Top broadcaster Mike Cattermole previews QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday and he fancies Poet's Word to land the Champion Stakes.
As far as the powers that be are concerned, the sun will set on the Flat Season of 2017 at Ascot on Saturday. In reality, with a nasty weather forecast, rays of bright light are unlikely to be coming from the skies but hopefully from the wet track itself which stages a card that boasts a whole load of top equine talent.
It will be about handling the conditions best at the end of a long season – the ground is already soft at the time of writing - and the last chance for the Classic generation to make a real impression against their elders.
I have written about the lack of success on that front before so Cracksman, who takes on the older generation for the first time, and Barney Roy, who has tried twice and come up just a little short, need to step up in the QIPCO Champion Stakes.
That said, the absence of Ulysses doesn’t half make it easier for them as of the five older horses left in, only Highland Reel has struck at Group One level (six times). But it is well known that he needs the ground to ride fast to show his very best form and it must be doubtful that he will start.
The conditions should be perfect however for Poets Word who won on soft ground at Goodwood in August and then beat all bar Decorated Knight in the Irish Champion Stakes. Poets Word came from way back that day and certainly had the run of the race on the outside as several on the inside (Cliffs Of Moher in sixth among them) got in each other’s way.
Sir Michael Stoute shocked a few people by taking out Ulysses (but surely Del Mar was always the target?) and he could have found a supersub here in this lightly-raced colt who has done nothing but improve, has had this as a target for some time and who worked brilliantly this week.
Cracksman has also learned and progressed as the season has gone on but gives the impression that dropping him back to 10 furlongs may not be in his best interests. Surely his strength lies at a mile and a half?
Barney Roy was inched out by Ulysses in a messy renewal of the Eclipse (Desert Encounter third, Cliffs Of Moher fourth but again messed about) and then paid the price for tackling Churchill too early in the Juddmonte at York where at least he showed he can handle an easy surface.
The fact he hasn’t run since means he will be fresh and he is much respected.
Brametot, the dual French Classic hero, ran perfectly well when fifth in the Arc behind Enable and could be suited by coming back in trip. He is not out of it and while I believe that circumstances have not allowed Cliffs Of Moher to show how good he might be, I will go for Poets Word to beat the youngsters off.
Obviously Ribchester deservedly heads the market in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes as he has had a fine season and ran Minding close in this 12 months ago. A four-time Group One winner and a model of consistency, he has much going for him.
It is hard to imagine Churchill returning to his best form after three defeats even if he did have the measure of Al Wukair in the 2,000 Guineas back in May.
On the other hand, Andre Fabre’s colt has kept his form well and won a Group One last time, although a defeat earlier by Taareef suggests that he has something to find with Ribchester.
The one three-year-old who has sprung from the pack is Beat The Bank who clearly relishes an easy surface and absolutely bolted up in the Group Two Joel Stakes on soft at Newmarket last time.
He beat Sir John Lavery, who reopposes, by five lengths and that Aidan O’Brien colt should have won a Group Two at Leopardstown the time before (so unlucky) which went to subsequent Woodbine Mile winner Suedois.
If that form is taken literally, Beat The Bank will be hard to beat.
The meeting starts with a thrilling rematch between Big Orange and Order Of St George in the Long Distance Cup, which surprisingly remains a mere Group Two.
Order Of St George flopped in this last year after his Arc heroics but this time he has had an extra week to get over it. Some thought he was flat in the Gold Cup but that doesn’t wash with me and there was no shame to be beaten a whisker by “Big O”.
Michael Bell’s star himself suffered a reverse when beaten by Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup (Desert Skyline third) and John Gosden’s colt has since further covered himself in glory with a close third in the St Leger, significantly on good to soft ground.
With Big Orange better on a quicker surface and the fact that “George” may be vulnerable after Chantilly, Stradivarius has to be taken very seriously and he is a taking each-way bet at 13-2 with SkyBet.
Speaking of rematches, it’s “Harry Angel and Caravaggio III” in the Sprint and Clive Cox’s colt can take the deciding rubber after looking superb on his last two outings.
He sluiced through the heavy ground to bolt up at Haydock last time where The Tin Man well held in third, although James Fanshawe’s star is at his best at Ascot and is, after all, the defending champion.
Quiet Reflection, who was over the top in this last year, looked back to her best at Naas last time and is expected to be competitive in what looks a real thriller.
Having seen the way she classily disposed of Journey, Left Hand et al in the Prix Vermeille, Bateel is going to take the world of beating in the Fillies And Mares.
The Vermeille was by some way the fastest-run of the Arc trials and Bateel, who quickened to win readily in the soft ground that day, has stepped up to another level this season.
Quite why Journey, last year’s winner, was trading shorter than Francois Graffard’s mare was a mystery but the market has corrected itself now with the French raider generally 5/2.
Hydrangea has beaten her stablemate Winter twice this season (but also been beaten four times by her) but she has to prove she stays this far.
Finally, Lord Glitters has an obvious chance in the closing Balmoral Handicap, having chased home Accidental Agent in eye-catching style over 7f here last month.
He was certainly given a lot to do there on his first start for David O’Meara but travelled and finished off very strongly to go down by half a length. Given that it was also his first run for five months, he can be expected to be a bit sharper over this trip which suited him best in France.
The near miss may be a blessing as it is the admirable Accidental Agent who has the 6lb penalty to carry now.
Mike Cattermole's Champions Day selections:
2.00 HARRY ANGEL
3.15 BEAT THE BANK
3.50 POETS WORD
4.30 LORD GLITTERS