Leading contenders remain on course for QIPCO British Champions Day

Some of the shining lights of British Flat racing are on course to run at the 12th edition of QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot this Saturday, after the five-day confirmations were revealed today.

There are highlights at every turn, as befits Britain’s most valuable raceday, which this year offers prize money of £4.15 million. The QIPCO Champion Stakes is set to be the richest mile and a quarter race in the UK this year with £1.3 million in prize money, with the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) also run for in excess of £1 million (£1,156,250) and it is the richest mile race in Europe this year.

The world’s best racehorse on turf, Baaeed, is set to take his place in the QIPCO Champion Stakes against Adayar in a mouthwatering clash, while other intended runners on the day include Trueshan, hoping to become the first horse to win on three QIPCO British Champions Days, the highly talented Inspiral in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) and 11-time Group 1 winner Verry Elleegant in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.

In total, 19 Group 1 winners remain engaged and between them they have won 45 races at the highest level. 

QIPCO British Champions Day is set to be a thrilling day with Champions crowned on and off the track. In addition to four Group 1 races, a Group 2 and Europe’s richest mile handicap, the Champion Jockey, Apprentice and Owner will all receive their trophies.

There will also be two inductions made into the QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame on the day, with the new Hall of Famers presented with a specially commissioned medal manufactured by Asprey. Meanwhile there will be a Hall of Fame exhibition in the grandstand at Ascot, to celebrate the two new inductees, as well as some already in the Hall of Fame including the late Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Frankel, 10 years on from his final outing in the QIPCO Champion Stakes.

The going at Ascot is currently Good to Soft, with latest Going Stick readings of 7.4 (straight) and 6.9 (round).

QIPCO CHAMPION STAKES (£1.3 MILLION): GROUP 1

Everyone associated with the brilliant Baaeed will be feeling under a degree of pressure when his unbeaten record is put on the line for an eleventh and final time on Saturday, in the race in which Frankel ended a similarly flawless career so memorably ten years ago, but luckily the man in the saddle doesn’t get nervous.

Jim Crowley does not underestimate the responsibility he has to the horse, or indeed the task ahead, but he is looking forward to it and plans to enjoy the ride, just as he did when Baaeed confirmed himself champion miler as a three-year-old in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) – one of Crowley’s three winners from four rides on last year’s card.

Crowley, who has ridden Baaeed for William Haggas and Sheikha Hissa on all but the first two of his ten starts and has already enjoyed six Group 1 wins on him, said: “I don’t really get nervous. I’ll get excited before the race, which is only natural, but once you are on him and away you just forget about everything.

“Riding Baaeed is a great feeling, but it brings with it a lot of responsibility. I’m looking forward to it, but nothing in racing is given and it’s going to be a tough race for him. There are some good horses running and it’s probably going to be his most important race.”

Saturday’s race marks the return to the top level of last year’s Cazoo Derby and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes winner Adayar, who if back to his best will be Baaeed’s most formidable rival yet, but Baaeed was overwhelmingly superior when beating Mishriff by six and a half lengths on stepping up to a mile and a quarter in York’s Juddmonte International Stakes last time, so Crowley’s confidence in him could not be higher.

He said: “I’ve been fortunate to ride some good horses, but Baaeed does give that feeling of something completely different to any I’ve ever come across before – not only on the racecourse, but in his whole demeanour. He’s just such a professional and has such a great character. I may never come across a horse like him ever again.

“The Juddmonte was a very important race going into it. He had a point to prove, going up in distance, and he was taking on some really tough horses in the likes of Mishriff. It was just an amazing race to ride in. He just went through the race so easily and when I pressed the button he put the race to bed in a matter of strides. It was a great feeling to ride him and to show people what he was capable of.”

He concluded: “It’s going to be a strange feeling going to Ascot. The most important thing for me is to get the job done and win, so hopefully he’ll finish his career unbeaten. Maybe I’ll enjoy the ride when it’s over, because riding him also comes with a lot of pressure. Hopefully he’ll win on QIPCO British Champions Day and we can look back with some fond memories.”

The Charlie Appleby-trained Adayar has more to prove than Baaeed, having won just a conditions race at Doncaster since ending his three-year-old campaign with a disappointing fifth to Sealiway in last year’s QIPCO Champion Stakes, but both the trainer and champion jockey-elect William Buick are confident he is back to his best.

Buick said: “Getting Adayar back for the QIPCO Champion Stakes is one of the highlights of my year. He’s got a huge task, but he’s probably as exciting a horse as I’ve ridden all season. Doncaster was perfect for a comeback run. He really enjoyed himself and he did everything right. He’s a bit of a forgotten horse this season but he was very good last year.”

