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Qipco Champion Stakes (British Champions Middle Distance) (Group One)
With a guaranteed £1.3 million in total prize money and £737,230 to the winner, for many this is the race of the day and was won last year by Almanzor who took the prize back over the channel to France for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and jockey Christophe Soumillon. He became the third winning favourite in the last eleven renewals and the first since the legendary Franke in 2012, though as things stand the betting is a bit more open this season at this early stage. Although early days the betting suggests it could well be a lot more open in this year, but we have an ante-post race preview for you to help you to make up your mind ahead of the Qipco Champion Stakes 2017.
As things stand running plans seem a little up in the air with the John Gosden stable but if he allows Cracksman to take his place in this field then he must have a really decent chance. He is currently entered in the Irish Champion Stakes, and the Arc de Triomphe as well as here, but if stable companion Enable goes to France as expected then he may well show up here looking for the huge pot of gold at the end of the Ascot rainbow. Still only a three-year-old, the son of Frankel has won two of his four starts this season and placed in the other two with an impressive six length defeat of Venice Beach at York in the Great Voltigeur in late August. Connections are not looking to head to the Arc this year with the yard also containing the hot favourite Enable so this looks the logical alternative for him. He is a strong galloper and given a solid pace, he could be a difficult horse to beat in this Group 1.
Trainer Marytn Meade has never made any secret of how highly he regards Eminent but the son of Frankel (again) had yet to quite live up to expectations with a fourth to Wings Of Eagles in the Epsom Derby his best run – until last time out. A change of tactics saw him sent to the front straight away at Deauville in the wonderfully titled Group Two Prix Guillaume d’Ornano Haras du Logis Saint-Germain over this trip in August, when he made all the running to win by an easy three lengths, never seeing another horse throughout. Whether he can dominate like that here seems open to question, with all the other riders now aware that may well be the tactics they use, but he did so with plenty in hand at the line though we are yet to see what he will or won’t do when a rival looms up at his hind quarters to try and go by.
It will be interesting to see where Richard Hannon and Godolphin send Barney Roy, with his best form a combination of this trip and the mile. His nose second to Ulysses at Sandown in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown would give him every chance of success here as he would meet the winner on six pounds better terms, but his next run saw him beaten two and a quarter lengths on softer ground, which would make turning the form around a lot more difficult (though not impossible by any stretch). His best form does seem to be on faster going so his race choice may yet prove to be weather dependent, but he does seem sure to go well in whichever race connections choose and is a horse very much still on the upgrade.
Talking of Ulysses, Sir Michael Stoute has already worked wonders with the four-year-old son of Galileo who has only tasted defeat at the hands of Highland Reel and wonder mare Enable in five starts this season, with wins at Sandown (twice), and more recently in the Juddmonte International at York when two lengths clear of Churchill with Barney Roy a further neck back in third. He was ridden with supreme confidence that day by Jim Crowley and possibly value for further having produced fast and late, and is another very much on the upgrade, though whether he can give the weight to some of our best three-year-olds could yet be his undoing, and as things stand he seems more likely to head to France for the Arc regardless.
Aidan O’Brien is responsible for an amazing fifteen of the forty-nine early declarations and any one of them could well get involved in the finish, though we will settle for the two that look to have the best chances. Winter is a filly the betting public have taken to their hearts after four wins in a row with the English 1000 Guineas, Irish 1000 Guineas, the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood over this trip, all of them Group Ones. She is straight out of the top drawer and a beautifully bred daughter of Galileo out of a Choisir mare, and if she is sent here as opposed to all her other options, she could well prove to be the one they all have to beat. Her ability to stay this far in this field is still in question with most of her runs over a mile or less and just the one over this far, and others will no doubt try to stretch her stamina to the limits to blunt her speed, but wherever she shoes up on Champions Day she will have a legion of supports willing to put her abilities to the test.
Highland Reel ends our shortlist and may yet head here though he does have plenty of other options including the Breeders Cup in early November. For reasons unknown, he has never really seemed to catch the public’s imagination which seems strange for a horse who has won nine of his twenty-four races and over £6,000,000 in win and place prize money. Races all over the World have seen victories at Ascot, Epsom, Goodwood, Santa Anita, Sha Tin, Arlington and Gowran Park so he can hardly be written off here, though his fourth to Enable when over nine lengths adrift of the winner wasn’t up to his usual standards and he does have a little bit left to prove in this line-up.