QIPCO British Champions Day....the story so far
With the 10th QIPCO British Champions Day upon us, we look back at some of the most memorable moments from Britain’s richest raceday since its inception in 2011.
The early years were dominated by arguably the finest thoroughbred in the history of the sport and one whose influence on the occasion has been felt keenly ever since.
Frankel arrived at Ascot in the autumn of 2012 at the peak of his powers. 13 races, 13 wins, many of them in rare fashion, had catapulted him beyond the boundaries of our sport and into the wider public consciousness.
Nevertheless, his swansong in the QIPCO Champion Stakes was billed as his toughest assignment and rightly so. The testing ground looked sure to blunt his speed and never had he faced a rival rated as highly as Cirrus des Aigles, the defending champion from France, who revelled in such conditions.
A full house of more than 32,000 spectators filled every corner of Ascot’s iconic grandstand, in anticipation for an ‘I was there’ moment, and they were not disappointed.
“Cirrus des Aigles is a worthy adversary, but up towards the line, all comers, all grounds, all beaten!” declared commentator Richard Hoiles, as Frankel defied a slow start to put another quality field in its place.
Frankel’s hugely popular trainer Sir Henry Cecil, visibly in poor health following his latest bout of cancer treatment, said simply: “He is the best I have ever had and the best I have ever seen. I would be very surprised if there has ever been better.”
Earlier on the card, distinguished Irish handler Dermot Weld produced a training feat worthy of the occasion that was about to unfold, as 2010 Gold Cup hero Rite Of Passage returned from a 510 day absence to land the QIPCO British Long Distance Cup under a masterful ride from Pat Smullen.
“It is one of those very satisfying days,” said Weld. “This was one of the biggest tests that I have faced, and I am just delighted that he has come good on the day. We had everything – the horse, the jockey, and we got the answer.”
It was the beginning of a red-letter day for the master of Rosewell House and his much-missed stable jockey, who doubled up an hour later with Sapphire in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.
The third edition of QIPCO British Champions Day saw a hugely popular maiden success at the top level for jockey George Baker, aboard Seal Of Approval in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.
“I have been waiting a long time to win a Group 1 – I am 31 years of age and I hope that I don’t have to wait that long for the next one,” said Baker. “It means a lot, especially to do it on a day like this.”
Baker was one of the most admired professionals in the weighing room, owing to weight struggles presented by his six-foot stature. He rode over 1,300 winners before a fall at St Moritz in January 2017 ended his riding career.
The Frankel story returned to the fore on QIPCO British Champions Day in 2014, when his younger brother Noble Mission captured the QIPCO Champion Stakes under a rousing front-running ride from James Doyle. Noble Mission came of age under the tutelage of Lady Jane Cecil, who had taken over the license from her late husband upon his death in June 2013.
“I knew that if he won it would be a fairytale and it absolutely was,” said an emotional Cecil in winner’s enclosure. “We knew the horse was in the form of his life, but we hardly dared to dream that it could happen.”
Lambourn trainer Charlie Hills has excelled with sprinters in recent years, a trend that started in 2015 with Muhaarar. Hamdan Al Maktoum’s homebred won four G1 sprints on the trot during a prolific three-year-old campaign, culminating with a dominant success in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes.
“Muhaarar had three G1 races in six weeks and then we decided to give him a break to go for this race,” said Hamdan Al Maktoum. “Champions Day is a special day for the horses and the crowd, and we wanted him to be here.”
Star three-year-olds Almanzor and Minding lit up QIPCO British Champions Day in 2016, with their respective performances in the QIPCO Champion Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO).
Almanzor, a brilliant winner of the French Derby and Irish Champion Stakes, dispatched Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe heroine Found with his trademark finishing kick, a performance that ensured he ended the year as the top-rated horse in Europe.
Jean-Claude Rouget, one of the most successful trainers in European history, was full of praise for his charge: “Almanzor is a super horse. I would rank him very highly against all the horses that I have ever trained.
“It is fantastic to win a G1 race at Ascot. I have won this race before with Literato but that was when it was run at Newmarket. I love coming here, and I love winning races here.”
Minding pipped Almanzor to the coveted Cartier Horse of The Year award, thanks to her versatility and constitution. The daughter of Galileo contested seven Group 1 races in 2016 and won five of them, including two Classics, over distances ranging from a mile to a mile and a half.
The standout performer from Frankel’s first crop, Cracksman, pulverised the opposition by seven lengths in the 2017 QIPCO Champion Stakes and was equally dominant the following year in winning by six lengths.
“When Cracksman is in the zone, he is a very good horse,” said trainer John Gosden after his 2018 win. “He is Frankel’s best son, and it is lovely to see him go out with a bang.”
Gosden enjoyed a treble on QIPCO British Champions Day in 2018, with Cracksman following on from Stradivarius in the QIPCO British Long Distance Cup and Roaring Lion in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO).
Roaring Lion had been the dominant force over a mile and a quarter for much of the season, with victories in the Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International and QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes, but the decision to drop back to a mile was justified as he overcame testing ground to win by a neck.
This was a second triumph on QIPCO British Champions Day for owner Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, a member of the Qatar-based family whose QIPCO Holding venture sponsors QIPCO British Champions Day.
Sheikh Fahad’s St Leger heroine Simple Verse provided Qatar Racing with its first success on QIPCO British Champions Day in the 2014 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.
Following her win, Sheikh Fahad said: “This feels like the best day’s racing ever. Having a winner on Champions Day is wonderful, and we have waited five years.
“We felt this could be the best day’s racing, and already today we have seen the champion sprinter [Muhaarar], the best filly out there, and that is proof. With support from owners and trainers, it has made the day what it is.”