He added: “It’s a tough ask, but he’s a Derby and King George winner who ran well in the Arc on ground he didn’t like and when things didn’t really go his way, then obviously the Champion Stakes came a bit soon after that. 

“He’s probably the best horse Baaeed has met, and it’s going to make a great race either way. We’ll sit down and make a plan when we know the field, but obviously Baaeed looks very straightforward and he’s done it from every which way and at both a mile and a mile and a quarter.”

The ten confirmations also include two more from the Haggas stable in last year’s runner-up Dubai Honour and smart three-year-old My Prospero, as well as Bay Bridge from the Sir Michael Stoute stable, which was successful in the corresponding race with Pilsudski and Kalanisi before it was moved to Ascot.

Bay Bridge has not been seen since he was only fifth in the Coral-Eclipse, when his reputation was such that he started favourite to beat rivals of the calibre of Vadeni and Mishriff, but he has been pleasing in the build up.

Stoute said: “It’s a tough race against a world beater and last year’s Derby winner but it’s the Champion Stakes, so it’s entitled to be, and he’s an intended runner. After Sandown we had to stop him with a foot problem, but we’ve got him back now and we’ve been pleased with his preparation. We are looking forward to it.”

Possibles from Ireland include last year’s Irish 2000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney, fellow Group 1 winner Helvic Dream, and Aidan O’Brien’s one-time Derby favourite Stone Age. The Roger Varian-trained Royal Champion makes up the field.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II STAKES (SPONSORED BY QIPCO) (£1,156,250): GROUP 1

Fast-improving Jadoomi, who ran away from his rivals to capture the Group 2 Boomerang Mile by four lengths at Leopardstown last time, has been added to the field for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) at Ascot after connections paid the £70,000 supplementary fee today.

A slightly damp weather forecast in parts later on in the week has persuaded owner Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum and joint trainers Simon & Ed Crisford to pitch the four-year-old into his first Group 1 race and take on outstanding filly Inspiral.

Prix Jacques Le Marois winner Inspiral, beaten only once in six starts, is the star name among ten confirmations for the contest, worth £1,156,250 after the supplementary entry, which regularly determines Europe’s champion miler. Godolphin’s French 2,000 Guineas winner Modern Games, who finished second to Baaeed in the Qatar Sussex Stakes during the summer, is also included.

Simon Crisford said: “Jadoomi is in great form. He won very well in Ireland. We’ve got a little bit of a rain front coming in towards the end of the week and there was some nice rain this morning at Ascot, so the ground should be perfect for him. Sheikh Ahmed was very keen for him to take his chance.”

The Revenant, who won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) in 2020 and has twice been in the frame, returns for a fourth tilt having finished second in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp, in which Checkandchallenge was third.

Three-year-old Checkandchallenge, who contested the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas in May, produced his best performance yet in France and trainer William Knight believes he will appreciate a return to a straight mile. Jim Crowley is in line to take the mount.

Checkandchallenge secured his first Pattern success when landing the Group 3 Prix Daphnis in August and returned to France on Arc weekend having been forced to miss the Joel Stakes.

Knight said: “Checkandchallenge had a little bit of a hiccup ten days before Longchamp when he had pus in his foot, missing four or five days so he couldn’t go for the Joel. So in the circumstances I was delighted with how well he ran, as he probably wasn’t 100 per cent there.

“He’s come out of that race in really good order so I am really looking forward to running him on Saturday. In an ideal world we would like another week but it’s the way the race has landed.

“What will really suit him is the track. I think the flat, stiff mile will be right up his street. The Revenant, who finished in front of us in the Wildenstein, likes soft ground and Inspiral has the best form going into the race. It’s a great opportunity for us to have a live candidate in a Group 1 race.”

Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Modern Games returned to North America last time to land the Woodbine Mile in Canada by five and a quarter lengths. He is being targeted at the Breeders’ Cup Mile, yet could visit Ascot en route.

“Modern Games has been left in at the five-day stage in the hope that the ground remains sensible,” said trainer Charlie Appleby. 

Tenebrism, who is also entered in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes, is Aidan O’Brien’s only entry in the race while Raadobarg, trained by Johnny Murtagh, joins her as the other Irish challenger.

The Roger Varian-trained duo of El Drama and Bayside Boy remain entered, while Tempus, owned by Hambleton Racing Group who have had previous QIPCO British Champions Day success with Glen Shiel, completes the field.

QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS FILLIES & MARES STAKES (£500,000): GROUP 1

Eshaada will arrive at the moment she has been prepared for all year at Ascot on Saturday when she will attempt to complete back-to-back success in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.

The Shadwell Estate-owned filly has not won a race since she defeated Albaflora by a head 12 months ago and faces a strong contingent of three-year-olds, whose age group have dominated the £500,000 Group 1, compiling seven wins in the last eight runnings.

