Champions Day 2018 Preview
A big welcome to my Champions Day Preview of 2018. One of my favourite meetings of the year as we bring the curtain down on another Flat Season with a whole host of top drawer Group action to get stuck into. Sit back and enjoy!
1.25 – Long Distance Cup (Class 1) (Group 2) (2m)
The Long Distance Cup kicks things off on the 2018 edition of Champions Day at Ascot a Group 2 affair that’s contested over a distance of just shy of two miles. This year’s renewal see’s this season’s star stayer head affairs which is of course none other than Stradivarius (10/11) for John Gosden, who looks to round of a perfect season here. He’s taken everything before him so far this term culminating with a win in York’s Lonsdale Cup the last day where he claimed the million pound bonus. The one to beat here where he’s once again reunited with Frankie. The horse who finds himself closest to the market principal in the betting comes in the form of Aidan O’Brien’s Flag Of Honour (5/2). He comes here off the back of three straight wins the last of those coming in Group 1 company in the Irish St Leger where he disposed of the field rather comfortably. He looks to be potentially a worthy replacement for the yard’s recently retired staying star Order Of St George who won this last year. Ryan Moore takes the ride.
The oldest horse in the field and by quite a way is Willie Mullins Thomas Hobson (8/1) who got back to winning ways last time at Doncaster in the Group 2 Doncaster Cup when beating stablemate Max Dynamite. A solid performer at this level on his day and he’s the mount of Andrea Atzeni. Mount Moriah (20/1) will need to step up from what he’s shown so far this season as he’s been disappointing since winning on his first run of the campaign. Aidan O’Brien is also represented here by Cypress Creek (25/1) and Sir Erec (10/1). The latter looks to be the most interesting runner in the field, last seen when winning on heavy going in Listed company at Limerick last week. He’s the mount of Donnacha O’Brien. Desert Skyline (40/1) concludes the field, a more than capable performer on his day but will need to step up on recent performances. He’s partnered up with Gerald Mosse.
Stradivarius is the obvious one who’s going to be tough to beat if he’s anywhere near his best. However I was at York last time and he was looking fairly laboured against an arguably weaker field than this. I’m going to try and take the hot favourite on with FLAG OF HONOUR for Aidan O’Brien. I think this horse could well prove to be the stables new staying star and a bold showing here would be at all no surprise. Sir Erec is one to note also for the O’Brien yard who could outrun his odds.
FLAG OF HONOUR (5/2)
2.00 – Champion Sprint (Class 1) (Group 1) (6f)
The Champion Sprint is up next on this star studded card the first Group 1 of the afternoon. This is always a fiercely competitive affair and this year’s renewal is seemingly no different with Sprint Cup winner The Tin Man (3/1) currently heading affairs for James Fanshawe. Harry Angel (6/1) comes here attempting to put his Ascot problems behind him but he’ll also need to put a sub standard run in the Sprint Cup behind him as well this time around. Librisa Breeze (6/1) won this last year for Dean Ivory but hasn’t ran anywhere near to that kind of form this season and will need to recapture said performance should he feature here again, Robert Winston is once again on board. The ever present Brando (8/1) is certainly one of the more consistent performers in the field and he arrives here on the back of a fine second placed effort in the Sprint Cup and this time has the services of Jamie Spencer.
William Haggas is represented here by Tasleet (9/1) who was arguably a tad unlucky in the Sprint Cup last time and will enjoy any form of cut in the ground as is predicted the case here. He’s the mount of Jim Crowley. One of my all time favourite performers on the level is said to take his place despite the potentially soft surface and that’s Limato (12/1). He’s bounced back to form with three straight victories but his infamous dislike for anything other than Good/Good To Firm ground could well come back to haunt him once again here. Son Of Rest (20/1) shared the honours in the Ayr Gold Cup last time out and is once again reunited with Chris Hayes here and the Roger Charlton trained Projection (20/1) also comes into the race on the back of a victory and that came over course and distance in Group 3 company last time. Donjuan Triumphant (25/1) is another that will enjoy cut in the ground however his form is a little patchy and will need to take a sizable step up. James Doyle currently takes the ride on him.
