Top broadcaster Mike Cattermole previews the QIPCO British Champions Day in his latest column.
John Gosden is in a class of his own at present - at the peak of his considerable powers - and about to be crowned champion trainer again for the third time.
The Clarehaven handler could seal the title in a blaze of glory on Champions’ Day at Ascot on Saturday.
Stadivarius, Lah Ti Dar, Roaring Lion and Cracksman all look to hold outstanding chances in their respective races. But this is at the end of a long season, and although it’s been dry since Wednesday, the ground is possibly going to be on the holding side (it’s soft, but heavy in places on the round course).
Gosden could still enjoy a fine day, but there may be one or two surprises lying in store.
LONG DISTANCE CUP
This brilliant card kicks off with the Long Distance Cup and at least Stradivarius has had a break since securing the Weatherbys/Hamilton £1m bonus at York.
Last year, after a gallant third in a very good St Leger, he finished in the same spot in this behind Order Of St George. That showed at least that he handles soft ground and he still finished ahead of Mount Moriah in fourth.
If the break has done him good, his class should tell.
Flag Of Honour is progressing well and took the Irish St Leger at the Curragh on good ground.
However, I don’t think there will be much between him and stablemate Sir Erec (an interesting declaration) who has emerged quickly as a smart performer and was especially impressive at Limerick last time in Listed company on heavy ground.
Indeed, the defeat he inflicted on the third, Twilight Payment, puts his form alongside that of Flag Of Honour and, moreover, the ground will hold no fears. But Stradivarius should be too strong for them both.
The Tin Man is the obvious one to turn to as he tries to regain his crown in the Sprint after he sluiced through the mud to win at Haydock. I am a big fan of The Tin Man – his name helps – but his form has an uneven look to it overall, although his record at Ascot is 1481154.
That fourth was gained behind old rival Librisa Breeze in this race last year and Dean Ivory’s star can also boast honourable form figures on the track of 2116419 and he too handles any ground. But, on balance, it seems that soft ground suits him best these days and he hasn’t had those conditions since this race last year. On soft, his form reads 2121.
What about Harry Angel? I can’t have the theory that he doesn’t like this track as he has run some decent races here. However, his last two starts were way below his best and I wonder if we may have the seen the best of him. He was a place ahead of The Tin Man when fourth Librisa Breeze last year.
Brando is another old sprint favourite who has given his connections so much pleasure over the years. He pushed The Tin Man hard at Haydock and is not out of it.
Tasleet is very talented but a bit of a nearly horse who was runner-up last year to Librisa Breeze and to The Tin Man in the Diamond Jubilee. Will the blinkers help him find that little bit extra?
This is tight!
FILLIES AND MARES
Lah Ti Dar is going to be all the rage for the Fillies and Mares after her gallant second to Kew Gardens in the St Leger.
There is nothing of Kew Gardens’ calibre in this line-up and she did look very at ease with cut in the ground when winning comfortably at Newbury on her debut in April.
Interestingly, like her sire Dubawi and dam Dar Re Mi, she has never raced on worse than good to soft.
Aidan O’Brien clearly wants to test Lah Ti Dar as he has declared six! They include last year’s winner, Hydrangea, who has been below her best (on quick ground) this season and Magical who didn’t run at all badly when stepped up markedly in trip to finish tenth from a wide draw in the Arc.
Magical spent most of the race at the back with Sea Of Class could never land a blow at Longchamp. But she stuck to her task well in the straight and finished about a length behind Kew Gardens.
She has performed with credit on both soft and heavy before and Ryan Moore can ride her a little more handily, now that she has proved her stamina.
Lah Ti Dar will be hard to beat but Magical looks like the each-way play.
QUEEN ELIZABETH II
So, as some predicted, Roaring Lion indeed drops back to a mile in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, having made his name over ten furlongs this summer.
He is still pretty smart at a mile, having won three at the trip at two and then finished a close second in the Racing Post Trophy. He was also fifth in the 2,000 Guineas before being stepped up to run third in the Derby.
This, though, is not his comfort zone and you would back him knowing that and also that he too has yet to race on ground worse than good to soft.
