The Flat season at Ascot reaches a thrilling conclusion at QIPCO British Champions Day on Saturday, with four Group One races and a Group Two bringing the curtain down for 2018.
The day opens with the undoubted star of the staying division, Stradivarius, bidding to remain unbeaten for the season in the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup (Group 2).
The four-year-old announced himself as a champion in waiting when winning the Queen’s Vase at last year’s Royal Meeting and simply hasn’t looked back. Victories this year have included the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, a second Goodwood Cup and most recently, the Lonsdale at York, where he landed the inaugural Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million for his connections.
Almost certainly his biggest threat on Saturday will come from Aidan O’Brien’s recent Irish St Leger winner, Flag Of Honour, who as an unknown quantity has the potential to become a star of the division himself.
Whereas the opening race has the air of a coronation about it, the following QIPCO British Champions Sprint is most definitely wide open and there will be 14 sets of connections hopeful of winning the opening Group One of the day. Favourite will be The Tin Man, who usually goes well at Ascot and won the 2017 Diamond Jubilee Stakes. He is bang in form having won the Group One Sprint Cup recently at Haydock, proving that soft ground is no longer the barrier to success it was once considered was the case for him.
Harry Angel went into the season with everyone expecting him to carry the world before him but for one reason or another, often not his fault (he was injured in the stalls at Royal Ascot), things haven’t yet dropped for him. There is a suspicion that Ascot may not be his track, but the ability he has is hard to ignore and he will have his supporters.
Any number of horses have credible chances – Librisa Breeze is a former winner of this race and loves the ground, Son Of Rest would probably have bolted up in the Ayr Gold Cup (he dead-heated) had he been held together for longer, and the Royal Ascot Racing Club’s own Projection travelled better than ever when winning the recent Group Three Bengough Stakes over course and distance.
The QIPCO Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes sees some classy older horses – the likes of Coronet (third in the King George), Hydrangea and Kitesurf line up against a good group of three-year-olds, headlined most definitely by Lah Ti Dar.
Lah Ti Dar was Oaks favourite before suffering a setback and was considered an Arc possible after her impressive comeback in the Galtres Stakes at York. For a filly with so little experience and over a trip arguably a little long for her in the St Leger, her subsequent second to Kew Gardens was yet another big step forward and back over a mile-and-a-half at the weekend, she is going to be extremely difficult to beat.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is Europe’s, and often the world’s top mile race. That could well be the case this year with the declaration of the star 10 furlong horse of the summer, Roaring Lion, in the mile championship. Roaring Lion was expected to run in the QIPCO Champion Stakes but the likelihood of slightly less testing conditions, over a shorter trip, has convinced connections to run earlier in the day. His presence probably makes the QEII the race of the day as he bids for a first mile Group One to add to wins in the Eclipse, International and Irish Champion Stakes over 10 furlongs.
In a captivating renewal, Recoletos is the current top active miler in Europe and flies over from France on the back of victory in the Prix Moulin. Arguably, it is his second to the sadly retired Alpha Centuri in the Prix Jacques Le Marios previously that sets the form standard, however. William Haggas has been trying to get Addeybb to the track all summer but the quick ground has kept him out of action since the Lockinge at Newbury in May.
His early season form on soft ground marked him out as a top class horse in the making and it would be no surprise at all to see him in the mix. Another in with every chance, although perhaps not ideally suited to the ground, is recent Matron and Sun Chariot Stakes winner, Laurens, in a race full of chances.
The QIPCO Champion Stakes is the final Group One on the card, before the competitive closing event, the Balmoral Handicap. Even without Roaring Lion, the race has attracted the highest rated active colt in Europe in Crystal Ocean, who was narrowly denied when second in the King George to Poet’s Word. Up against him is Cracksman, Europe’s Champion Racehorse of 2017 following his demolition job on last year’s Champion Stakes field.
He, like so many, has been on the side-lines all summer waiting for the rain. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Capri, winner of the Irish Derby last year with Cracksman behind him, had to sit out much of the summer with an injury but looked to be coming right back to his best in the Arc two weeks ago.