all the same. On soft ground, the horse to follow may be BATEEL. Four from four in Britain on such rain-eased terrain, she added to that soft turf tally in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille last month when easily beating Journey. That one lines up here as the defending champion, and John Gosden's mare was second in the 2015 running of the race. The Vermeille effort was her only soft ground form and, while she'll have been trained with this in mind and can be expected to step forward a touch, she has a fair bit to find with the French-trained former Ralph Beckett inmate.

Beckett runs Alyssa, a last day winner of the Park Hill Stakes on soft. That was most of two miles, however, and this drop in trip and rise in grade is likely to find her out, though she may make a bold bid from the front (and she may face pace contention from either or both of Journey and Hydrangea, who have made it in the past).

Hydrangea, a Group 1 winner two back over a mile, steps up to twelve furlongs for the first time. She was beaten in her two runs at a mile and a quarter, albeit running well in better races than this. Just three wins from fourteen starts is not the sort of profile I want to side with at the top level.

Coronet and Left Hand are others to consider but I think the now French-trained Bateel will take all beating.

3.15 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Group 1, 1m)

One of the two signature races of the day, the QEII Stakes has a fantastic roll of honour including the likes of Kris, Selkirk, Dubai Millennium, and of course, Frankel. This year's field includes the best miler in Britain, RIBCHESTER, and the best miler in Ireland, Churchill. Ribchester is a triple Group 1 winner this term, and narrowly failed to make it four from four on horrible ground in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Churchill won the 2000 Guineas and Irish 2000 Guineas before his form plateaued somewhat in mid-season. He returns a fresh horse and drops back to the distance of his dual Classic successes.

The pair are separated by almost the entire width of the draw, each having a pacemaker/stablemate drawn two away. Richard Fahey's four-year-old son of Iffraaj is a worthy favourite and has nothing to prove, whereas Aidan O'Brien's three-year-old son of, you guessed it, Galileo does have questions to answer. That fundamental difference is insufficiently factored into the market in my opinion making the 2/1 quote about Ribchester far more appealing than an offer of 4/1 about Churchill.

The wild card in the deck is Beat The Bank, a winner of five of his six career starts, all this season. He blitzed the Joel Stakes field by five lengths last time over a mile and was an easy winner of the G3 Thoroughbred Stakes at Goodwood the time before. That was on soft so he's expected to handle conditions. Whether he's good enough is another question entirely, and 9/2 doesn't excite in that context, though he could crown a remarkably progressive first campaign by 'getting the lot'.

Andre Fabre brings Al Wukair over from France. He won the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois last time, but has done his winning in small fields. I'd have reservations about the fifteen runners here notwithstanding that he'll probably enjoy the ground.

If the going turns heavy, our old mate Here Comes When - tipped here at a big price when beating Ribchester in the aforementioned G1 Sussex Stakes - could get in the mix. A winner of only six of 26 career starts, the seven-year-old seems to be improving with age and, as well as that lifetime best at Goodwood, he's won two more of his last six races. Three from twenty before September last year, three from six since. Go figure.

As you can see from this quick query in our Query Tool, his form on soft or heavy is very consistent:

Here Comes When has hit the frame five times out of six on soft or heavy ground

Here Comes When has hit the frame five times out of six on soft or heavy ground

 

I'm not suggesting he'll win again, but at 25/1 there are worse each way plays with at least some of the main market fancies expected to under-perform on the ground.

Another at a price who could run well is John Gosden's Persuasive. Her only previous run on soft was over this course and distance where she hacked up in the 21-runner Listed Sandringham Handicap last summer, and she's since placed in Group 1 company in her last three starts. Not out of the frame in eight career races, she takes on the boys for the first time. 20/1 is pretty fair.

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3.50 Champion Stakes (Group 1, 1m2f)

The feature race on the card, and one which Frankel, Cirrus Des Aigles and Almanzor have helped to cement in its new Berkshire home. Favoured for the ten furlong championship event is Cracksman, a non-winner in Group 1 company at start of play. He was third in the Derby and second in the Irish Derby (after Epsom winner, Wings Of Eagles, went wrong close home), and has since won a couple of Group 2's either side of the Channel, most recently the Prix Niel.

Neither of those races, nor the Classics he ran in previously, offer the strongest form in this race so, while he remains open to improvement, there are better-priced alternatives to go at.

A horse I love is Highland Reel. But I don't love him on soft ground. With the Breeders' Cup Turf just around the corner I have absolutely no idea why they're running him here: he's the defending champ Stateside, and is sure to get his needed fast turf. His form on softer than good is well known as being poor. In fact, the full string reads 62582774. That's more a telephone number than a G1 winning profile and I can only assume connections feel he needs the run after three months off ahead of his Del Mar trip in a fortnight's time.

Barney Roy is another for whom soft turf presents a challenge. He was a well held third in the G1 Juddmonte International at York on good to soft last time, his first and only attempt with give underfoot. This promises to be a good bit softer and on that basis, as the Dragons say, I'm out.

The one I like most is Jean-Claude Rouget's BRAMETOT. Owned by Al Shaqab, this son of deeply unfashionable sire, Rajsaman, was a good winner of the French 2000 Guineas back in May. That form was franked when the second, Le Brivido, won the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, and when Brametot himself bagged the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby).

A heavy defeat by Eminent in August was forgivable - it was his first run for ten weeks and a fairly traditional French-style prep for an autumn campaign. On his only subsequent start he was a good fifth to Enable in the Arc over a trip which may have stretched his stamina. Cutting back a quarter mile here, to a similar trip over which he won the PdJC, looks optimal and, on his third start off the layoff, he looks very likely to go well with conditions optimal. He's a well supported 6/1 currently and it is easy to see why he is being backed.

If it gets really muddy, Ken Condon's Success Days might reward small each way support. A Group 2 winner in July, he has three heavy ground scores on his CV, and not a huge amount to find on the book. 33/1 is worth 25p e/w.

