Hard as Rock Roly can land a Ballydoyle Blitz

Saturday’s Sun Chariot Stakes is the feature race at Newmarket.

First run in 1966, it was originally open to three-year-old fillies and run over 10 furlongs. Older fillies and mares were invited in 1974, and the race was cut to its current distance of a mile in 2000. The race achieved Group 1 status in 2004.

The race regularly attracts the best milers from the UK, Ireland and France. The French have taken five of the last 10 renewals, thanks in the main to a stunning run of success from Sahpresa, who racked up a treble from 2009 to 2011.

Three-year-olds have a decent record, having won five of the last dozen, though only two of the last eight. Alice Springs took last year’s race, making it two from the last nine for trainer Aidan O’Brien.

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Roly Poly is possibly only third or fourth best of the Classic generation milers at Ballydoyle, but with others having run at the Arc meeting, she is his main contender for this. She has improved throughout the summer, chasing home the dual-Guineas heroine, Winter, on a couple of occasions, then landing the Falmouth and the Rothschild in July. She was below par in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown, when probably asked to do a little too much up front. Ryan Moore will be back onboard tomorrow, and she looks sure to go close.

The French challenge is a powerful one, with a trio of fillies representing arguably the best three trainers in the country. Jean-Claude Rouget’s Qemah is without doubt a high-class miler. Twice a Group One winner, she was fourth to Roly Poly in the Rothschild, though incurred traffic problems and got going far too late. Slightly disappointing at Leopardstown last time, when keen early and again doing her best work too late, she does needs things to fall just right if she is to land a blow. Nevertheless, she has the talent and the gears to go close.

Andre Fabre took the race with Esoterique in 2015 and has a leading contender in the Godolphin owned Usherette. She’s proved slightly disappointing this term, if a little unfortunate when third to Qemah in the Duke Of Cambridge at Ascot. Ridden from the front in the Rothschild, the change of tactics failed to spark improvement as she faded to sixth late-on. She did win a listed event last time, but will need to step forward again if she is to win this. Rain would probably help her cause, though I fancy she’ll find a few in better form on the day.

The final French challenger is trained by Freddy Head. Siyoushake was fourth in last year’s race and has run consistently well this season without success. A close third to Roly Poly in the Rothschild (without looking likely to win), she then finished runner-up in a Group One over 10 furlongs. She’s a solid performer at this level, and is likely to be doing her best work late on.

Her trainer spoke earlier in the week: “Siyoushake is still in great condition and I have been very happy with her work. We tried her over a mile and a quarter last time but I think that a mile is her best trip. I think that she has improved since her fourth in this race last year. It’s been a very good season for her and she’s been placed in a couple of Group 1s.”

Persuasive leads the UK challenge, and Gosden’s filly currently heads the market. She was runner-up in last year’s Matron Stakes, and though only third this time round, possibly ran slightly better, when finishing with a real rattle in just failing to catch Ballydoyle’s Hydrangea and Winter. Her belated return to action this summer came in the Rothschild, when a strong finishing fifth behind Roly Poly, and there’s every chance she’ll be able to reverse that form. Favourites have a good recent record, and I fancy she’ll be flying at the finish.

Aljazzi is the other significant UK contender and trained locally by Marco Botti. Runner-up to Qemah in the Duke Of Cambridge at Royal Ascot when a 40/1 shot, she was very impressive last time when winning a Group Three at Sandown. Like Persuasive, she arrives here a relatively fresh filly and looks to be improving at a fair old rate. This is a hugely competitive renewal, but several of the leading players appear exposed, and the race may be open to an improving sort.

This is a tough race to call, and though I’m not convinced Roly Poly is as good as last year’s winner Alice Springs, she arrives here off the back of a very similar looking campaign. O’Brien clearly believes that she is hardy enough to take this on her eighth start of the season (identical number as Alice in 2016) and who am I to argue.