Emily Upjohn, touched off in the Cazoo Oaks in June, and Mimikyu, who defeated Eshaada in the Park Hill Stakes last time out, comprise a potent challenge from the stable of John & Thady Gosden.

The older generation are also represented by Sea La Rosa, who captured the Group 1 Prix de Royallieu recently, and last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Verry Elleegant, for whom Mickael Barzalona has been booked for her first start on British soil, among the 17 five-day acceptors.

Eshaada’s trainer Roger Varian said: “Eshaada has been trained for one race all year and I’m very happy with her. It doesn’t concern me at all that she hasn’t won yet this year as she needed the race first time out, nearly got brought down at Haydock, and then was second to a very good filly at Doncaster.”

Verry Elleegant, winner of 11 Group 1 races in Australia, has not been able to show her best in her three races since she came to Europe to join trainer Francis Graffard and was only seventh in the Prix de Royallieu.

Graffard, who could also saddle Prix Vermeille winner Sweet Lady, said: “Verry Elleegant was very unlucky in the way the race was run at Longchamp, where there was no tempo and she was boxed in on the rail and pulled hard. She basically didn’t have a race.

“It’s hard to see such a fantastic mare beaten like that and it’s upsetting too, but I felt that the race was over for her at the first bend when I saw where we were. Everything went against her and it’s best forgotten, but she’s come out of it well. She’s happy and she tries, and hopefully things will go her way at QIPCO British Champions Day.”

Eternal Pearl is set to represent Godolphin, with the winner of her last four starts taking another rise in grade, having defied a penalty to land the Group 3 Princess Royal Stakes at Newmarket last month.

Trainer Charlie Appleby said: “Eternal Pearl is stepping up to Group 1 company for the first time. We are testing the waters, but she goes from strength to strength and on what she’s achieved so far she won’t look out of place. Staying is her forte, and if it came up testing it would play to her strengths.”

Aidan O’Brien has confirmed Emily Dickinson, fourth behind Sea La Rosa at Longchamp, while Mise En Scene will carry the hopes of Qatar Racing and Racehorseclub.com on her first start at 1m4f.

Mise En Scene, who secured trainer James Ferguson’s first Group victory last year, started the year in the Irish 1,000 Guineas but then had most of the summer off. Last time out she was just touched off in the Listed John Musker Stakes at Yarmouth on her first run beyond 1m.

“She ran very well, running on at the end after just hitting a bit of a flat spot,” said Ferguson. “It was a much improved run from Sandown and she ran like stepping up to a mile and a half won’t be an issue. She is very lightly raced this year and will appreciate the ground. It’s definitely worth her taking her chance.”

QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS SPRINT STAKES (£500,000): GROUP 1

Charlie Appleby will saddle two strong candidates in the £500,000 QIPCO British Champions Sprint, with last year’s winner Creative Force set to be joined by his stable-mate and old rival Naval Power in what promises to be another thrilling renewal.

Creative Force was giving Appleby a first QIPCO British Champions Day success when beating the 2020 winner Glen Shiel by a length here last year in the hands of champion jockey elect William Buick. He had earlier beaten Naval Power decisively in the seven-furlong Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, but his stable-mate had his revenge when the pair met again in this year’s Platinum Jubilee Stakes, in which they were separated by just a neck, ahead of international sprinters Artorius and Campanelle.

Both have been beaten since, but Appleby believes he has them back in peak condition. Their best form is as good as any on offer in what looks a competitive field.

Appleby said: “They both galloped on the Rowley Mile last weekend. Last time they ran on ground that was quick enough, and I wanted them to go to the track again to enjoy themselves and know that it’s not going to be rattling quick going every time they go to the races.

“They had a lovely gallop and came out of it in great order. You can see visually that they are both in A1 condition.”

Richard Fahey’s Middle Park Stakes and Commonwealth Cup winner Perfect Power, whose BHA rating of 117 puts him on a par with Creative Force and just a pound behind Naval Power, is another reportedly back in top form after recent defeats. 

The owner’s racing manager Bruce Raymond, who hopes to have secured the services of Tom Marquand in place of the suspended Christophe Soumillon, said: “I haven’t seen him for a month, but I get regular videos of his work and he looked good the other day. He looks a million dollars so we are hopeful. He likes Ascot and the more rain the better. He’s a fresh horse and he’ll have a great chance if he gets his ground.”

The 19 possibles who were confirmed on Monday include Tim Easterby’s Art Power, an impressive Group 3 winner at The Curragh last month and often thereabouts in top sprints, including when fourth here a year ago, and the David Evans-trained dual Wokingham Handicap winner Rohaan, who was down the field here in 2021 but confirmed his liking for the track when a Group 3 winner earlier this month.