4.30 Balmoral Handicap (Class 2, 1m)

Ah, that's more like it. Ahem. Twenty runners spread across the track hurtling a mile down the straight. On deep ground. The first thing to say, as you can see from the below pace map, is that there is nothing in the field that obviously wants to lead...

No obvious pace angle in the Balmoral Handicap

No obvious pace angle in the Balmoral Handicap

 

What little pace there is can be found in the high numbers but, in such situations, it is often the case that a hitherto reluctant leader steps forward and shows some initiative. In other words, caveat emptor!

What about Instant Expert? In a race like this I'm looking for a horse with form in big fields and on soft ground. Zabeel Prince and Firmament stand out on those points. So too, to a lesser degree, does George William, whose price demands a closer look at the lad's form.

 

First, ZABEEL PRINCE, a 7/2 shot in a field of twenty. If that looks skinny, it's for good reason. A four year old with just four runs to his name, the three starts this term have produced three wins, most recently in a similar twenty-strong mile handicap. He tanked through that race, just about pulling Silvestre de Sousa's arms from their moorings, and was still last off the bridle. One smack and he shot three clear, a margin he largely held to the line against a similar collection of experienced pro's.

He's running here before his new rating of 107 kicks in, which makes him five pounds well in, and there is little doubt he's a Group horse in a handicap. Soft ground holds no fears - he already has two victories on the soggy side - so, while it's far from my modus operandi, I reckon he's worth a bet even at 7/2. bet365's offer of a quarter the first five will see you get most of your money back if he's beats fifteen home which, barring injury or terrible luck in running, he really ought to do.

Firmament runs off 109, the same mark he's failed to win off in his last nine races. While that is testament to his remarkable consistency, it also makes him difficult to countenance as a win proposition. Still, with five places to go at and 20/1 the offer, he may again hit the frame. Soft ground and big fields are, as we can see above, no drama for this lad. Top weight against Group wolves in handicap sheep's clothing is a different story.

George William was a winner last time on soft and ran second of 24 here earlier this season. That was over seven furlongs on good to firm, and he only just managed to get up for silver: the extra yardage and more testing ground ought to suit well. Whether he's quite good enough I'm not sure but he's double carpet so I'll be buying a tiny fraction to find out.

David O'Meara's French import, Lord Glitters, is four pounds well in after running a fine second on his UK bow two weeks ago. Soft ground will be no problem, and he's drawn low, along with Firmament and George William. My inclination is that high may be favoured although there's a good chance they all come up the middle, towed along by Qassem from a high berth. Zabeel Prince is drawn high.

I don't see that Lord Glitters has the improvement that Roger Varian's Zabeel Prince does, and he might just be on the wrong side. Or he might not be. Either way, ZP just wins this, doesn't he?!

Good luck!

Matt

p.s. Ascot Champions Day race card can be found here

p.p.s. Not yet a Geegeez Gold subscriber? Take a 30 day trial for £1 here

The Best Jean-Claude Since van Damme?

ASCOT 15-10-2016. The Queen Elizabeth Stakes. MINDING and Ryan Moore wins for trainer Aidan O'Brien from RIBCHESTER. Photo HEALY RACING.

MINDING and Ryan Moore wins for trainer Aidan O'Brien from RIBCHESTER.
Photo HEALY RACING.

What did you know about Jean-Claude Rouget: before Saturday, probably not a lot? Until this year I’m sure not too many were even aware of the 63-year-old Frenchman, especially in Ireland, writes Tony Stafford. Until September 10th and the Curragh end of Irish Champions weekend, according to the usually accurate Racing Post stats, he’d never had a runner in that country before Almanzor and Qemah pitched up.

Forays from his base in Pau, down in the southwest of France, were much more frequent to the US with his best horses and considering he’d been challenging and then passing Andre Fabre in recent years domestically, only sporadically had he ventured across the Channel.

He had his first English runner, Pinson, in 2005. Two years later, was busier, as Rouget collected the Champion Stakes with Literato, beating the Coolmore-owned Eagle Mountain in a photo-finish. That year the Danzig colt US Ranger, carrying the dark blue colours of the Coolmore team in partnership with his breeder Joe Allen of War Front fame, was seventh in Cockney Rebel’s 2000 Guineas and third in the Jersey at Royal Ascot.

Those same Racing Post statistics list 150 or so major wins, quite a few in the US and with many repeats. Yet in the seven seasons between Literato and last year when Ervedya won the Coronation Stakes, only 18 further Rouget runners and six places were recorded. Then, memorably each time at Ascot, France’s top trainer was to repeat earlier triumphs, with Qemah in the Coronation and Almanzor in the re-modelled Champion Stakes, from just five English runs.

I think he’s warming to us a bit though, even if when interviewed he’s still a bit more Yves Montand than Johnny G. He must be, why else would he still be looking at yearlings at Book 3 of last week’s Tattersall’s October Sale?

Then again, having 265 horses listed in Horses in Training for 2016 and having run a healthy proportion, 178 of them in France this year, he is as near in terms of home dominance as Aidan O’Brien has been as a Group 1 trainer all over Europe.

His horses have run in 622 races in France, for 157 wins and win and place money of Euro 6,523,465, bolstered by just over Euro 3million in owners’ premiums for French-breds. In comparison, O’Brien’s raids in France, with just 15 horses and 16 runs have brought two wins, seven places and Euro 5,142,970, with just some chump change (23k) in premiums – not many Galileo’s are French-bred!

Rouget’s day out in Ireland brought the equivalent of £547,059 – Almanzor winning the Irish Champion from Found and Minding, and Qemah was third in the Matron Stakes behind Alice Springs. Almanzor propelled him to £1,071,670, healthy enough, while Found’s second to the Rouget star and Minding’s superb display in the Mile, took their trainer to beyond £8million here.

