Ben Linfoot analyses all five group races on Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot as Aidan O'Brien stole the show with Kew Gardens and Magical.
1.35 Qipco British Champions Sprint
The ground on the straight track was described as heavy with a GoingStick reading of 5.3 suggesting it would ride about as testing as it gets at Ascot, a course that drains so well. With multiple Group One winners in the field it looked a strong renewal, but it was a horse with a record of six wins from 36 career starts that landed the spoils, DONJUAN TRIUMPHANT, a 33/1 chance for Andrew Balding and King Power. The trainer was landing his first Champions Day winner and the owners a first top-level victory, just reward for their investment over the last couple of years. A furlong out he still looked an unlikely hero, but as Hello Youmzain and Sands Of Mali wilted following a battle up front throughout it was left to the closers to take over and he stayed on best of all to deny One Master and Forever In Dreams. Both the winner and the second stay seven furlongs well and the runner-up, in particular, is a specialist at that trip, another indication of how staying power won the day. One Master stayed on powerfully for second as her stamina kicked in but the winner got first run on her, in part thanks to interference One Master suffered a furlong out, with Forever In Dreams running a big race in third at 66/1. They raced on the far side of the track and Brando travelled best of all, looking like he was coming with a winning run until Donjuan Triumphant flew past him on the outside. He was a tad unlucky not to be placed. Make A Challenge smoothly took up the lead and was bang there with a furlong to go before he was flanked by the closers, while Speak In Colours stayed on past tired horses into sixth. Dream Of Dreams and Librisa Breeze didn’t seem to like conditions at all, while the The Tin Man and Cape Byron also finished tired. Advertise chased the leaders but could never get to the lead and was beaten when hampered a furlong out.
Andrew Balding: “Kevin Hunt, whose the head lad who works in his barn, has always had to work hard on his joints but this was always going to be his last run and he’s off to stud now. He’s going to France, I hope he gets some beautiful brides now. It’s fantastic for King Power, a first Group One winner and this was the first horse the Chairman ever bought so it’s all got symmetry, it’s lovely.”
William Haggas: “We’ve got to go and make a decision whether to keep her in training or send her to stud. We’ll decide that over the next month or so, I don’t see why she shouldn’t race next year really, the owners are by their own admission quite old and they want to have some fun and it’s bloody hard to get horses as good as this. Seven furlong horses are a bit in the twilight zone, she carries Group 1 penalties in the other group races which makes things difficult. I don’t think she’s a six furlong filly, but when conditions are like this there’s a chance six is just as good, and this is a testing six.”
Kevin Ryan: “Hello Youmzain, he’s hit the gates really well, he goes in soft ground but we were completely well aware that that’s a completely different test of stamina. He’s getting quicker as the year goes on, just probably doing a little too much but there was nothing James could do about it. He’s run with great credit and I look forward to next year with him, he could be even better.
“Brando he’s an absolute star, I thought he was coming with a winning running there. He’s still enjoying it and as long as he can keep running to that level he’ll keep going.”
2.10 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup
A magnificent horse race and if you’re going to lose, lose like this. Stradivarius’ 10-race winning run came to an end in the tightest of finishes with KEW GARDENS landing the spoils in a thrilling photo finish. In real time it looked like Aidan O’Brien’s horse had won with the authority of at least a head, but Stradivarius put his nose down on the line to suspend the drama. Just a nose was in it in the end, Kew Gardens the first horse to beat Stradivarius in two years since Order Of St George and Torcedor finished in front of him in the 2017 renewal of this very race. Kew Gardens sat more prominently than Stradivarius and was three lengths clear of the favourite a couple of furlongs out with Frankie Dettori just winding up his mount into top gear. The response wasn’t immediate but the son of Sea The Stars’ will to win soon took over and he made up the ground by the final furlong marker, where he headed Kew Gardens. At that stage it looked like it would be consecutive win number 11, but Kew Gardens wouldn’t go away and just got back on top in the nick of time, showing real guts to beat such a champion. Clearly two superb stayers, there were five lengths back to the third, Royal Line, a stablemate of the runner-up who was having his first go at two miles. Mekong’s energy was conserved early on and he stayed on into fourth, with Withhold weakening into fifth late on after trying to force the issue.