But how bad will the straight be? It is the most modern part of the track and therefore the best draining.
I think on balance he is worth taking on, but what with?
Laurens, the five-time Group 1 winner, tackles the males for the first time and will always try. But she needs to find a bit more.
The French challenger Recoletos was fourth to Cracksman in last year’s Champion Stakes but has won three of his five starts at around a mile this term. He won the Moulin on good ground last time but is just as effective on soft.
I am quite a fan of Addeyb’s as I believe him to be high class on soft ground. He won an excellent renewal of the Lincoln in March when Lord Glitters was just under three lengths away in second. David O’Meara’s grey is now 8lb better off and both have a fine turn of foot.
Addeyb is around 8-1 and Lord Glitters (always runs well at Ascot - form figures 2122) a point shorter at the time of writing.
In which case, surely Beat The Bank, who got up to beat Lord Glitters a neck on the round course here in July, is overpriced at around 16-1?
Beat The Bank went off at just 4-1 for this race 12 months ago and was a bitter disappointment after hacking up in style at Newmarket in the Joel Stakes on soft.
Generally, things need to fall right for him to exploit his turn of foot but with all ground coming alike to him, he does seem too big in the market. There was a doubt about the well-being of the Andrew Balding team but they had a winner at Nottingham on Wednesday and Cleonte ran a mighty race in the Cesarewitch.
I hugely respect Addeyb and Lord Glitters but Beat The Bank is the value.
So, Cracksman wears blinkers in his bid to win back-to-back Champion Stakes. He was superb 12 months ago and is unbeaten on ground described as good to soft or soft.
But the application of blinkers is an admission that he needs to sharpen his mind as he has looked lazy this year, both in winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom and also when second to Poet’s Word at Royal Ascot.
He has not been seen since then but the vibes on his well-being have been good. But he can’t afford to drop his guard here.
There has been nothing wrong with Crystal Ocean’s attitude, even when his sparkling winning run was ended in the King George (by stablemate Poet’s Word) and again when trying the impossible in giving 8lb to Enable at Kempton.
The fact that Sir Michael Stoute never considered the Arc for him suggests that this has been the target all along and he could take a lot of beating. Note that the official handicapper rates him 4lb superior to Cracksman.
He looked comfortable on soft ground at Goodwood last year and although this trip may be on the sharp side, this is a stiff mile and a quarter.
I do think the trip will be too short for last year’s St Leger winner Capri but Cracksman’s stablemate Monarchs Glen, winner of the Wolferton Satkes when last seen at Royal Ascot, looks to be going the right way. Like Crystal Ocean, he acts on any ground.
Verbal Dexterity has not built on his two-year-old promise on both his runs this season but was off the track for 10 months before the first of them.
Nicola Currie has a great chance to make an impact here on a big day as her mount Raising Sand comes into this in top form after a course win over seven furlongs on soft ground at the last meeting here.
Flaming Spear was fifth that day but is another one with gears at this level – if he gets the breaks.
That remark also applies to Mitchum Swagger who will relish the underfoot conditions and the form of his third in the Lincoln, a particularly good running, on his reappearance, is worth more than a close inspection.
He was beaten into third then by Addeyb (to whom he was conceding 6lb) and Lord Glitters (who gave him 2lb), beaten two and three quarters of a length and a neck.
Fourth was Gabrial (receiving 1lb) and all three of those rivals take their chance in the QEII earlier on the card.
Off the course for six months until last month at Haydock, Mitchum lacked a bit of swagger but should have been sharpened up by that and I can seem him running a huge race at 16-1 with Sky Bet.
The other one I like is South Seas who looked destined for the top at two and has a touch of class about him. Having been rated 110 once, he is down to 102 and looked as though his turn was near when second at Goodwood last time.
John Quinn’s Safe Voyage looked highly progressive at Haydock (hacked up) and Galway and looks a major player, too. Talented 3lb claimer Sean Davis keeps the ride.
1.25 STRADIVARIUS, 2.00 THE TIN MAN, 2.40 MAGICAL (EW), 3.15 BEAT THE BANK (EW), 3.50 CRYSTAL OCEAN, 4.30 MITCHUM SWAGGER