As O’Brien hunts down Bobby Frankel’s Group One winning record, I’ll take Roly Poly to land the Sun Chariot. Persuasive looks sure to go close, but still needs to prove she can win a Group One. She lacks gears for me, and though I see her finishing strongly she may find herself with a little too much ground to make up. Best of luck to those having a punt.

Rohaut’s Gelding Dominant in de Gheest

The highlight of the weekend’s action came from France with the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville.

The outstanding sprinter Muhaarar had taken the race last year, adding his name to a classy looking roll of honour which includes a trio of stars from French training dynasty, the Head’s, with Anabaa trained by Criquette, then Marchand d’Or and the wonderful Moonlight Cloud, trained by Freddy. The latter pair are the most successful in the races history, with three wins apiece.

Yesterday saw another French trained winner, when Francois Rohaut’s Signs Of Blessing made every yard to win by more than a length. In sprinting terms this was a relatively straight forward success with Stephane Pasquier controlling the race from the front, and never seriously threatened. The five-year-old had previously finished a close third to Twilight Son in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot. He continues on a steep upward curve since a gelding operation at the end of his last campaign.

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His trainer spoke after the victory, saying: “This horse has always shown a huge amount of promise and I am delighted he has been able to make good on it today. Things didn't go well last year but this proves we made the right decision to geld him. He will have a break and then go back to Ascot. If all goes well he could go to Hong Kong after that.”

Richard Fahey’s Donjuan Triumphant bounced back to form to finish second, after a lacklustre run last time in the Commonwealth Cup. The Andre Fabre-trained Jimmy Two Times was a neck further back in third, followed home by Suedois and Dutch Connection.

David O’Meara’s Suedois continues to run consistently at the highest level without managing to get his head in front. Runner-up in the Darley July Cup last time, he was part of the blanket finish behind Twilight Son at Royal Ascot, and prior to that just half a length behind Magical Memory in a Group 2 at York. He’s one to keep on side in the major sprints, especially on quick ground.

Dutch Connection also needs fast ground to be seen at his best. Charlie Hills was sending the four-year-old back into battle just 11 days after his Lennox Stakes success. Though he gave a solid performance, he always looked to be under pressure among these speedsters, and he’ll need to go back up in trip during the remainder of the campaign.

The Deauville showpiece was sadly marred by the fatal injury to Hong Kong’s Gold-Fun. The Diamond Jubilee runner-up was under pressure approaching the final furlong, and fell dramatically when fading in midfield. It is thought that the fall was due to a broken leg.

Both Donjuan Triumphant and Dutch Connection are expected to return to France for the Prix de la Foret. The race will be held at Chantilly, and could be used as a stepping stone toward the Breeders’ Cup Mile by Charlie Hills. The trainer said after Sunday’s run: “He was stepping back in trip and has run a very good race considering I didn't think the draw was ideal and that he had a lot of ground to make up from halfway. Ideally the ground will be quicker if he comes back to France for the Foret. But the big target is the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita.”

Fabre leads Formidable French Challenge

Fabre holds Aces

Fabre holds Aces

The French have something of a stranglehold on the Breeders’ Cup Mile, with the most recent win coming in last year’s renewal thanks to the Jonathan Pease trained Karakontie, who aims for a repeat success on Saturday.

Pease also sent out the winner in 1997 when Spinning World charged clear inside the final furlong. When announcing his intention to retire at the end of the season he spoke of his greatest achievements saying: “The highlights of my training career have been winning the 2004 Arc with Bago and three Breeders' Cup races: in 1994 (Tikkanen), 1997 (Spinning World) and 2014 (Karakontie).” He arrives this week at Keeneland hoping to sign off in style.

Freddy Head is responsible for the most prolific winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Goldikova dominated the race from 2008 to 2010 and incredibly attempted a fourth straight win in 2011, when finishing a gallant third. An outstanding mare, she won a host of Group 1’s beating mares and colts alike.

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Twenty years earlier Head was riding an exceptional mare to victory in America. Miesque was trained by Francois Boutin and took the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1987. She broke the Hollywood Park track record when winning her first ‘Mile’ and a year later retained her crown when destroying a strong field at Churchill Downs by four lengths. She finished her career with 12 wins from 16 starts, 10 of those victories at Group 1 level.