Aidan O’Brien: "We were training him for the Gold Cup and he got an injury and it all went pear shaped so we're just so lucky to get him back. He pulled all the muscles in his back just before Ascot. He barely made it back for the Irish St Leger and that race just didn't go right. He's an incredible horse. It's possible he'll be around next year. The lads will decide what they want to do. There is a big chance he will be. He's a very brave horse, so I'm delighted. I'd say the Gold Cup next year would definitely be the target if he stayed in training next year. I would imagine that's it for the season."
John Gosden: “It was too soft and he wasn’t entirely happy on it. He didn’t really love it through Swinley Bottom and it was very brave and sporting of Mr Nielsen to run on it. He’s a top of the ground horse and he did well to win it last year, when they went no pace. This year he found it too much of a slog in the ground. We’ll be back for the Ascot Gold Cup on good to firm, where we’ll be in good shape. We were brave to run and it’s not anybody’s fault. We wouldn’t have run if it was on the outer track, and we’ve run on a track we’ve never run on before, but take nothing from the winner, as we headed him and he’s come back.”
2.45 Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes
A fourth successive win for John Gosden’s STAR CATCHER, her third consecutive Group One and more Champions Day glory for owner Anthony Oppenheimer who had won at the last two renewals of this meeting with Cracksman. She did it differently, too, as in the Ribblesdale she was well-positioned by Frankie Dettori, while her last two wins in the Irish Oaks and Prix Vermaille were achieved by front-running successes. This time she was held up in midfield and when Delphinia hit the front on the far rail under Seamie Heffernan with Sun Maiden challenging down the outside, Star Catcher had to show guts and resolution to go through the gap and seal the contest. It’s testament to her ability and tenacity that she had the tools and the will to do it, the daughter of Sea The Stars yet another superstar filly for John Gosden to go to war with next year as a four-year-old. Delphinia put in a career-best in second, looking the likely winner at one stage and only beaten a short head. She emphatically reversed Prix du Royallieu form with Anapurna who ran poorly and dropped out of contention, finishing 11th. Sun Maiden had suffered a couple of defeats in good company following her Newcastle win in June, but again ran well here, the Frankel filly handling the ground better than most and her challenge only faded late on. The unlucky horse in the race was Fleeting, the door closing on her a furlong out after she was held-up early on. By the time she saw daylight it was too late, this the fourth time she has been beaten by Star Catcher. She’s unlucky to be zero from eight this season.
Frankie Dettori: "Obviously I'm still a bit sour about Stradivarius, but the ground is a bit worse than we thought. I've gone from crying to smiling in half an hour. She's lovely, she's tough - I think she's staying in training, with a bit of luck, and she's a wonderful filly. She's provided me with my 250th Group One and 18th this season, so I love her."
Anthony Oppenheimer: “We’re all thrilled. We were very worried about the ground before the race and didn’t think she would go in it, but she has a lot of courage and really pulled on that. It was a fantastic effort by her, the trainer and the jockey.”
Aidan O’Brien: “Delphinia and Fleeting ran great races. We’re very pleased with them.”
Seamie Heffernan: “Delphinia ran well. We were just caught close home but I’m delighted with her. Second is better than third!”
Lord Grimthorpe: “She ran a blinder. She was drawn a little wide, settled in well, and had a pretty good run through. She’s probably run the best race of her life, really, which is fantastic.”
3.20 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by Qipco)
Just a sixth career outing for KING OF CHANGE but a convincing win under Sean Levey for Richard Hannon. The son of Farhh was unproven on testing ground but he travelled really well in the conditions and glided into the lead when taking over from the front-running Veracious. Once asked to go and win his race he drifted to his left in the closing stages, but he had the race won by then and this was a career best by some way. He’s clearly improved significantly since finishing runner-up to Magna Grecia in the 2000 Guineas and could well have benefited from his midsummer break, his win at Salisbury a month ago his first run since Newmarket. He’s obviously got the gears for a mile, but he could get 10 furlongs as well and Hannon has options next year. The Revenant was second and came with a well-timed run from out of the pack under Pierre-Charles Boudot. He couldn’t quite land the seven-timer but this was his first go at the top level and he proved he has the quality for the sphere, especially in testing ground. Conditions caught out many in this race, including the well-backed Benbatl (7/2 favourite from 7/1) who was first beaten, Lord Glitters who was never going and the Guineas winner Magna Grecia. Safe Voyage loves the mud, though, and he stayed on into third, while Veracious looked certain for a place for a long way until she lost third late on. Mohaather was keen early on but connections will take plenty of encouragement for next year finishing fifth in a Group One on just his second start of the campaign. It looks like he’ll stay a mile.
