Another Magical show on the cards for 10th QIPCO British Champions Day
A glittering cast is on course to illuminate the 10th running of QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday after the five-day entries were revealed on Monday.
There are highlights at every turn, as befits Britain’s most valuable raceday, with mighty mare Magical, trained by Aidan O’Brien, set to try and go one better than Frankel and Cracksman by becoming the first horse to win at the meeting three times. The five-year-old mare will either defend her crown in the QIPCO Champion Stakes or attempt to gain a second success in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes, which she won in 2018.
It promises to be a momentous afternoon with four of John Gosden’s leading lights – Stradivarius, Palace Pier, Mishriff and Lord North – all intended runners. The champion trainer will be seeking to add to his haul of eight winners on QIPCO British Champions Day – the same tally as O’Brien.
In total, 25 Group 1 winners remain engaged and between them they have won 50 races at the highest level. Six Classic winners remain in contention to run – Even So, Kameko, Mishriff, Search For A Song, Serpentine and Sovereign – and no fewer than 20 entries have at least one win at Royal Ascot to their name.
“It was a very bold initiative from QIPCO and Ascot when British Champions Day was conceived, and it has worked very well,” Gosden said. “It’s done a great job confirming champions, and it’s provided a great wrap up to the European season before the Breeders’ Cup.”
Prize money for this year’s QIPCO British Champions Day will stand at £2.54 million, retaining its position as the richest raceday in Great Britain, despite the impact of coronavirus.
Andrew Balding said: “QIPCO British Champions Day has been a fantastic initiative and a credit to everyone involved. It’s been fantastic to have a British-based European championship with such tremendous prize money, and it’s something for us to be really proud of. If you look back over the roster of past winners since it started in 2011, I think you will find that the best horses, by and large, have been crowned champions.”
QIPCO CHAMPION STAKES: GROUP 1
The £750,000 QIPCO Champion Stakes will be the richest race in Great Britain this year and looks set to be the race of the season with Magical and Addeybb, who dominated the finish of last year’s renewal, heading an all-star cast.
Magical prevailed by three-quarters of a length 12 months ago, after which her trainer Aidan O’Brien intimated she had run her final race. However, the daughter of Galileo was kept in training and the decision has been handsomely rewarded, with the mare chalking up three more Group 1 victories (taking her overall haul to seven) and probably running as well as she’s ever done when getting the better of Ghaiyyath, the world’s highest-rated turf horse, to win a second Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown last time.
She could be joined in the line-up for the mile-and-a-quarter showpiece by star stablemates Serpentine, this year’s Investec Derby winner, plus Mogul, winner of the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris, not to mention last year’s Juddmonte International winner Japan, and Sovereign, winner of last year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.
Addeybb has not rested on his laurels, either, chalking up two Group 1 victories in Australia in the spring before finishing runner-up in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. He swiftly got back to winning ways in a Listed race at Ayr last time.
Standing in the way of the O’Brien contingent and Addeybb are two outstanding candidates trained by John Gosden in Mishriff, the Prix Du Jockey Club victor, and Lord North, emphatic winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. Mishriff followed up his French Classic success by landing a Group 2 contest at Deauville, while Lord North was third behind Ghaiyyath and Magical in the Juddmonte International at York on his latest start.
Another fascinating runner among the home team is the William Muir-trained Pyledriver, who drops half a mile in distance after being beaten just over a length into third in the Pertemps St Leger at Doncaster last time. His exploits earlier in the season included emphatic wins in the King Edward VII Stakes, at Royal Ascot, and Sky Bet Great Voltigeur, at York.
Muir is delighted by the well-being of his stable flagbearer and is relishing dropping him back in distance. The trainer, seeking a first Group 1 win after 29 years with a licence, said: “He’s getting stronger and is starting to retain his weight easier. His work has been good, the same as ever, and I’m very confident I’ve still got him at his best.
“I think if it hadn’t been for this type of year, we would probably not run him over a mile and a six in the St Leger. You can’t be dogmatic and say he didn’t stay because he ground it out, but that was his class. He wasn’t as effective because we took his gears and speed away from him. Martin [Dwyer] was sitting, waiting and having to hold him on to him when he wanted to kick.
“I’m not worried about the ground and the trip won’t be a problem. Straight after he won the Voltigeur, the jockey went on TV and said he had the pace to win a Group 1 over a mile and a quarter.”
Pyledriver will be staying in training next year. Muir said: “We’ve got loads to look forward to with this horse and, no matter what else, the boys [the trio who own the horse] have had a fantastic time. We’ve enjoyed every minute of it and we’ve got next year and the year after with him, when we will be looking at the big races all around the world.”
