Champion display expected
Ben Coley provides a horse-by-horse guide to the QIPCO Champion Stakes and can't see past Cirrus Des Aigles.
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CIRRUS DES AIGLES: Eighteen-time winner including three at this level, among which his 2011 success in this race stands out. Arguably better still was his gallant defence of that title, which ended in a second to the mighty Frankel, and on that form he's the clear pick here. Things didn't look quite so simple when he laboured to fourth in the King George before a pair of defeats at Deauville, but he's back on track now courtesy of a Group Three win at Maisons-Laffitte followed by a contemptuous dismissal of 12 rivals in the Prix Dollar on Arc weekend. Cut in the ground is in his favour, 10 furlongs is his optimum distance and Ascot holds no fears, so if he's beaten fair and square it'll be by a good one.
FARHH: Lightly-raced five-year-old who hasn't finished out of the first three and gained due reward for a series of solid efforts in defeat when landing the Lockinge in May, with Declaration Of War disappointing in behind. Absent since due to a setback but he should be ready to go given that connections had been mulling over earlier races, and he's got a fine record after a break anyway winning every time he's been off for 60 days or more. To beat Cirrus Des Aigles first time up over a distance which is arguably not his best requires further improvement but the visual impression created at Newbury lingers and he's perhaps the horse most open to improvement here.
HUNTER'S LIGHT: Group One winner abroad but short of that level here and by some distance. Trip is ideal and ground fine but his role is no more than a supporting one.
MAIN SEQUENCE: Won his first four starts to earn a starting price of 9/1 for last year's Derby, in which he ran with credit behind the impressive Camelot. Went on to go close at Longchamp and York in good races before appearing not to stay in the St Leger. Since that day, things have rather gone awry and his form has dipped, with cheekpieces failing to solve the problem of late. Even at his best he'd look to hold no realistic chance but on current form he may struggle to beat a rival.
MUKHADRAM: Front-runner who has made all for victories in slightly lesser company twice this season, performances which sandwich two sound efforts in defeat at this level. The first of those, when giving Al Kazeem a real scare in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes over course and distance, would look to give him each-way claims here and, on just his 10th start, there could be more to come over an ideal distance. There have to be some concerns about the ground given his lack of experience on it but he's from a family who've coped well with the mud so he's worth the benefit of the doubt there. Backing him is to bet on Paul Hanagan executing a perfect ride from the front but given such a ride he's got a squeak.
PARISH HALL: Group Three win at Dundalk last time a long way below the level required to go close here. Ground a concern and while he did win in Group One company as a juvenile, his seven-length fourth when last asked to dine at the top table is a more accurate reflection of his prospects.
HILLSTAR: Produced an impressive display to win over a mile and a half at the Royal meeting here, a vast improvement on the form he'd shown in a pair of previous handicap defeats. That Group Two success has seen him promoted to this level since and he's gone with credit despite still showing a tendency to race freely, something which the presence of Mukhadram may help with. Trainer insists he'll relish soft ground - so far we've only a Leicester maiden win as evidence to suggest it suits - and he needs to if he's to find the improvement necessary to trouble some tried and tested rivals.
MORANDI: Strong-travelling French raider whose Prix du Jockey Club second behind Intello represents solid European form. Again finished a sound second to that rival last time out when further confirming that the forecast conditions suit, but no win since Criterium de Saint-Cloud success as a juvenile, the form of which hasn't worked out, and asking a lot for that record to end here.
RULER OF THE WORLD: Epsom Derby winner who failed to follow that up at the Curragh before returning to form with a luckless second in the Prix Niel, his preparation for the Arc de Triomphe. Replays suggest he did incredibly well to finish seventh on his return to Longchamp having been hampered as the pace began to increase, but wouldn't have won the race and does look short of the best here. Has to be a concern that this strong galloper is dropped in distance, too, so unless they go hell-for-leather the best he can probably hope for is a staying-on third.
TRIPLE THREAT: Unexposed Group Two winner with no trip or ground concerns, trained by one of the giants of French racing. Probably better than he was able to show in the Prix Niel last time and a drop in distance will favour him more than it will Ruler Of The World, who was close to four lengths ahead by the line, but it's hard to find anything in the form book which gives him more than an outside place chance.
VERDICT: CIRRUS DES AIGLES has the strongest form in this race and, having made a welcome return to his best lately, he should take the world of beating. Ascot holds no terrors despite a poor run in the King George earlier this year and a repeat of the level of form displayed in winning this race two years ago or, better still, chasing home Frankel last year would surely be good enough. Each of his rivals has some sort of question to answer, whether it be well-being (Farhh), trip (Ruler Of The World), the strength of their form (Hillstar), ground (Mukhadram) or class (the remainder). Of them, Farhh remains the most exciting but Mukhadram looks the more reliable and his pedigree raises hope he will cope with the conditions. Perhaps he can again finish second at this level to a truly outstanding animal, Cirrus Des Aigles.