We can add to that just the 98 O’Brien winners from 495 in his day job in Ireland and win and place earnings of £3,367,689, although with the weakness of the pound, we’d need to add a bit to that.

If Almanzor was the obvious star of the show, Minding’s versatility and class were the bright point of a slightly disappointing day for Ballydoyle, with Order of St George, back at staying trips and Seventh Heaven, in the fillies and mares race, both looking a little sluggish as they tried in vain to overcome modest starts.

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In winning a seventh Group 1 race by the age of three, she shares that distinction with the great French filly Miesque, who went on to win three more races at the top level at four years of age in 1988. With records there to be beaten, Minding, whose 2016 winning programme of 1,000 Guineas, Oaks, Pretty Polly, Nassau and Champions Mile might have been even better without the bang she sustained to the head when leaving the stalls for the Irish 1,000, when beaten by Jet Setting – an unplaced 33-1 shot behind her on Saturday.

In the end Ribchester got to within half a length of her with a strong late effort, but there was never any prospect of her forfeiting the lead she took under Ryan Moore at the two furlong pole. Indeed had the race been over six furlongs, Minding would almost certainly have won it. An Oaks winner fast enough to sprint [against milers, Ed.], the mind boggles.

I spent most of Champions Day moaning about the fact that, as predicted here last week, Dutch Law didn’t get into the Balmoral Handicap. He needed two to come out by 1 p.m. on Friday and none did, hardly surprising as all 45 confirmations from the Monday, were declared to run.

Equally unsurprisingly, one did come out after that deadline, Instant Attraction’s defection making it totally annoying for the Saeed bin Suroor stable, their Silent Attack denied a run by a rule that should be changed. Why it is deemed impossible to allow changes until the 45 minute declaration time? The rules of that particular race – worth a handsome £155,000 to the winner – permit three reserves, so why can’t they be just that, on the premises in case of absentees.

It was good to see Jim Crowley and Josephine Gordon receive their well-earned awards for champion jockey and apprentice, but a little bird tells me that gentleman Jim might have a fight on his hands to retain the title, as someone quite close to agent Tony Hind has reportedly had a bit of a punt on Fran Berry for next year. He or she might well be working on charming the super-agent to concentrate on Ralph Beckett’s stable jockey.

It was less sensible that Godolphin, 131 wins and £4,681,091, should get the award for champion Flat owner. Most of the £8 million collected by O’Brien, comes from the Magnier, Tabor, Smith triumvirate, but for the table’s purposes, Smith, Magnier, Tabor is a different owner from Smith, Tabor, Magnier. One Smith part of the team also got into the £4 million plus bracket thanks to Minding and King George winner Highland Reel’s exploits, but then again if they had won it (under different rules) they’d have had to cut the trophy into thirds.

They’ve still got a fast-improving and relatively fresh Alice Springs, so dominant in the Sun Chariot, and Arc runner-up Highland Reel, among a good few more to go to war with at Santa Anita with an extra couple of weeks to recover from recent exploits.

Doncaster on Saturday could offer another obvious chance for such as Capri in the Racing Post Trophy, but I’ll be surprised if Raheen House passes up the attraction of that race after winning nicely at York for Brian Meehan and owner Lew Day.

I doubt if Lew will be there, but just as after the Cambridgeshire and Spark Plug, I’ll be offering my services as trophy collector, should this promising son of Sea the Stars step up. It will be even better if Dutch Law can take the finale as consolation for last week’s Balmoral frustration for Raymond Tooth.

Jim Crowley: The Champ for All Seasons

crowleyjim-151016_ascotJim Crowley was crowned champion jockey at Ascot on Saturday, with never a more appropriate racecourse for the celebration, the champ being born and raised only a few hundred yards from the winning post there, writes Ian Sutherland.

At the start of this year's turf season, Crowley had his eyes firmly fixed on the all weather racing circuit. On All Weather Championship Finals day at Lingfield in March, Crowley confirmed his place in the top half dozen jockeys in that competition with a win in the (almost) two mile Marathon event on board Ralph Beckett's Moonrise Landing.

When the turf season started at Redcar three days later, Crowley was priced at 66/1 for the jockeys' crown, a price that was still available in the middle of July.  While it was not quite the odds of Leicester to win last season's Premiership race, it was certainly a reflection of the chances of a man who had yet to post a century of winners in one year on the turf. That landmark was reached  with a double at Brighton in September, by which time he was describing himself as "obsessed" with the title fight. He and Silvestre de Sousa were neck and neck, the lead swapping hands several times as the season approached its climax.

But the century of winners and the jockeys' title were not the only significant achievements for jockey Jim this year. He also had his first ride in the Derby on Algometer, and in September joined a select band, including Fred Archer and Sir Gordon Richards, to have ridden 45 winners in a month. He may even have set a new record with his win on Castleacre at Newcastle on the last day of the month. (Such things as jockey records are never easy to categorically confirm in Britain, alas).

That's a far cry from the somewhat more forgettable first Crowley 'achieved' in April 2001. In those days he was a jump jockey, riding mostly for Sue Smith. However, record-breaking trainer, Martin Pipe, put Crowley up on Art Prince in the Grand National of that year. It was a day he would probably prefer to forget, as his only ride in the race ended with a fall at the first fence.

How things have moved on for Crowley, and how he has shown himself truly to be a man for all seasons.

 

 

 

 

Geegeez.co.uk to Sponsor Anthony Honeyball Yard

The name geegeez.co.uk will be seen on racetracks across the country this autumn and winter as a result of a new sponsorship agreement with Anthony Honeyball's Dorset stable.

Honeyball, one of the brightest emerging talents in the National Hunt sphere, has an exciting team of horses with which to go to war in the coming months: a team that includes The Geegeez Geegee and East Wing, both owned by geegeez readers and running in the colours of geegeez.co.uk.