Cirrus Des Aigles (2011) and Almanzor (2016) have been French-trained winners of the QIPCO Champion Stakes in the past decade and Skalleti will attempt to again take the prize across the Channel.
The five-year-old grey, trained by Jerome Reynier, has won 12 of his 15 races and scooped the Group 2 Qatar Prix Dollar for a second time at Longchamp this month. Before that, he had mastered Sottsass, the subsequent Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, in a Group 3 contest at Deauville.
Other possibles among the 16 entries include three-time Group 1 winner Benbatl, who is also engaged in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO).
QUEEN ELIZABETH II STAKES (SPONSORED BY QIPCO): GROUP 1
The £650,000 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) was won by the unbeaten Frankel when QIPCO British Champions Day was launched in 2011 and another colt with an unblemished record, Palace Pier, who is currently rated the top miler in the World will seek to emulate him on Saturday in the most valuable mile contest run in the UK this year.
Five runs have yielded five wins for the three-year-old Kingman colt, who announced himself on the big stage by landing the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in June before following up in the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville in mid-August.
John Gosden, seeking a fifth win in the mile contest, has deliberately not run him since but the horse completed his preparation with a gallop on the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket before racing on Saturday and is among 18 entries who remain in in the mix.
Gosden could also be represented by Nazeef, winner of the Kingdom Of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket this month after earlier wins this campaign in the Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes, also at Newmarket, and Duke Of Cambridge Stakes, at Royal Ascot.
Kameko was a Group 1 winner as a two-year-old and became the fastest QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner there has been when successful at Newmarket in June. He resumed winning ways in the Group 2 Joel Stakes back at Headquarters last month, when he defied strong opposition under a penalty.
His trainer, Andrew Balding, said: “We were delighted with his win in the Joel Stakes and that has set him up perfectly in terms of preparation, three weeks before QIPCO British Champions Day. I think he showed his class in the Joel Stakes, beating some very talented older horses – and beating them well.
“After a bit of trial and error, it’s obvious that a mile is his trip. He has that high cruising speed and excellent turn of foot. We go to QIPCO British Champions Day full of hope and optimism as a Guineas winner who still seems to be in great form, even at the end of a long season.”
Among those who played a supporting role behind Kameko in the Joel Stakes was globetrotting six-year-old Benbatl, a winner at the highest level in Australia, Dubai and Germany who started favourite for last year’s QEII but failed to figure.
The Revenant ran a cracker in last year’s renewal, when he beat all bar King Of Change. The prolific French-trained challenger, who has won nine of his dozen races, has followed the same path as last year, winning the Group 2 Qatar Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp this month.
Those who adhere to the maxim of “horses for courses” will pay close attention to Circus Maximus, a two-time Group 1 winner at Royal Ascot. He was the narrow winner of last year’s St James’s Palace Stakes (at the main expense of two John Gosden challengers) and showed similar tenacity to land the Queen Anne Stakes this summer (again fending off a Gosden runner).
Lord Glitters is another with a fine record at Ascot, winning the Balmoral Handicap on QIPCO British Champions Day in 2017 before scooping the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2019. The seven-year-old showed he retains plenty of enthusiasm when chasing home Addeybb in a Listed contest at Ayr last time.
O’Meara said: “We were happy with his run at Ayr, when he probably took too long getting out but flew home. It’s a very hot QEII with the likes of Palace Pier and Kameko in there but Ascot suits him and hopefully he can end up in the prize-money.”
Century Dream, not beaten far when third to Roaring Lion two years ago, is back for another crack, while Dark Vision (Royal Hunt Cup) and Sir Busker (Silver Royal Hunt Cup) were successful at Royal Ascot this summer. In total, five horses who won at the Royal Meeting this year could clash – the other trio being Palace Pier, Circus Maximus and Nazeef.
QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS FILLIES & MARES STAKES: GROUP 1
Aidan O’Brien has won two of the past three runnings of the £350,000 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes and could be represented by Magical and Passion in Saturday’s renewal.
The former is a seven-time Group 1 winner who needs no introduction to racing fans. She won the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes in 2018 and last year returned to Champions Day to land the QIPCO Champion Stakes. On her latest start she took the scalp of Ghaiyyath, the world’s highest-rated turf horse, to win a second Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
Passion’s exploits this year include finishing fifth in the Investec Oaks and third in the Irish equivalent. The O’Brien pair are among 14 entries.
Ralph Beckett is hoping Antonia De Vega or Manuela De Vega can provide him with a second success in the QIPCO British Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes.
Beckett landed the 2015 renewal with Simple Verse and many fancied his Antonia De Vega to follow suit in last year’s running. She ran creditably to finish a keeping-on sixth, beaten under four lengths, but her trainer was left lamenting the fact she was having her first run for more than four months.