One of the most difficult races of the afternoon to come up with a winner in as the majority of these have the credentials to win if they turn up on form. Harry Angel obviously has the ability to get involved but his record at Ascot is a concern as well as his run the last day at Haydock. Librisa Breeze has been poor this year and you’d be taking a chance on him returning to the form of his win in this last year. The Tin Man is possibly the most solid of selection however this reflects in his price. The one i’m going to take a chance on each way is TASLEET for William Haggas. He met slight interference the last day in the Sprint Cup when making his challenge and if the ground stays on the soft side of things I think he’ll handle it better than most.
TASLEET (9/1) (E/W)
2.40 – Fillies & Mares Stakes (Class 1) (Group 1) (1m 4f)
The Fillies and Mares Stakes is where the attention turns next another Group 1 affair this time contested over a distance of a mile and four furlongs. John Gosden once again trains the market leader here and that comes in the form of the St Leger second Lah Ti Dar (11/8). An impressive winner when back from a lay off on her penultimate start at York where she then went on to take a big step up to finish second behind Kew Gardens in the Doncaster classic. There’s likely a lot more to come from this clearly smart sort and she once again has the services of Dettori here. The Gosden yard is also represented here by the smart stayer that is Coronet (5/1), she was last seen when finishing second behind Sea Of Class in the Yorkshire Oaks and has the services of Olivier Peslier here. French master trainer Andre Fabre is represented here and his charge comes in the form of the Godolophin owned Kitesurf (5/1). Winner of a Group 1 the last day when defeating the smart Magic Wand at Longchamp it’d be no surprise to see this French raider lay down a serious challenge. Mickael Barzalona takes the ride.
It will come as no surprise that Aidan O’Brien has several representatives here and the Ballydoyle master has as many as six representatives in the field. The stronger of his challenges look to be the likes of Magical (10/1) and Hydrangea (9/1). The latter won this contest last year but hasn’t shown much since and the former got back to winning ways a few starts ago and is the choice of Ryan Moore. Bye Bye Baby (40/1), Broadway (66/1), Sizzling (66/1), and Flattering (100/1) make up the O’Brien raiders. The highly thought of Pilaster (12/1) for Roger Varian takes her place here with David Egan on board and the field is concluded by God Given (20/1) for Luca Cumani who was last seen when winning the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster. Jamie Spencer takes the ride.
A fantastic renewal of the Fillies & Mares this year in my opinion and a fascinating one to get your head around. Kitesurf could well be anything for her master trainer and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of the O’Brien challengers get up to win as it’s guaranteed to be a tactical affair. I’ve actually had two punts in this particular race though the first of these comes in the form of the favourite LAH TI DAR. I think there’s a lot more to come from this talented filly and I think she can continue her progression by putting a dominant display in this. The second one I like at a bigger price is PILASTER. She’s still very unexposed and got going a little too late on last time at Doncaster when well fancied. Like the market leader I think there’s a lot more to come from her and she could well outrun her odds here.
LAH TI DAR (11/8)
PILASTER (12/1) (E/W)
3.15 – Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Class 1) (Group 1) (1m)
One of the most highly anticipated races of the day and the Flat season in general is the QEII, a race that has a highly illustrious back catalogue of winners and this year’s renewal see’s a field that has amounted several big named players that could well join that list. The horse that heads affairs currently is a horse many will have as their horse of the season and that’s once again another John Gosden charge in Roaring Lion (10/11). Last seen when winning the Irish Champion Stakes after another thriller of a battle with Saxon Warrior this powerhouse of an animal will likely to take all the beating once again here with his ever reliant partner Oisin Murphy in the saddle. There’s plenty of top drawer opposition here though to give this hot favourite a lot to think about and heading the remainder of the field is French raider Recoletos (6/1) who was the market leader for a while before Roaring Lion got rerouted. He was last seen when narrowly winning in Group 1 company at Longchamp after he was beaten a couple of lengths by Alpha Centauri on his penultimate start. A serious player here and is the mount of Olivier Peslier. Fan favourite Laurens (7/1) takes her chance here for Karl Burke following on from another Group 1 success last time out at Newmarket. The time before that she lowered the colours of Alpha Centauri in Group 1 company at Leopardstown and if turning up in that kind of form she could give the boys a serious challenge here with a weight allowance. PJ McDonald returns to the saddle.