The agreement means that stable staff from the Mosterton yard will be adorned in jackets and shirts sporting the geegeez logo, and horses will be kept cool/warm by geegeez-sponsored rugs and sheets on course. As well as that, as many as two dozen horses will help to raise awareness of the website by way of logos on the jockeys' silks.

This is an exciting first venture into sponsorship for the site, and I feel it is a great way to promote the name of a resource that too few people in the wider racing community are aware of. Equally importantly, it is brilliant to be supporting Anthony, Rachael and all of the team at Potwell Farm.

They are industrious, aspirant, and very talented, values which are shared by the staff here at geegeez.co.uk. The Honeyball squad for 2015/16 includes the likes of Regal Encore, Victors Serenade and Chill Factor in the more established ranks, as well as improvers such as The Geegeez Geegee (we hope!), Anda de Grissay, Prince Of Thieves and City Supreme.

The team has a lovely crop of bumper horses, too, spearheaded by yesterday's Chepstow second, Pure Vision, a horse Anthony holds in very high regard and one that is a must for any 'to follow' list. He looks set for big things over fences in due course.

I'll have a full stable tour with Anthony for you in the next few days - hopefully tomorrow - so do stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, look out for the geegeez colours on a National Hunt racecourse (or TV screen) near you very soon!

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On a different note, many thanks to those who entered the little weekend competition to win Treve goodies, Champions Day tickets, and a copy of my soon-to-be-released Breeders' Cup Compendium. I used a random number generator to pick the winners, based on retweet order.

The numbers were as follows:

1st prize: #92, Steve Patterson, @patterss - Congratulations! You win the lot! Treve bundle, 2 x British Champions Day grandstand tickets, and a copy of the compendium

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2nd prize: #84, Shorthead, @shorthead1 - Well done, you get 2 x BCD tix and a copy of the BC report

3rd prizes: #25, Alex Zevenbergen, @thorpe_ / #62, Paul McArthur, @paulmcarthur3 / #42, Graham Ashford, @statsandtrends - you will all receive a copy of the Breeders' Cup report when it's ready later in the month.

Winners, I'll be in touch with you later today for postal and/or email addresses to send prizes. Whoop whoop!

There were only 104 entries, so if you didn't take part, you missed out on a better than 20/1 chance of claiming a prize for the sake of 30 seconds efforts (and potentially two seconds effort if you already follow @geegeez_uk on twitter). Maybe next time 😉

**

Talking of Champions Day, the entries will revealed live at 1pm today, and you can watch it unfold right here on geegeez. Just click here - or use the link on the home page - to connect through.

As well as the entries - will Gleneagles be in or won't he? - there will be chat with some of the main trainers and jockeys, who are sure to offer insights into what they expect this coming weekend.

It's a novel idea, and should be fun to watch. Again, the link is here and it's live at 1pm GMT.

That's all for today. Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I hope to have that Anthony Honeyball stable tour piece topped and tailed and ready to read. The yard have some interesting entries this week, and I'll try to get an inside line on those...

Matt

British Champions Day 2014 Preview

British Champions Day 2014 Preview

British Champions Day 2014 Preview

British Champions Day 2014 Preview

This Saturday sees the fourth renewal of British Champions Day, Ascot's end of season celebration of British (and European) racing. Although the weather forecast has dampened prospects somewhat, allied to the untimely and premature retirement of some of the sport's main equine athletes, there remains much to look forward to.

Racegoers and punters will be treated to three Group 1's, two Group 2's, and the inaugural running of the Balmoral Handicap which, with a purse of £250,000, is the richest mile handicap in Europe. And there will be something else to assist the on-course betting public this year, too. More on that in a moment.

The action gets underway at 1.45 with the Long Distance Cup, a Group 2 run over two miles. The Queen's Estimate headlines the entries, her last time out win in the Doncaster Cup bringing her to Ascot - scene of her finest hour when taking the 2013 Gold Cup - in fine form.

But she may have to yield to a strong Irish contingent, bidding to retain a prize they've held since the race - formerly the Jockey Club Cup run at Newmarket - was transferred to Her Majesty's racecourse in 2011. The raiding party is headed by reigning Gold Cup champ, Leading Light, a thorough stayer perhaps caught out by the shorter trip and tactical disaster on Irish Champions Weekend.

Heavy ground should be fine as Leading Light, a son of Montjeu, broke his maiden on bottomless terrain at Tipperary. Two from two at Ascot, he'll make a bold bid for the hat-trick, and 5/2 is reasonable if unexciting.

The fly in the ointment is the hugely scopey unbeaten Dermot Weld-trained Forgotten Rules. Winner of a bumper at the Punchestown Festival (by thirteen lengths no less), and the Guinness Race at the Galway Festival (only eight lengths clear this time), Forgotten Rules epitomises the phrase, "could be anything". The runner up there, Shu Lewis, has run some fair races on unsuitably quick ground, giving the form a firmer look than Ascot's weekend lawn.

Still further potential depth is added to the race with Irish Cesarewitch winner, El Salvador, and progressive pair Big Orange and Pallasator still all engaged.

The bookies want to 'get' Leading Light, but I see few chinks in his armour, and reckon 5/2 is perfectly fair. Whilst I won't be piling in, I can't find one I like enough against him either.

Next up is the British Champions Sprint, a six furlong Group 2. Slade Power, last year's winner and the most classy deep ground six furlong horse on the planet, has gone in search of oriental prizes rather than plundering occidental pots closer to home. In his absence, G Force has been supplemented at a cost of £20,000, but the Haydock Sprint Cup winner has to prove he acts on a slow surface. Second on his debut on soft, he's not raced on anything more stamina-sapping than good in seven runs since.

Still, with so few miles on the clock and a Group 1 already on his metaphorical mantelpiece, he could take some pegging back. Another three year old, the unbeaten Lightning Moon, has only raced on the soft side of good, though never as deep as this, and already has a course and distance Group 3 to his name from just three starts. That was a solid performance against older horses, but there are a couple of better class animals in here. So, despite his obvious scope to step forward again, I'm looking further afield.