Ralph Beckett’s impressive Qatar Prix de la Foret winner Kinross, who would be chasing a four wins in a row, could drop back in distance, as could Aidan O’Brien’s 2021 Cheveley Park Stakes winner Tenebrism, who has also been confirmed for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) but is thought more likely to run here. Hugo Palmer’s Brad The Brief, who won both of his races on his favoured easy going in the spring, is another key contender.

QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS LONG DISTANCE CUP (£500,000): GROUP 2

Waterville, who came from last to first to land the Irish Cesarewitch last month, will step in for absent stablemate Kyprios in the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup.

With Kyprios, the Gold Cup winner who captured the Prix du Cadran by 20 lengths on Arc weekend, finished for the year, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Waterville will attempt to become the first three-year-old to win the £500,000 QIPCO British Champions Day curtain-raiser.

Cazoo St Leger winner Eldar Eldarov is the other three-year-old among 14 confirmations which are headed by Trueshan, winner of the race in the last two years. 

Trueshan’s hat-trick bid will hinge on the going at Ascot with trainer Alan King keen to run but concerned there may not be enough rain to provide the soft conditions he needs. “I do want to go to Ascot, but we do need a break in the weather.” 

O’Brien clinched the second of two successes in the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup with Kew Gardens in 2019 and has confirmed Waterville and Wordsworth, who finished 13th in the Irish Cesarewitch. 

“We are planning to run the Irish Cesarewitch winner Waterville and Wordsworth  who also ran in that race,” said O’Brien. “It’s a big step up in class for Waterville, but this has always been the plan for him after the Cesarewitch. He’s come out of the race well.”

A decision on the participation of KHK Racing’s Eldar Eldarov, who beat New London by two lengths at Doncaster last month, is unlikely to emerge until later in the week.

His trainer Roger Varian said: “A decision on running Eldar Eldarov won’t be made until I’ve spoken again to the owner in the middle of the week. 

“He’s been in very good form since Doncaster and it wouldn’t worry me at all that this hasn’t been a race for three-year-olds so far as that shouldn’t be a factor by this stage of the year. But he’s got two options – the Long Distance Cup and the Prix Royal-Oak – and we want to get it right.”

Coltrane, who beat Trueshan by a neck in the Doncaster Cup and has not finished out of the first four in any of his eight starts in 2022, is on course to take his place at the start.

Trainer Andrew Balding reported: “Coltrane is in great form but he’s had a long year. I know I said that before Doncaster too, but he worked almost too well on Saturday – he flew, or at least he did by his standards – and that’s sometimes an indication that they are going over the top.”

Other possibles include runaway Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup winner Quickthorn, Trawlerman who won the Skybet Ebor Handicap on the same weekend at York and Princess Zoe, winner of the Qatar Prix du Cadran in 2020. 

BALMORAL HANDICAP (SPONSORED BY QIPCO) (£200,000)

David Menuisier is excited to be getting his high-class handicapper Migration back on the track in the £200,000 Balmoral Handicap, in which the 2019 winner Escobar currently heads the weights with the penalty which he incurred when winning another valuable handicap at Ascot nine days ago.

Migration won valuable handicaps at Goodwood and York last year in the hands of William Buick, who has been booked to ride again, but he has not been out since he was beaten a neck by the classy Modern News in the Spring Mile on his reappearance at Newbury in April. This has been the plan for a while however.

Menuisier said: “He picked up a little injury after his excellent run in the Spring Cup, where we were delighted with him but felt that he could maybe have done with a bit more cut in the ground.

“We gave him bags of time to heal perfectly, so obviously he hasn’t run for a while, but we know he can run well fresh, so the plan is to run and the plan is to run well. William knows the horse and they get on well.”

Atrium has been among the market leaders since following up his win at Newbury with another at Doncaster. He has lots going for him but with a maximum field of 20 he needs seven of those above him in the weights to come out by Thursday if he is to make the cut, so connections face an anxious wait.

Trainer Charlie Fellowes said: “Atrium is in good order and this has been the plan for a while. It’s going to be borderline getting in, but it’s the perfect race for him – with the straight track and hopefully some softer ground. He went up 4lb for his win at Doncaster, and the form looks all right as the second was only just touched off at York last week.”

While neither Menuisier or Fellowes have won the Balmoral Handicap before, David O’Meara has won it twice, with Lord Glitters (2017) and Escobar (2019), both horses relishing the strong pace over the straight mile and coming from near last to first.

The aforementioned Escobar, is one of several possible representatives for the stable on Saturday, which also include Rhoscolyn, Shelir, Blue For You, Orbaan and Bopedro.