David O’Meara’s Lord Glitters (7/1) returns to home soil and takes his place here, an ultra consistent performer who’s the mount of Jamie Spencer. Addeybb (8/1) finally returns to the track as he’s been absent since finishing in midfield in the Lockinge. He looked highly promising before that though and he could well get his career back on track here under James Doyle. Happily (16/1) and I Can Fly (66/1) represent Aidan O’Brien here and will both need to take a step up if they are to feature however the former did run well the last day in Group 1 company behind Laurens. Ryan Moore rides the former with Donnacha on the latter. Lightening Spear (14/1) also carries the colours of Qatar Racing here a smart performer in his own right however will have to take a step up should he play a part. He’s partnered up with Andrea Atzeni for David Simcock.
If turning up in the form we’ve seen him in for the majority of this season Roaring Lion is going to be very hard to beat here and they all have to step up if they are to lower his colours. Laurens has all the ability to lay it down to him and if bouncing back to form Addeybb could well surprise a few. I’m going to try and take the market leader on though with the French raider RECOLETOS. He was fourth at this meeting last year in the Champion Stakes behind Cracksman and has since progressed nicely this term. The form of his Group 1 last time hasn’t quite worked out but I don’t think this horse is the finished article just yet and there could well be more to come.
RECOLETOS (6/1) (E/W)
3.50 – Champion Stakes (Class 1) (Group 1) (1m 2f)
The Champion Stakes concludes the Group action for the afternoon on Champions Day a Group 1 affair contested over a mile and two furlongs and it see’s yes, another John Gosden hotpot heading affairs with Cracksman (10/11) making his return to attempt to retain his crown from last season in what will be his last hurrah. The Frankel offspring won this race in devastating fashion last season but things haven’t gone quite as expected since this season. He won in commanding fashion on his return to the track in Group 1 company in France but followed up in the Coronation Stakes at Epsom when scrambling home to just get up on the line. He was last seen when looking rather laboured here at the Royal Meeting when getting comfortably beaten by Poet’s Word. He tries blinkers out here and a bit of cut in the ground could well see him return to best effect. Frankie is once again on board. The betting suggests that Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean (11/4) is the main danger and he’s had a positive season by all accounts. He was no match for the returning Enable last time out but was denied close home in the King George and won well at the Royal Meeting here. William Buick is reunited with him for this assignment.
The 2017 St Leger winner Capri (13/2) takes his place in the field following a fine run when fifth in the Arc the last day and Aidan O’Brien is also represented here by Rhododendron (40/1) in what looks to be her last time out on track too. Ryan Moore will take the ride on Capri with Donnacha teaming up with Rhododendron. Monarch’s Glen (14/1) takes the step up in Grade here following a progressive season for the Gosden yard whereas Verbal Dexterity (20/1) comes here on somewhat of a recovery mission but looks up against for Jim Bolger. Maverick Wave (100/1) and Subway Dancer (100/1) make up the field.
I’d love to see Cracksman put in a dominant display here and bow out in style and he’s got every chance of doing just that but his odds are far too short for my liking with the amount of questions hanging over him. Crystal Ocean has been a solid performer at the top level this season without actually winning a Group 1, his time could well be in this. I’m going to take a chance on one at a slightly bigger price though in the hope the eight runners stay intact (which means they most definitely wont) and chance CAPRI here. He’s progressed with each run since his lay off and ran a great race in the Arc last time. He’s got to come on again to challenge the big two in the betting but he’s a good enough each way alternative for me.
CAPRI (13/2) (E/W)
4.30 – Balmoral Handicap (Class 2) (Handicap) (1m)
MITCHUM SWAGGER (14/1) (E/W)
(Best form comes on soft ground and whilst he’s very much in and out as shown the last day with a below par run when fancied, he’s ran well in big handicaps around here before and will handle the going better than some.)