The one I like is Eddie Lynam's four year old filly, Viztoria. She has had a very quiet campaign, but was an impressive winner of a Listed race over the same trip last time, and was third in this race last year. She's two from two on heavy ground - both at the distance - and 8/1 looks fair enough, especially as she's drawn alongside key pace angle, An Saighdiur.

I must also mention my old mate, Jack Dexter, who will relish the boggy conditions. Seven of his eight wins have come on soft or heavy, and after a season largely in the doldrums, Jack showed more of his old dash last time when a running on eighth in the Ayr Gold Cup under top weight, and on unsuitably firm ground. 10/1 is far from a gift, but I expect him to make a bold bid, as he did when a neck second in the race last year.

The Fillies and Mares Stakes is race three, and the first of the trio of Group 1's. One of the two supplementary entries, Silk Sari, looks of interest. She has been progressive throughout the season and arrives here on the hat-trick after wins in Listed and Group 2 company. She showed on the latter of those runs that she stays very well, and she has form on soft and is bred for it too (by Dalakhani out of a Rainbow Quest mare).

Those proven on heavy ground include Cubanita and Euphrasia, with the former being worth a second look in an open race. Ralph Beckett's five year old won a going and distance Group 3 this time last year, and she's a grinder plain and simple. With a prominent running style in her favour, she ought to go close.

In the same ownership is Madame Chiang, another filly who should love the ground. She's not been seen since a well beaten tenth in the Oaks, but prior to that had won both her starts and both on soft ground. The latter was the Musidora Stakes at York, the form of which has worked out pretty well making 16/1 a speculative price about a filly who has a bit to prove after a layoff, but one which might be worth taking.

If the opening trio of races look largely up to scratch, then the fourth - and first of the features - may be a tad sup-par. The QEII Stakes this year has a highest rated of 122, and that chap - Charm Spirit - is little known on these shores.

But, in what could turn out to be a Gallic double for the two flagship races, Freddie Head's colt is the narrow form choice. Beaten into fifth in the 2000 Guineas, he reversed form with Night Of Thunder when taking the Group 1 Prix Morny in September. There was only a head and a neck back to Night Of Thunder, and there should again be little between the pair.

Integral is a very smart filly, winning two mile Group 1's against her own sex this season. Soft ground is fine for her, though heavy would be an unknown, but her win record of six out of seven at a mile is impressive, and she's a spot of value to my eye. Ryan Moore is a huge fan of Integral, and far be it from me to argue with his knowledge of the the form book. He's a jockey who could make a good living from betting if he wasn't a jockey (and the best in the world at that), such is his comprehension of past performance.

Two at bigger prices that are known mud-lovers are the on-a-roll Custom Cut, and the proven here Top Notch Tonto. The former has won his last five and has bags of form on heavy. Whether he's up to a Group 1 is open to question, but that he should have a crack at one is beyond doubt. I'd expect him to be outclassed ultimately, but not disgraced, in fourth or fifth place.

TNT ran a dynamite race (geddit?!) in this contest last year, finishing a respectful second to facile winner Olympic Glory. He's been a touch in the wilderness this season, but showed more in his most recent pair of starts. I can't see him winning, for similar reasons to Custom Cut, but he's another who will likely run his race regardless of the ground, having won his only heavy ground start over a mile at two.

The lightly raced Kingsbarns, winner of the Racing Post Trophy two years ago, looks a smidge over-priced at 33/1 in a place, if at his best. Clearly he's hard to train - just seven starts in three years - but he has class and he relishes deep ground. On his A game, he wouldn't have much to find with the pick of these, and he's still open to improvement after such a sparse racing career to date.

And Tullius has been saved for this, and gets his conditions. He's improved with age, but does have a bit to find with the pick of his rivals. Still, I expect him to run well in what looks a great betting race.

The Champion Stakes has no Frankel this year - it didn't last year either - and it has no Australia, with the dual Derby winner having been more likely to contest the shorter QEII Stakes prior to being retired with a foot injury. The Grey Gatsby also swerves the race, which is a pity, as they are the pre-eminent middle distance pair of their generation.

The pity is compounded by the presence of Free Eagle, a colt of enormous potential who has been forced to miss most of the big dances this season through injury. After a monstrous return to the track on Irish Champions Weekend, he'd have been a big danger to both Oz and TGG had they rocked up.

Instead, 'Freagle' will have to content himself with taking on the mighty old warrior, Cirrus Des Aigles. His rivals couldn't beat him last time in the Prix Dollar, but the stewards did, taking him down for interference late in the day. No matter, he comes here in cracking form, and he handles soft ground better than almost all top class performers. Cirrus was being written off last year before running a close second, whereas now he's as short as 11/8, and no bigger than 13/8, to claim a second win in the race after his first in 2011.

I am one of CdA's legion of fans, and I hope he wins the Champion Stakes again, because he is unquestionably a champion. In an era when top class horses rarely race beyond their second season, Cirrus Des Aigles' enduring legacy is exactly that: he is sparring his way through a seventh racing season. Now, of course, that's because his ability to breed was cruelly denied by too hasty a removal of his undercarriage. But the shed's loss is our gain, and this veteran of 59 races - 21 of which are wins, and eighteen of those Pattern race wins (six Group 1's) - is a true colossus of the flat.

But he's not a bet at the price. Nor is Freagle. Dermot Weld's impressive last day winner ran a race that whispered 'bounce' after a year off the track. The bounce, in case you didn't know, is the word attributed the phenomenon of a horse performing brilliantly after a long layoff - often having a seemingly easy race in the process - only to fail to run to that level in its subsequent start.

It's entirely possible that Freagle is over his Enterprise Stakes win, but at 3/1 I'll swerve.