Pascal Bary was an assistant to Boutin early in his career, and mirrored the success of his old boss when taking the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2002 and 2003. He managed the feat with two different horses, one of them another terrific filly in Six Perfections. A year earlier Domedriver had caused a huge upset when defeating the outstanding miler Rock of Gibraltar.

The first French trainer to strike gold in the race was Robert Collet, when he saddled Last Tycoon to victory in 1986. A year later Collet completed an extraordinary training feat, when he saddled Le Glorieux to a trio of Group 1’s in three different continents. The horse managed to win in America, Berlin and then in Japan. He later had a rather less spectacular spell at stud, though was responsible for the mare Buck’s, who in turn became the dam of non-other than Big Buck’s.

Anyhow, back to the matter at hand, and this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Mile with the prospect of further French success. Andre Fabre dominates the betting with Esoterique and Make Believe. The latter took the French Guineas at the start of the season, and roared back to form with a win at Longchamp earlier this month in the Prix de la Foret. The son of Makfi has gears, and looks the sort to do well in this.

Esoterique has had a terrific season competing at the highest level. She comes here off the back of a stylish win in the Sun Chariot Stakes. Adaptable as regards ground conditions, she is a powerful mare with plenty of speed, as she proved when only just beaten by Muharaar at Deauville in August. She looks sure to go close in this event that has gone to so many classy mares in the past.

Impassable is another French filly that cannot be discounted. Carrying the famous Wertheimer silks that were worn to victory so often by Goldikova, she lacks the experience at the top level though was a cosy winner of a Group 2 last time at Longchamp. That win was even more impressive, coming after a four month absence.

The Brits are dependent on Roger Charlton’s classy colt Time Test. Conditions may well have turned against him as he looked at his very best on rattling ground at Royal Ascot in June. There’s also the likelihood that he is a better horse at 10 furlongs, and this tight track over a mile may prove problematic.

Yet another filly looks to be the best of the home team. Tepin warmed up for this with a stunning seven length victory in a Grade 1 over course and distance. She appeared to appreciate the ease in ground conditions and looks a real danger to the European challenge.

That challenge could well prove to be a glorious one once again, in a race that has so often proved rewarding. Monsieur Fabre appears to hold a pair of Aces, though there remains uncertainty as to whether we see a King or a Queen crowned come Saturday.

Golden Horn leads European raid on Breeders’ Cup

Breeders' Cup Heroine Goldikova

Breeders' Cup Heroine Goldikova

The 2015 Breeders’ Cup is just over a week away. A staggering $26 million in prize money is up for grabs during two thrilling days of high-class international horse racing.

This year’s event moves to the prestigious Keeneland Racecourse, in Lexington, Kentucky. With 13 Grade 1 races to be won we will again be treated to a Europe versus America confrontation that always adds intrigue to the whole experience.

Wonderful racehorses have crossed the Atlantic over the years, hoping to defeat the best American thoroughbreds in their own back yard. And the list of those finding a pot of gold at the end of that Breeders’ Cup rainbow is a truly dazzling one.

Ouija Board and Goldikova were two of Europe’s great fillies, and they conquered America five times in total. Freddy Head’s wonderful French mare was spectacular when winning her third Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2010. Ridden by Peslier, she had to be brought wide to challenge, but showed her trademark burst of speed to sweep through for a stunning success. She became a huge favourite of the American public.

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Aidan O’Brien’s High Chaparral and Sir Michael Stoute’s Conduit both managed to complete a Breeders’ Cup Turf double during their illustrious careers. John Gosden is another that loves to plunder prizes from ‘across the pond’, and had the audacity to win ‘The Classic’ in 2008 with Raven’s Pass, defeating Henrythenavigator in the process.

