Saturday sees the Flat season close at Ascot and the curtain comes down in some style with four Group One races, a Group Two which is well up to Group One standards and a valuable handicap to close the card.
QIPCO British Champions Day is being run for only the seventh time but it has already grown into one of the world’s highest quality racedays. It is unquestionably Britain’s.
When first run in 2011, there were just two Group One races on the card and now there are four. The stayers’ race - the Long Distance Cup - is a Group Two but is as good as the Gold Cup this year and indeed features the winner and runner-up in Big Orange and Order Of St George. What makes it particularly fascinating is that the Queen’s Vase winner, Stradivarius, also lines up. There won’t have been a higher quality race run over two miles in the world this year and the promotion of the Long Distance Cup to Group One is expected sooner rather than later.
There are two 2017 Royal Ascot winners in the opening race tomorrow, and a further five feature across the remainder of the card; The Tin Man (Diamond Jubilee Stakes / Champions Sprint); Caravaggio (Commonwealth Cup / Champions Sprint); Ribchester (Queen Anne Stakes / Queen Elizabeth II Stakes); Highland Reel (Prince of Wales’s Stakes / Champion Stakes) and Barney Roy (St James’s Palace Stakes / Champion Stakes).
Just for good measure, no fewer than six winners from the 2016 Royal Meeting also line up including The Queen’s Dartmouth, in the Long Distance Cup, Quiet Reflection, in the Sprint and this year’s 2,000 Guineas winner Churchill, in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Cracksman will be bidding to become Frankel's first European Group One winner (Soul Stirring won in Japan) in the Champion, which would be poetic as that is the race in which Frankel himself ended his unbeaten career (14 wins, 5 at Ascot).
Star names are everywhere on Saturday, but special mention has to go to Harry Angel, who was runner-up in the Commonwealth Cup to Caravaggio this year but has carried all before him subsequently, impressively winning the July Cup at Newmarket and Sprint Cup at Haydock. With Caravaggio re-opposing, the Diamond Jubilee winner The Tin Man in the line-up and 2016 Commonwealth Cup winner Quiet Reflection in the mix, this is the sprint of the year in Europe and possibly, the world.
It’s hard to imagine that more spice could be added to the occasion but there is also the fascinating subtext on Saturday as to whether Aidan O’Brien equals or beats the world record of Group One winners trained in a year currently held by the late, great American trainer, Bobby Frankel (24).
Aidan could actually draw level in Melbourne in the early hours of Saturday morning as he has the favourite for the Caulfield Cup in Johannes Vermeer but failing that he has 11 horses declared in the four Group Ones at Ascot to equal or possibly surpass the record.
It has been a remarkable flat season at Ascot, with the likes of Big Orange, Lady Aurelia and Enable lighting up the summer and new champions will be added to that company on Saturday.