Noble Mission could be good enough to take this, after back-to-back soft ground Group 1 wins overseas in May and June, and a second place in a third continental Group 1 in July. He would be continuing the Frankel theme, being a full brother to the brilliant one, and in that regard would be a perfect story horse, especially as he's trained by the late Sir Henry's widow, Lady Cecil; and I understand he's been training very well.

But I'm still looking for my Champion Stakes wager, and one that is of mild appeal (note, only mild appeal) at a price is Johnny G's Western Hymn. Ten furlongs and give in the ground look ideal for a horse that ran quite well despite the terra firmer in the Derby, finishing sixth. Since then he's won a Group 2 in France, and was a slightly disappointing favourite when fourth in a similar race there.

Although he's had a long enough break since that last start in mid-August, Gosden's colt goes well fresh, and I think at 18/1 he might be a soupçon of value each way in a heat where the layers look to have things about right.

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After that, all that's left is the super-valuable Balmoral Handicap, a mile race with a big field, and that running of the bulls is best considered in the context of going and draw. The pace looks to be middle to high, and it could be Brian Ellison who holds the aces with a pair of mudlarks.

Baraweez is the more obvious of the duo, the ex-Freddy Head-trained Cape Cross gelding coming here on a hat-trick after two valuable seven furlong wins in Ireland. He stays a mile easily, with wins at both that range and a furlong further; is drawn right in the middle with pace around him, and he has a prominent enough run style himself. That may be crucial as quickening out of the mud from the rear past so many hardy handicappers could prove an insurmountable task. He's 14/1 generally.

Less obvious, but still worthy of consideration, is Ellison's second string, Dream Walker. This fellow has box 17, two away from his stablemate. He also has a low weight, and a win and a second on heavy. Those were over shorter trips, and in Class 6 races, a huge step - literally - from today's distance, and metaphorically from today's grade. Still, Dream Walker's progression in the last two years has been impressive. Rated just 56 last July, a rapid-fire triple pushed him up to 77, and a further win two starts later nudged him still further to 84.

Winless in ten since, he's been second or three four times in that sequence, and was only three lengths behind Baraweez in that Leopardstown handicap. It's no surprise to see Dream Walker being backed, and 20/1 with Coral, five places, is a bet.

My last 'guess' is Buckstay. Drawn fairly high in 20, and versatile as regards running style, if he was gunned near the front rank he'd have definite place claims. Although Peter Chapple-Hyam's nag is yet to race on heavy, his soft ground form offers hope: third of sixteen in a good Newmarket handicap on his only try at a soft mile. He's frequently been campaigned at longer distances, in spite of not being bred for it and not staying every time. Fourth in the Cambridgeshire last time - losing a couple of places in the last of nine furlongs there - the 'turn back play' is in effect. 20/1 and drifting doesn't worry me: I think he can again hit the board.

**

Now then, Saturday is my birthday - 43, in case you were wondering - and I shall be at Ascot for British Champions Day. And, in a welcome embrace of something which doesn't come from the more traditional stables of either Racing Post or Timeform, so will Geegeez Gold.

This year's Champions Day programme will feature, alongside each of the six races, the Instant Expert grid for that race. You know, the traffic light thingie that finds loads of big priced winners. Here's last year's concluding handicap - which horse would you have chosen?

Breton Rock was a high profile winner for Instant Expert

Breton Rock was a high profile winner for Instant Expert

If you said Breton Rock, the 12/1 winner, well done, your eyes still work and you're probably not colour blind. [Click the image if it's a bit small, and it will open in a new window]

The  presence of Instant Expert in the Champions Day programme is great for a number of reasons. Obviously, from a personal perspective it's very gratifying to be playing a tiny part in such a big day. But it represents a lot more than that. I believe this is a recognition that there is a better way to help newcomers to the sport, or those who are short on time, to get a handle on the form.

Clearly this is not the alpha and omega of form reading - Geegeez Gold has other tools for that, like pace analysis, form filters, trainer/jockey reports, hot form races, subsequent form analysis and so on - but it is (in my completely biased opinion) the most accessible route to making an informed betting decision for people who know little or nothing about horse racing form.

And it's pretty bloody good for those who know loads about horse racing form, too!

So yes, I'm thrilled about this, though of course the curse of the big moment means that Instant Expert will now fail to flag a winner on Saturday!

I need to thank all Gold subscribers for their feedback and support, which has made all of the features and tools what they are, and will continue to shape the future of Geegeez Gold.

**

For those of you who are not Gold subscribers, why not?! 😉

Actually, on a more serious note, I wanted to do more to showcase Gold features to non-subscribers, so we now have two things that all registered users (i.e. free subscribers) can access:

1. Race of the Day offers full access to Instant Expert, Pace Analysis, trainer and jockey form indicators and more for the second most valuable race each day. Today it's the 3.50 Huntingdon. You'll know which race it is if you're a free logged in user, as it will be highlighted by a big yellow bar.

2. Feature of the Day varies from day to day and gives free logged in users access to one facet of the Gold fraternity each day. On Mondays it is Stat of the Day (yesterday's free SotD tip was an easy 9/2 winner). Tuesdays (i.e. today) it's The Shortlist report. Wednesday is Trainer Stats report day; Thursday opens up the Instant Expert tab for ALL races; Friday showcases the Horses For Courses report; Saturday has the Trainer/Jockey Combo report; and Sunday brings the Pace Analysis tab to all.

Phew! That's pretty cool, right?

If you're a free user, you MUST check out these freebies. They're sure to help your betting. And if you want to upgrade to an unrestricted trial of Gold for ten days (it's only £24 a month, or £197 a year, thereafter, which is ridiculously good value compared to other services), you can do so here:

Take a 10 Day Totally Unlimited Gold Trial

If you're not yet a free user, and you bet on horses, you are seriously missing out. Seriously. Missing. Out. You can register for a free account here:

Get a free account here

That's all for today. Good luck!