The Filly and Mare Turf has proved a happy hunting ground for European horses in the past. Alongside Ouija Board’s achievements Sir Michael Stoute has twice captured the race with Dank and Islington. The great Sir Henry Cecil also saddled the winner when his brilliant Midday took the prize. And it will come as no surprise to see Aidan O’Brien’s name on numerous winners lists, as along with High Chaparral he’s saddled the likes of Magician and St Nicholas Abbey to name just a few.

Not to be out-done the French trained challengers have been no-less successful. Andre Fabre’s Flintshire may have just missed out in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last year, but Fabre has tasted success in ‘The Classic’, the Filly and Mare Turf, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf. In 2005 it was the globe-trotting Shirocco who took the latter. During his career the colt won six major group races in five countries.

Other great French trainers to find America to their liking include Freddy Head and the legendary Francois Boutin.

As the entries came out today it became clear that another sizeable European raiding party will once again launch a challenge on America’s most prestigious racing weekend. The assault will be led by the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Golden Horn. Anthony Oppenheimer's sensational three-year-old colt will look to end his racing career in style, and is a short-priced favourite to do so in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

The Filly and Mare Turf again looks likely to go the way of Europe with Legatissimo and Secret Gesture both fancied to run huge races. The Guineas winner looks set to go off favourite, and will take all the beating, especially if she turns up in the same form as when cruising to victory in the Matron Stakes in September.

The Breeders’ Cup Mile appears another that is destined to head Europe’s way, in particular to France. Last year it was French based Northumbrian Jonathan Pease who trained the winner, when his Karakontie added to a French 2,000 Guineas success. Pease is due to retire after 37 years of training in France, and would love to add another Breeders’ Cup success to his CV. He faces stiff opposition from fellow French trained horses if he is to repeat the win. Esoterique and Make Believe are two in particular that look sure to go close.

The Juvenile Fillies Turf is another with a strong European contingent. Ballydoyle youngsters are always competitive, and it appears that Alice Springs is likely to take her chance. She looks set to be joined by Richard Hannon’s classy filly Illuminate. The latter lost her unbeaten tag when both chased home Lumiere in the Cheveley Park Stakes in September.

I’ve merely scratched the surface with this particular piece, but during the build-up will look at the main events in far more detail. I’ll also cast a glance at some of the stars of previous Breeders’ Cups, both equine and human.

Solow Head’s Overseas Raiding Party

Solow - So Good

Solow - So Good

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.

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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.

Wertheimer Brothers and those Famous Silks

Those Famous Silks

Those Famous Silks

They may not have a horse in the showpiece event but the famous Blue and White silks of the Wertheimer brothers’ will be carried in several other races during Longchamp’s most prestigious meeting.

Owners of the Chanel fashion empire in Paris, they inherited the company and the horse racing business from their father Jacques. His father Pierre had owned and bred racehorses in France from the early part of the 20th century. In 1949 he had employed a young Alec Head to train his horses. The partnership generated huge success not only in France, but in England too, winning English classics including the Derby at Epsom.

Under the guidance of Jacques Wertheimer, the business continued to thrive, with Head continuing to train numerous Group winners in France including two Prix de l’Arc victories with Ivanjica and Gold River. In the 1970’s Wertheimer expanded the thriving bloodstock enterprise, with a base at Hagyard Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. French classic winners, including Dancing Maid and Gold River became broodmares in America.

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On Alec Head’s retirement, his daughter Criquette took over training responsibilities and further success followed. And when brothers Alain and Gerard took over the family enterprise the transition again proved seamless. Known as Wertheimer & Frere (Wertheimer and Brother) in Europe, the team have continued to be a dominant force in French racing. Leading breeders on three occasions, they were also champion owners in 2012 and 2013.

In America the Wertheimer brothers took the 1993 Breeders' Cup Turf with Kotashaan. In 2003, they had further Breeders’ Cup success when Halfbridled took the Juvenile Fillies. Both horses had been trained in America by Richard Mandella. The family had further success across the Atlantic when their sensational filly Goldikova took the Breeders’ Cup Mile three years running in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Goldikova was trained by yet another of the Head family, Criquette’s brother Freddy Head. The wonderful filly probably did more than any other to make those blue and white silks famous. Dominant on home turf, especially at seven furlongs or a mile, she earned over €5 million in prize money.