This year she is unbeaten in two starts, winning at Pontefract in June before following up in the Group 3 Princess Royal Muhaarar Stakes at Newmarket last month, when she beat Alpinista by half a length.
Beckett said: “She has come out of her Newmarket race in good shape and the more juice in the ground on Saturday the better. That was her first run back off a break when she ran in the race last year, as she’d had a problem after she won the Johnny Lewis Memorial Stakes at Newbury. She’s a filly who normally comes forward for a run and there had been three months between Pontefract and Newmarket this year, so I’m hoping she will come on.”
Alpinista had previously chased home Love in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks and, ground permitting, will reoppose Antonio De Vega on Saturday. Sir Mark Prescott, 72, her trainer, seeking a first winner on QIPCO British Champions Day, said: “She’s fine and ran very well the other day [at Newmarket] when things possibly didn’t go right for her. Her family have done me wonderfully well and she’ll be there if the ground is OK, but she won’t run if it’s very soft. If you are as good as she is on very firm then the likelihood is that you are not going to be as good as that on very soft.”
Alpinista is a daughter of Frankel, who lit up the first QIPCO British Champions Day with an emphatic success in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. “He [Frankel] will probably manage without me [if Alpinista doesn’t run],” Prescott said with a smile. “The one time I remember with Frankel was when Frankie Dettori rode Worthadd for me in the  Queen Anne at Royal Ascot. He jumped off at the end of the race and turned to me saying ‘I follow Frankel, as you say, but he gets smaller and smaller and smaller’. I thought it was a lovely description.”
Star Catcher carried the colours of Anthony Oppenheimer to victory in last year’s Fillies & Mares and the owner/breeder will be hoping either Frankly Darling, the winner of the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, or Dame Malliot can repeat the trick. The latter, trained by Ed Vaughan, landed the Group 2 Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket in July and has since twice been placed in Group 1 company on foreign shores, most recently when a fine third to Tarnawa in the Qatar Prix Vermeille at Longchamp.
Vaughan has yet to train a Group 1 winner and is handing in his licence at the end of the year, so emotions will run high if she obliges.
Even So landed the Irish Oaks in July, while Wonderful Tonight, winner of the Group 1 Qatar Prix De Royallieu at Longchamp eight days ago, also remains in contention along with Mehdaayih, a Group 2 winner in France last year.
QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS SPRINT STAKES: GROUP 1
Dream Of Dreams is on course to try and make it third time lucky in the £391,260 QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained six-year-old, who heads the ante-post betting and is one of 19 entries, has failed to make an impact in the last two runnings of the six-furlong feature but narrow defeats in the past two renewals of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (beaten a head into second on each occasion) has proven his effectiveness at the track and he arrives on the back of a decisive success in the Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock, when he won at the main expense of Glen Shiel and had Art Power (fourth), The Tin Man (sixth), Lope Y Fernandez (seventh) and Brando (ninth) further adrift.
Before his success at Haydock, Dream Of Dreams had been a brilliant seven-length winner of the Group 2 Unibet Hungerford Stakes at Newbury. He is unbeaten in two starts when partnered by Oisin Murphy and, if successful, will belatedly provide Stoute, who is 75 next week, with a first success on QIPCO British Champions Day.
Oxted provided Roger Teal and Cieren Fallon with a day to savour when landing the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. The pair had never previously enjoyed a Group 1 success but Oxted, previously successful in the Betway Abernant Stakes, won with authority and, having had only nine races, remains open to improvement.
Teal said: “He looks amazing and is still keeping his coat, which is great. He’s training really well and seems to have that mojo back and we’re really happy with him. He’s had a massive impact on the yard, putting us right in the shop window. Winning a Group 1 was amazing and hopefully we’ve got a few more to come.
“We’ve always been happy to compete with the best, that’s what we’re here for. We’ve always danced the dance with the big boys, and we’ve come out on top a few times and that’s where we want to be.”
Two three-year-old fillies who won Listed races over the weekend were supplemented at a cost of £25,000 each this morning. Onassis, trained by Charlie Fellowes, was added after her success over 7f at Goodwood yesterday, while Jouska, trained by Henry Candy, is now also in the mix after her victory in the Dubai British EBF Boadicea Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday.
One Master made history at Longchamp eight days ago when winning the Group 1 Prix de la Foret for a third successive year and is set to try and go one better than in last year’s race, when she chased home Donjuant Triumphant. Make A Challenge, Brando and Speak In Colours, also not beaten far 12 months ago, are also back for another attempt.
The team behind Donjuan Triumphant, Andrew Balding and Silvestre de Sousa, are set to rely on Happy Power, who landed the Group 2 Godolphin Stud & Stable Staff Awards Challenge Stakes in good style at Newmarket on Friday.
