Society to Rock Ascot
Simon Holt previews QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot.
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3pts win Excelebration 15.30 Ascot at best-morning price
1pt win Opinion Poll 13.45 Ascot at best-morning price
1pt win Society Rock 14.20 Ascot at best-morning price
1pt win Great Heavens 14.55 Ascot at best-morning price
In future years, Saturday's Champions Day at Ascot could be something to tell the grandchildren about if Frankel can maintain his unbeaten record, and end his career on an ultimate high, by taking the Qipco Champion Stakes.
With 13 mostly brilliant victories behind him, Sir Henry Cecil's colt has proved himself one of the greatest Flat racehorses of all time and his audacious front-running blitz in last year's 2000 Guineas, an 11-length romp in the Queen Anne Stakes in June and victory in the Juddmonte International virtually on the bridle are performances which will especially live long in the memory.
Frankel's almost nonchalant dismissal of St Nicholas Abbey - a Breeders Cup winner - at York had to be seen to be believed and, while the high class French gelding Cirrus des Aigles and the brave-as-a-lion Nathaniel are capable of providing stiff opposition, it is difficult to envisage this horse being beaten in what is likely to be his final appearance before retirement to stud.
It was almost frightening to read Cecil's remark earlier this week that his outstanding colt could be even better on the soft ground which is likely to prevail at Ascot.
Most handicappers have last year's winner Cirrus des Aigles with about 10lb to find on Frankel even accounting for a deeply impressive nine-length win at Longchamp recently while Nathaniel, forced to miss the Arc (a race which may have suited him well), would have a few more pounds to find. However, both these terrific horses will definitely enjoy the conditions and, if Cecil is wrong about the ground, then it's possible - just possible - that Frankel will have a fight on his hooves.
Earlier, Excelebration - a regular whipping boy of Frankel's before gaining a much deserved second Group One win in the Prix Jacques le Marois in August - looks the one to beat in the Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes.
Aidan O'Brien's colt, beaten on five separate occasions by the 'World's Greatest Racehorse', should confirm Deauville placings with Cityscape (second) and Elusive Kate (third) and might have most to fear from The Queen's runner Carlton House who disappointed here last time but had earlier split So You Think and Farhh in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at the Royal meeting.
The day begins with the Qipco Long Distance Cup in which I shall take a chance on Opinion Poll gaining his revenge on stable-companion Colour Vision who beat him half a length in the Gold Cup here in June (Saddler's Rock a close third, Askar Tau fifth, Fame And Glory seventh).
Mikael Barzalona's mount received a couple of bumps from the Frankie Dettori-ridden winner in the closing stages that day and has been off the course since. However, I doubt that Godolphin would run him if he wasn't well tuned up and this two mile trip on easy ground should be ideal. Neither Colour Vision or Saddlers Rock are perhaps in quite the form of their midsummer exploits whereas Opinion Poll will go to post a fresh horse.
Irish Leger fourth Aiken looks progressive and should be thereabouts.
In the Qipco Sprint, Society Rock, a past winner of the Golden Jubilee Stakes over the course and distance, has a fine chance of supplementing his recent Betfred Haydock Sprint victory providing he doesn't forfeit too much ground at the start.
James Fanshawe's five-year-old blew his chance with a slow break behind Black Caviar here in June (Restiadargent third) and can't afford to do that again with the speedy Wizz Kid, winner of the Prix de l'Abbaye recently, in opposition. However, the course and ground conditions are certainly in Society Rock's favour.
Finally, Dancing Rain bids to repeat last year's success in the Qipco Fillies and Mares Stakes but returns from a long lay-off whereas the progressive Great Heavens could be spot on after her sixth in the Arc recently following a mid-season break.
Alternatively, it could be argued that this comes soon enough for John Gosden's filly, but this was her original target before she was drafted in - possibly a gallop short - as 'super-sub' at Longchamp for her under-the-weather half brother Nathaniel. Great Heavens, who relishes soft ground, had earlier beaten both Shirocco Star and Was in the Irish Oaks and her biggest threat could be Dermot Weld's progressive filly Sapphire who split those smart types Izzi Top and I'm A Dreamer at The Curragh in July.