A regular at Longchamp for the Arc meeting, Goldikova won the Prix de la Foret in 2010 defeating Paco Boy and Dick Turpin in a thrilling finish. In 27 career starts she was only out of the first three on one occasion, and the vast majority of those races were at the highest level. When she finally retired at the end of her six-year-old campaign, she had won an incredible 14 Group 1s.

Long term relationships have been a theme of Wertheimers’ time in racing. Another that only recently ended was that of retained jockey Olivier Peslier. A constant throughout Goldikova’s career, he also rode Solemia for connections to a shock victory in the 2012 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. It proved a day of heartbreak for Japan, when their outstanding colt Orfevre swept to the front looking a certain winner, only to be done on the line in an incredible finish.

The split with Peslier appeared amicable, and in racing as in business things change and people move on. Maxime Guyon has taken over riding responsibilities, though Peslier is still regularly called upon. The latest equine star for connections is Solow, trained by Freddy Head and likely to be seen at Ascot later this month. He appears to have taken on the mantle of Goldikova, and has proved unbeatable this year at a mile.

With around 75 horses in training, the majority now shared between Freddy Head, Andre Fabre and Carlos Laffon-Parias, the famous blue and white silks will be seen in a handful of races at Longchamp this weekend. In particular, a pair of promising juveniles will be tested in the Marcel Boussac and the Lagardere. Left Hand is a nicely bred filly and though this looks a huge step up after only one outing, the drying conditions should be in her favour if pedigree is anything to go by.

With a reputation for producing outstanding fillies, the Wertheimer brothers will be hoping for more success at France’s most prestigious meeting.

International flavour to Royal Ascot

American Star - California Chrome

American Star - California Chrome

Royal Ascot is now less than a week away, and the excitement continues to build. There’s set to be a real international flavour to the meeting, with equine talent from Hong Kong, Australia, America and Japan, just to name a few.

One of the highlights of the week could well be the Queen Anne Stakes on the opening day. Freddy Head brings Solow over from France. He’s looked sensational since dropping back in trip, and his last two victories at Meydan and Longchamp are the reason he will go off a short-priced favourite on Tuesday. This however looks sure to be his greatest test to date, and a champion from Hong Kong lies in wait.

Able Friend has proven untouchable at Sha Tin, though the straight mile at Ascot is sure to prove a very different proposition. He’s won his last six races, four of those Group 1 contests. Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira will be on board and spoke of the huge occasion: “He's such a big and strong horse. You wouldn't think he could go that fast, but his stride is just amazing. He has put up some really good times and I'm very lucky to be able to ride him. I'm just hoping he brings his best over because if he does I know he could be fighting for the win.”

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Hannon’s Night Of Thunder will lead the home challenge. The 2,000 Guineas winner of 2014 and last month’s Lockinge hero found Kingman to sharp for him at last year’s royal meeting. He’s sure to improve for his Newbury win, and his trainer has a cracking record in the race.

The Prince of Wales’s Stakes is another international affair that’s sure to prove an absolute thriller. California Chrome is one of America’s superstars. So close to achieving the Triple Crown last year, this mile and a quarter trip will be ideal.

Ectot arrives from France and has come in for serious support over recent days. Last seen disappointing in the Arc, he had won the Prix Niel prior to that and is clearly a top class racehorse. The French have taken this event three times in the last ten years and this four-year-old son of Hurricane Run could add to that tally.

The Irish have the current favourite thanks to the Dermot Weld trained Free Eagle. Weld has a stunning strike rate at Royal Ascot, and this son of High Chaparral has always been highly thought of. He ran a cracker on Champions Day last October, when having only his fourth career outing.

