‘Magician’ Cirrus Des Aigles helped to light up inaugural Champions Day

In October 2011 the first Qipco British Champions Day took place – an end-of-season meeting which combined existing Newmarket and Ascot fixtures, offering a prize fund sufficient to earn the title ‘Britain’s richest raceday’.

The inaugural running was the scene of Frankel’s four-length Queen Elizabeth II Stakes victory, but spectators were offered another treat when the ever-popular Cirrus Des Aigles made his Group One breakthrough in the Champion Stakes.

Trained in France by Corine Barande-Barbe, the gelding had been in superb form throughout his five-year-old season, running in nine successive Group contests and either winning or being only narrowly beaten each time.

A Group One title was not among those victories, however, and at that point a top-level win had alluded the bay – beaten just a neck in both the Prix d’Ispahan and the Grand Prix De Saint-Cloud.

Cirrus Des Aigles with Barande-Barbe (left) and Soumillon (right) after his Ascot victory
Cirrus Des Aigles with Barande-Barbe (left) and Soumillon (right) after his Ascot victory (Steve Parsons/PA)

Based in Chantilly and campaigned largely on French soil, Cirrus Des Aigles had previously journeyed to both Sha Tin and Tokyo but never before ventured across the channel to Britain.

The creation of British Champions Day and its record-breaking purse was enough to tempt Barande-Barbe over to Ascot, coupled with Cirrus Des Aigles’ short-neck loss in the Prix Dollar – a defeat she attributed to him becoming over-familiar with the track at Longchamp and anticipating the position of the first of two winning posts.

“He had a very big season that first year,” she said.

“He was just beaten in the Prix Dollar, because he’d mistaken the post.

“The horse knows Longchamp very well and stopped after the post, so I thought we’d go to England.

“People thought he was tired – but he wasn’t.”

Transferring from Newmarket to Ascot and offering a total purse of £1,300,000, the Champion Stakes attracted a host of big names – including So You Think after his Coral-Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes success, three-time Nassau Stakes heroine Midday, King George VI winner Nathaniel and dual Oaks-winning filly Snow Fairy.

But Barande-Barbe was far from intimidated by the stellar form of Cirrus Des Aigles’ rivals.

Cirrus Des Aigles holding off So You Think
Cirrus Des Aigles holding off So You Think (Steve Parsons/PA)

“I really went there confident,” she said.

“I know people thought we were crazy to even consider it, because he hadn’t won a Group One and there were seven winners of 15 Group Ones in the race; So You Think, Snow Fairy and Nathaniel and so on, and he won. He still won.”

Ridden by Christophe Soumillon and sent to post at 12-1, Barande-Barbe’s star fought off both So You Think and Snow Fairy to cross the line three-quarters of a length ahead of Aidan O’Brien’s runner and land the first of his seven career Group One wins.

“It was a great, great moment,” added Barande-Barbe.

“It was a first Group One for him and it was a very special day, because just one hour before the race Frankel won – and people were screaming everywhere.

“He was so proud – like they were screaming over him! I remember that very well.

“The year after they met in the same race, in the Group One, and he was second – and second again the following year.”

In between his visits to Ascot for the Champion Stakes, Cirrus Des Aigles went on to take the Dubai Sheema Classic in 2012, the Prix d’Ispahan and the Coronation Cup in 2014 – and also won the Prix Ganay on a record-breaking three occasions.

“His career was like a dream,” said Barande-Barbe.

“He was a magician, that horse.”

Barande-Barbe back in big time with Air De Valse

Corine Barande-Barbe is targeting the Prix de l’Abbaye with high-class sprinter Air De Valse.

The four-year-old was a rapid winner of the Group Three Prix du Petit Couvert at ParisLongchamp on Sunday, breaking the race record when stopping the clock at 55.34 seconds.

Barande-Barbe reports the filly is faring well after the performance, with a return to the same track to tackle Group One company now on the agenda.

“She is very well, this morning she was singing and jumping everywhere,” she said on Tuesday.

“She will probably go for the Prix de l’Abbaye, because what else is there? If you win the Prix du Petit Couvert and break the record then I think the right thing to do is to try the Prix de l’Abbaye.”

The Chantilly-based trainer has no firm plans beyond the five-furlong contest, with the possibility of engagements abroad complicated by the current travel restrictions.

She said: “It could be the end of her season, but she could also go to Hong Kong or something. It is very complicated and she is only four so we will decide after the race.”

The filly is the first top-class performer Barande-Barbe has handled since the retirement of the hugely-popular Cirrus Des Aigles.

The gelding ran his last race as a nine-year-old in December 2015, ending a career that saw him win 22 races, seven of them Group One contests.

Cirrus Des Aigles was a superstar for Corine Barande-Barbe
Cirrus Des Aigles was a superstar for Corine Barande-Barbe (Steve Parsons/PA)

Now 14, Cirrus Des Aigles amassed over £6million in prize-money with victories in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan and the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot among his achievements.

Barande-Barbe confirmed her former star is healthy and well in retirement, and highlighted the family connection between him and Air De Valse, who is sired by his brother.

“He is very happy and very proud, because she is his niece. The sire of Air De Valse is the brother to Cirrus Des Aigles, so he is very proud.

“He is enjoying life, you can follow him on Facebook, he has his own page and he’s very, very well. He’s 14 now, and he has plenty of happiness. He’s a proud uncle.”