The Tin Man, the 2016 winner, could make his sixth successive appearance in the race, while Starman has impressed in winning each of his three races and is exciting contender for Ed Walker.
In addition, Cape Byron is an intriguing contender for Roger Varian. He has been absent since last year’s renewal but the former Wokingham winner has a good record at Ascot (four wins at the course) and has gone well fresh in the past.
QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS LONG DISTANCE CUP: GROUP 2
The world’s top rated stayer, Stradivarius stands out among the 15 entries still in the mix for the £300,000 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup.
The exceptional six-year-old, bred and owned by Bjorn Nielsen, won the Qatar Goodwood Cup for a record fourth time at Goodwood in July, having landed the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot for the third time the previous month.
He has won a record 13 races that fall under the QIPCO British Champions Series umbrella, including the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup in 2018. He has run 13 times over two miles or further and been beaten just twice – when a length third to Order Of St George as a three-year-old in the 2017 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup and when pipped a nose by Kew Gardens in last year’s riveting renewal.
The opposition to Stradivarius is headed by two-time Comer Group International Irish St Leger winner Search For A Song. She will be having her first run over two miles but has hinted she will stay and her trainer, Dermot Weld, has been responsible for two previous Long Distance Cup winners in Rite Of Passage (2012) and Forgotten Rules (2014).
Andrew Balding has two possible challengers in Spanish Mission, fluent winner of the Doncaster Cup on his latest start, and the mud-loving Morando, whose exploits last season included an eight-length drubbing of Kew Gardens in the Boodles Diamond Ormonde Stakes at Chester.
Balding said: “Spanish Mission was very impressive in the Doncaster Cup last time but I would have thought he would be effective from a mile and a half to an extended two miles. He’s a horse who historically has not wanted the ground too soft, so that’s a concern for him. If the ground got pretty testing, we’d have to think twice about running him.
“Morando, on the other hand, loves it when the mud is flying. It would be a new venture going two miles with him but the way he’s shaped in his races in the last two seasons suggests that two miles is well within his compass now and he goes well at Ascot.”
Fujaira Prince, trained by Roger Varian, was returning from a year off when an emphatic winner of the Copper Horse Handicap at Royal Ascot in June and followed up in the Sky Bet Ebor at York two months later. He chased home Search For A Song in the Irish St Leger last time out.
Aidan O’Brien has won the race three times with Fame And Glory (2011), Order Of St George (2017) and Kew Gardens (2019). This time he could be represented by Sovereign, winner of last year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby; Broome, who was a close fourth in last year’s Investec Derby; and Dawn Patrol, third in this year’s Irish Derby.
BALMORAL HANDICAP (SPONSORED BY QIPCO)
Ante-post favourite Raeeq is among 43 entries left in the race that brings down the curtain on QIPCO British Champions Day, the £100,000 Balmoral Handicap (sponsored by QIPCO) over a straight mile.
The three-year-old colt, a son of Kingman trained by Brian Meehan and owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, made his debut just over a year ago and was having only his fifth run when romping home by five lengths in a 7f handicap at Ascot on 2nd October.
Meehan holds Raaeq in high esteem and said: “The plan is to go there but we will see how he is over this week and make a final decision on Thursday morning. He’s an exciting horse with a big future and I don’t want to rush him for the sake of it.
“He’s gone up to 108 and, if he runs, will be off 103, which hopefully gives him a head start, but in big handicaps such as this you’ve got to be cautious.
“His rating means he’s in stakes category now and I’ve no doubt whatsoever he is up to it. Ground-wise, he handled it the other day [softish going] and I don’t think the forecast this week is that aggressive, so that should be fine.”
David O’Meara knows better than anyone what is required to win the Balmoral Handicap. He saddled Escobar to victory last year as well as Lord Glitters in 2017. Escobar is on course to try and become the first two-time winner of the race.
“We thought he was [fast] ground dependent but he won it well on heavy last year, so he’s versatile in that respect,” O’Meara said. “He won it off 105 and is now on 108: that might make him more vulnerable but this seems to be his time of the year.”
Montatham, trained by William Haggas, is another who has enjoyed a good season and heads the weights. His exploits this year include finishing runner-up in the Royal Hunt Cup in June before going one better in a tremendously competitive renewal of the Clipper Logistics Stakes at York in August.
Roger Charlton struck with Yuften in 2016 and has two live contenders in course winners Tempus and Blue Mist. The former was a creditable sixth in the bet365 Cambridgeshire at Newmarket last time, while Blue Mist landed the Moet & Chandon International Stakes at Ascot in July. The pair are owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah.
Jessica Harrington could be represented by the reliable Njord, while Keats, winner of a Listed race at Cork last time, has been left in by Aidan O’Brien.