New Zealand also has a challenger for the Prince of Wales’s in the shape of the David Hayes trained Criterion. On the bare form he’s shown to date, the four-year-old probably has a little to find, but by all accounts he is thriving since arriving in the UK. His trainer appeared positive when saying: “He has really settled in well. He had a look around Ascot two weeks out from his race to have a look at the course and give him a simulation of a race and he came through that very well. More importantly, that brought him on and switched him on again.”

Trainers and owners from Japan are renowned for sending horses to France in October in an attempt to lift the Arc, but ventures to Royal Ascot are far less common. Spielberg arrives on our shores representing owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto. A six-year-old son of famous Japanese stallion Deep Impact, he brings strong form, and racing manager Nobutaka Tada spoke in bullish terms: “Spielberg is one of the best horses in Japan and finished third in the Japan Cup a few years ago, but we feel he's better over a mile and a quarter and won the Tenno Sho at that distance last November. He likes to come from behind and we hope he can be competitive in what looks a strong race. We have booked Christophe Soumillon, who is a top-class jockey.”

For many, Royal Ascot is the highlight of the flat racing season. Drawing top-class horses from around the globe certainly adds to the excitement for what is always a stellar event.

Dreams come true on Champions Day

Noble Mission

Noble Mission battles to glory

On Saturday the Qipco Champions Series came to its dramatic Read more

A David and Goliath QE2

Queen Elizabeth ll Stakes

Olympic Glory wins last year's QE2

Further rain at Ascot today saw the going changed to soft, heavy in places. With the unsettled spell set to continue right through the week, heavy ground on Saturday looks a certainty. The weather ensured that Toronado would be rerouted to the US and a crack at the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Jockey Richard Hughes was adamant that the horse would not have handled conditions at Ascot.

The jockey’s switch to Night Of Thunder has seen the Guineas winner installed as favourite for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Though his Newmarket Group 1 success in the 2000 Guineas came on fast ground, he was impressive as a two-year-old on soft. Vibes from the stable are positive, and with three-year-olds having such a good record in the race, he has every right to be at the head of the market.

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Indeed this appears to be a race where testing conditions are set to suit many of the leading contenders. Charm Spirit continues to prove popular with the punters. Should Freddy Head take up the entry and travel over from France, the recent Prix du Moulin winner looks sure to go close. He defeated Night Of Thunder that day, though Hannon’s horse appeared unlucky in running and finished strongly. Head sounded confident when recently saying, “He has improved a lot since he last came to England. The ground at Ascot will not bother him.”

Top Notch Tonto was second in the race last year. Trainer Brian Ellison will have been thrilled to see so much rain fall, as his stable star relishes a mud fight. Dale Swift has been confirmed as the big-race jockey. Owner Keith Brown spoke of his pride and joy, “The horse could not be in better form. We really can’t wait for it.”

Tullius is another that loves to get his hooves mucky. His season’s best came in the mud at Sandown when thrashing Montiridge. He then ran well on quicker ground behind the two Hannon absentees, Olympic Glory and Toronado, at Newbury and Ascot. Ground is definitely the key to this fella, and a big run is anticipated on Saturday.

With so many horses swerving the ‘big day’, it’s great to see David O’Meara taking a chance with the progressive Custom Cut. Supplemented at a cost of £70,000 the trainer is confident his horse will handle the conditions. It could be an incredible day for O’Meara, with his G Force currently favourite for ‘the sprint’. Any success on Saturday would cap an unforgettable year.

Two powerful stables that cannot be overlooked are those of Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien. The latter in particular has a terrific record in the race with three wins from the last eight renewals. Kingsbarns is a possible runner and was third in the race last year. Integral is sent into battle against the boys. She has proved herself the best of her sex at the distance and the stable appear confident of a big run.

Top-class contenders may have fallen by the wayside, and the elements have done their utmost to dampen enthusiasm, but of all the ‘Champions Day’ races it seems to me that the QE2 has come through relatively unscathed. If anything the race has been enhanced by circumstances. A mix of David and Goliaths of the Flat racing world will compete for the major prize, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will rise from the mud victorious.