Richard Hannon: "I thought he'd run well in the Guineas, but he had a hard race so we put him away - we thought it would be fast ground at Royal Ascot, but we got the first Royal Ascot in 10 years where it rained! After missing that we took our time and he came back to win his Listed race well. Sean said he's the best horse he's ever ridden, so he must give him some feel. You'd love to be part of Royal Ascot, but it was always about next year for him. I'm delighted for everyone. He's got lots of options, but it's a shorter winter on the back of a win like that."
Francis-Henri Graffard: "I hate being second. The race here with Bateel (second in Fillies & Mares in 2017), I still can't digest that. When you come and you have done the job and the horse is in top form, you really hope. Second is not a great position to be, but we have to be proud of our horse. He came from far back and he was coming, but he just got beaten. The winner won easily and he was prominent and we had to make a lot of ground. We took our time to get through, the horse was coming and I was hoping he was going to get there, but it was too late. We can't find any excuses and he ran a fantastic race. He will stay in training next year as he is a gelding. He is a fantastic horse."
Sean Quinn: “Running this well over a mile, after so many runs over seven furlongs, does open up more doors but I think the ground is more relevant to this horse than the trip. The softer the ground the better. He’s a gelding so if we can keep him fit and healthy I see no reason why he can’t try for this race again next year. We’re very open-minded about where we run him in between – it can be England, Ireland, France, wherever the ground is suitable.”
4.00 Qipco British Champion Stakes
A superb day for Aidan O’Brien was topped by MAGICAL winning at this meeting for the second successive year following on from last season’s success in the Fillies & Mares. If that was her coming of age performance perhaps this will be what she’ll be best remembered for and it’s a nod to the brilliance of Enable, too, a mare that has beaten her on five occasions. Out of her shadow and dropped to 10 furlongs she’s now won an Irish Champion and a Champion Stakes and this victory highlights her toughness and resolution, just 13 days on from her fifth-placed finish in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. She chased the strong pace set by Ghaiyyath in France and looked tired crossing the line, so to bounce back out of that contest and win here says a lot about both her ability and constitution. She fought off Addeybb who was a gallant second, a horse in great nick who relished testing ground. You sense this was his moment, but he couldn’t quite grasp the opportunity with Magical simply proving too good. He was over two lengths clear of the third, Deirdre, who ran well in ground that isn’t ideal, while Fox Tal recouped most of the £75,000 he was supplemented for by finishing fourth. He travelled well and could be a foce to be reckoned with next year. Mehdaayih was a length behind him in fifth and was ridden differently by Rab Havlin after being way too keen in the Prix de l’Opera. Held up out the back, she travelled into things powerfully but had to weave her way through and that diluted her challenge. If she learns from this and settles better she’s capable of landing a Group One. Stablemate Coronet was beaten a fair way out and never looked like winning. One suspects this company was just a tad too hot for her.
Aidan O'Brien: "She is just incredible, but she is classy as well. A mile and a half probably stretches her, although she has won over that a mile and a quarter is really her. She's by Galileo which makes her special, they don't know when to stop. They never hold a grudge and mentally they are unbelievable. She is the most unbelievable mare I've seen. What can you say about her? She is the ultimate racehorse, that is what she is. She is incredible. It looks like she is still progressing, which is amazing. We would love to keep her in training, but the lads will make a decision. They have to decide whether they want to go to the Breeders' Cup or not, and that would be the next one if they decide they want to go. Found was an unbelievable mare and you can definitely compare them well. If she goes to the Breeders' Cup, she would go to the Filly & Mare Turf."
William Haggas: "Hats off to that filly (Magical). She's better than him. He has run a really good race today. He liked the conditions, it all went perfectly well, just three-quarters of a length not fast enough. I'm very proud of him. He's performed with great credit, so I'm delighted."