Matt

Cirrus Des Aigles – Return of the King

Cirrus Des Aigles

Cirrus and Frankel

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.

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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.

A Just Champion Weekend…

Farhh won 2014 QIPCO Champion Stakes

Farhh won Champion Stakes

It was a Champion weekend, in every sense of the phrase. Not only was it actually British Champions Day at Ascot, but there were also some Cheltenham champs limbering up for bigger pots later in the season, and it was my birthday. Champion!

Friday was the start of it all. A forty-second anniversary and quiet reflection on what has been the best year of my life on a personal level, with the joyful development of young Leonardo. Of course, it's also a time to contemplate the state of the business and, on that front, it's also been a year of development. More on that anon.

More importantly for everyone else, Friday saw the opening pages drafted in the latest edition of the jump racing almanac. Cheltenham's Showcase meeting might be one of their quieter gatherings, but it has deep symbolic resonance as the start of the National Hunt season proper. Whether you enjoy Summer jumps - as I do - or you think the more hardy elements of the thoroughbred herd should take their turn only hibernally, the chill and the rain - and the accompanying mud and frosted breath of so many stoutly-conceived equines - will have been a pleasurable portent of what is to come.

In terms of potential Festival winners in the midst (it is an unwritten rule that, like a massive whodunnit, every character in this vast play is thought of as a potential Cheltenham prospect when the final act is played out on the same stage in March), there was little to get excited about.

Twirling Magnet was impressive, and fair bounded away from a group that had mainly been outclassing summer rivals. And Trackmate has shown his hand in such a way as to ensure that he's well known to the handicapper come the Spring. Nevertheless, these were both taking performances in their own right, and both horses should be winning again before 2013 is through.

Friday evening was a rare night out, as Mrs Matt - Carole - indulged me in wine and beef at one of Angel's more established eateries. Consequently, Saturday morning was a touch on the fuzzy-headed side. But no time to wallow for this was British Champions Day.

Much has been written of Champions Day, before and since the day itself, and I'll only briefly chip in with my tuppence. Firstly, I think the talk of whether mid-October is the 'right' slot for it misses the point somewhat. By definition a Champions Day must fall at the end of the season, to allow horses to previously identify themselves as champions, either potential or actual.

British Champions Day has an issue that such as the Cheltenham Festival will never have: that of international competition. While British jump racing rules as a dictatorship only occasionally threatened by an Irish uprising, the flat game is exponentially more global. And, as a new day, it has to find a place in the calendar not already established for existing championship events. Specifically, it has to fall between Arc weekend - always the first Sunday in October - and the Breeders Cup jamboree, which seems to have settled in California in the first weekend of November.

Logically, then, mid-October is its spot. Earlier than the Arc, and it risks becoming a warm up for that peerless event; later and it... well, it cannot be later for all sorts of reasons (weather, overseas international events, jump racing).

So let's move on from that, and accept that the weather may be miserable and that some of the horses that don't act on what might be a soft surface may not turn up. You can't have everything. Not even if you're Rod Street!

The action itself more than vindicated the position in the calendar. While it was undoubtedly tough to find winners - as anyone who followed me in with my preview will know, most of that motley crew still searching for the furlong pole - the sport was treated to close finishes, story horses, and a resurgence of 'British' (and Irish) champions on British Champions Day after a battering in France a fortnight previously.

Royal Diamond was a Group 1 winner running in the Group 3 Long Distance Cup. That he won at 20/1 owed a lot to a) his dismal show in the Irish Leger last time, and b) a typically excellent big race ride from his trainer, Johnny Murtagh. A legitimate champion in the staying division, if only with hindsight.

In the sprint, Maarek left his mojo on the Paris turf, as he lolloped out of the gate and failed to register a blow. In Slade Power, a horse I pooh-poohed as not good enough, there was mud in my eye as that fellow showed real tenacity to withstand a sustained challenge from divot-loving Jack Dexter. That one now has a first blot on his soft ground copybook, which subsequently reads 1111112.

Still, he lost no quarter in a neck defeat, and with more than three lengths back to the third, both ran with great credit. Slade Power was second in a Group 1 last time out, behind the QE II-bound Gordon Lord Byron, so he was hardly a shock winner. At least to many other people he wasn't. To me, he was one that if I was a bookmaker I would have been trying to 'get'. Just as well I'm not a bookmaker.

It was back to the shocks in the Fillies and Mares race, upgraded to Group 1 status for the first time. Of the prior Group 1 winners, Dalkala could only finish fourth, and Talent only third, behind improvers Seal Of Approval and Belle de Crecy. There was no fluke about Seal Of Approval's win, as she showed abundant stamina to motor clear of a well-matched set of rivals in the final eighth of a mile, and win as she liked by four long lengths.

Johnny Murtagh trained and rode the second, Belle de Crecy, and had a good winner in Ireland as well for what was perhaps his finest hour in a career of many such precious moments.

If Seal Of Approval was a shock to many - and as the 16/1 outsider of the field, she was a shock to many - glorious hindsight revealed to us that, while she may not have had the form in the book, and while she may have been returning after that ugly incident in the Park Hill Stakes that ultimately robbed Hayley Turner of Group 1 glory this day, she was unbeaten since her debut in completed starts.

Unbeaten and progressive in a field that otherwise looked beatable, as I'd implied in my preview ramblings. Yep, quite easy with hindsight.

Next up the established championship events. First the mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, where Dawn Approach was bidding to repair his slipping reputation as top of the miler class. He'd looked a little 'over the top' in France last time, and so it proved as he jogged home in fourth, six lengths behind Toronado's stunt double, Olympic Glory.

The Glory himself had something to prove after a real thumping from Maxios last time, and I sided with the French-trained monsieur here. He finished tailed off, as Olympic Glory waltzed away from his field, leaving story horses Top Notch Tonto and Kingsbarns to pick up the place pieces.

Top Notch Tonto was bought at Tattersalls Ireland in September 2011 for €3,000 - or £2,536.13 at this morning's exchange rate. He won almost a hundred times that amount for finishing second here, and got a raucous cheer from the underdog-loving crowd.

In third was last year's Racing Post Trophy winner, and one of this year's major absentees, showing his appreciation for cut in the ground and offering plenty of winter warmth for - granted, fairly comfortable - connections. He'll be a miler for the Premier League next season if keeping off the treatment table.

In fourth and fifth were Dawn Approach and Elusive Kate, both of which have seemed below their previous best in recent starts. They gave the form a most solid look to it, with the likes of Maxios and Soft Falling Rain - poorly named as it turns out - vying for the lantern rouge with pacemaker, Burwaaz.

The Glory was a gettable winner - though, on this day when I'd have missed if I'd tried to pick my nose, not of course for me, or for those of you who followed me. We'll have plenty of better days and, naturally after five reversals, not many worse. Mercifully.

No time for self-pity, though, as it was time for Cirrus Des Aigles to do his thing in the Champion Stakes. Winner of the inaugural Ascot version two years ago, and bested only by the Frankel unit last term, he came here off the back of an authoritative Prix Dollar success in Paris two weeks ago.

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But, like all of the other beasts that tried to take in both events, he had left his winning chance on the Dover-Calais Sealink. Unlike almost all of the other beasts that tried to take in both events, however, he was only just denied and by a very good horse.

Yes, it was a case of so near, so Farhh, as the Godolphin sick note showed his Darren Anderton-esque class when actually making it to the track, by cruising through the race and then quickening and battling well to withstand the duel challengers of Cirrus and Ruler Of The World.

Both the placed horses had run at Longchamp two weeks ago, and both performed with great credit here. It was a redemption of sorts for the Derby form, as Ruler Of The World played a blinder and, like stablemate Kingsbarns - and indeed Eye Of The Storm in the staying division - hinted at plenty more next season.

Battered and bloodied from a day of errant wagering (the words 'banjo' and 'cow's arse' spring to mind), I somehow fluked my way in front with a score each way on Breton Rock in the ridiculous apprentice handicap that closes the card. I've always liked that race... 😉

****

Elsewhere, and Cheltenham hosted its own Saturday meet, where the star of the show was Balthazar King, doing what he does best and leading from tape to lollipop. The King fair bounded up the Cheltenham hill and must be a gimme on good ground for the Cross Country in March.

Both Balthazar and Breton were nominated on The Shortlist on Saturday, at 13/2 and 14/1 respectively, before returning 7/2 and 12/1.

It was a fine day all round for the free geegeez tips, as Chris was in standout form, highlighting a 17/1 double on Double Dutch, and a 9/1 second each way for Stat of the Day.

With the Premier League tips coming out in front too, it was only my Ascot preview that let the side down. Hmm...

Sunday had its own headline-makers, with a match at Kempton between 2012 Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby, and 2013 Neptune winner, The New One. The latter was a decisive winner and, while I wouldn't necessarily want to back Rock On Ruby for 2014 Champion success, do keep in mind that plenty of these early skirmishes will be ripe for form reversals five months hence.

In fact, there's talk of a possible tilt at the World Hurdle for Ruby, and that might be an interesting alternative, though he has to prove his stamina for an extra mile. The winner was impressive by any measure, and he's the favourite or joint favourite in almost all lists at around 5/1. That's hardly value so far from the big event, as he's unlikely to be shorter than 3/1 on the day, irrespective of what happens between now and then.

And yesterday, Our Conor had a spin on the flat where he finished a promising fourth in a big field. He found a little bit of trouble in running and his jockey was easy enough on him too. This run was actually on a par with his best on the level, and will have put him right for his first timber-topping engagement in the Morgiana.

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Despite the seasonal returns of some big names this weekend, the flat has yet to yield its primary grasp on my attentions. Next weekend sees the Racing Post Trophy, a contest which has probably the most impressive roll of honour of any juvenile race in recent times: Kingsbarns won it last year, following in the hoof prints of Camelot, St Nicholas Abbey, Authorized, Motivator, and High Chapparal since the turn of the century.

With Toormore and War Command still engaged as I write, it looks like it could be another champion-maker.

More exciting for many - this scribe definitely included - is the upcoming Breeders Cup championship in California. I'll be there, reporting for geegeez, and I'll also have an array of statistical ammunition for you between now and then to help you understand what it takes to win these end-of-season scraps, and which of the US nags to fear the most.

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We're entering sales season now. The major yearling sales are underway currently, and will be followed next week by the biggest auction of them all, the Autumn Horses in Training sale at Newmarket's Tattersalls ring.

I'm sorely tempted to form another geegeez syndicate, and here's what I'm thinking...

The loose plan is to buy a three-year-old off the flat, that is bred to stay two miles and improve a fair bit. Clearly, the level of competition at the sales (the yearling sale broke all sorts of records) means that we'd be unlikely to get a Cheltenham runner for the sort of money I'm proposing. But you never know. Top Notch Tonto almost won the Group 1 Champion Stakes and he was virtually given away.

If that's unlikely then what is a near certainty is that we'll have some fun, and hopefully win some races. After that, we'll see.

So, I'm thinking of a group of 16 to 20, buying a horse for up to £20k. With transport, sale fees, registration and insurance, we'd be looking at £1,500 up front and then £100 to £125 a month thereafter. Leave a comment please if this might be of interest.

If there's enough interest, we'll do it. If there isn't, we won't. Simple as that! 🙂

That's all for today. Happy Monday, and let me know about the nag!

Matt

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Ascot racecourse hosts the inaugural QIPCO British Champions Day on 15 October. With champions to be crowned at sprint, middle and long distances, as well as over a mile and a Championship for fillies and mares, the day's racing will be the richest ever in Britain. Prize money will total around £3m. The one mile Championship race is the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, which has previously been run at Ascot's September meeting over the round course. Read more