Get the thoughts of the leading trainers as the entries are revealed for QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on October 20th.
QIPCO Champion Stakes
Last year’s stunning QIPCO Champion Stakes winner Cracksman has "a very good possibility" of defending his title in the £1.3 million contest according to his owner Anthony Oppenheimer.
John Gosden’s colt finished the season as the highest-rated horse in Europe on the back of his display at Ascot, where he beat the subsequent dual Group 1 star Poet’s Word by seven lengths.
Cracksman continued his winning spree in both the Prix Ganay and Investec Coronation Cup before meeting with defeat in a rematch with Poet’s Word in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. He missed out on another clash with that same horse in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) on account of the ground and is scheduled to make his next start in the Juddmonte International, also part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
“Cracksman was absolutely in his element last year and it was a marvellous day,” said Oppenheimer.
“There’s no question the race will be considered. I’ve seen him at the stable this week, he looks fantastic and we’re just waiting for the rain. If it rains at York and the ground is good to soft, he’ll run at York. If it’s like it has been recently, he won’t.
“He’s got a very good possibility of running at Ascot. He’s had a long rest. As long as it’s good ground or good to soft, he’ll run, probably. He’s going to run in the Arc, too, but he can do both.”
Some 49 horses from across Europe have been entered for Europe’s most valuable mile and a quarter race including no fewer than 23 individual Group 1 winning horses who, between them, have accumulated 41 wins at the highest level. Amongst them is Enable, the brilliant winner of five Group 1s last year including the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) but who has not yet appeared in 2018.
Heading the three-year-old division is another of Cracksman’s stablemates in Roaring Lion, who earned a deserved Group 1 and QIPCO British Champions Series breakthrough in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown last month.
David Redvers, racing and bloodstock manager to owner Sheikh Fahad Al Thani’s Qatar Racing, said, “Roaring Lion will have both the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the QIPCO Champion Stakes as options. He’ll be running in the Juddmonte International at York next, and then we will have to discuss his autumn campaign.”
Saxon Warrior, the decisive winner of the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and Investec Derby fourth, chased Roaring Lion hard in the Coral-Eclipse and heads 16 Aidan O’Brien entries alongside the likes of his William Hill St Leger winner Capri and the well-travelled Mendelssohn.
It is one of the very few races to have eluded the master of Ballydoyle.
"Saxon Warrior stayed on strongly in the Eclipse at Sandown last time and ran a good race,” said the trainer. "At the moment, we're looking at the Juddmonte International at York for him next and then we will have a better idea of which route to take afterwards. He has entries in both the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the QIPCO Champion Stakes and could go for either race."
Joining him as a Classic winner is the Pascal Bary-trained Study Of Man, who took the Prix du Jockey Club. Alan Cooper, Racing Manager to owners the Niarchos family, said, “We’ve entered Study of Man in the QIPCO Champion Stakes, and we are hopeful that if the rest of the season goes well then we can participate.
“He’s showed Pascal (Bary) and Stephane (Pasquier, jockey) a lot of class, and merits the entry. At this stage he runs in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano next week and then will go for the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes. We’ll then decide if he steps up in trip in the Arc or goes for the Champion Stakes.”
Another of Cracksman’s old rivals, French-trained Recoletos, will attempt to enhance his country’s excellent record in the race following the victories of Cirrus Des Aigles (2011) and Almanzor (2016).
He earned a maiden Group 1 in the Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp in May and was not beaten far in the Queen Anne Stakes.
Carlos Laffon-Parias, his trainer, said, “Recoletos ran a great race in the QIPCO Champion Stakes last year to be fourth and this is definitely an option for him again. He’s come out of his last run at Ascot well, and it’s all systems go for the Prix Jacques Le Marois then possibly the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp before going for either the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes or QIPCO Champion Stakes.”
Defoe, who impressed in the Dunaden Jockey Club Stakes in the spring, is set to return to action next month with trainer Roger Varian keeping the race under consideration.
Varian said: “He doesn’t like firm ground – he could have run in the King George but they didn’t get the rain. He’s a very good horse in soft ground. We’ve put him in the QIPCO Champion Stakes, and he probably wouldn’t run in the Arc if it was good to firm. Whilst he’s best at a mile and a half, if you got autumn conditions, a stiff 10 furlongs would be fine as well. He ran over 10 furlongs in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh, but the ground was too quick that day.”
Other Group 1 stars who could potentially line up include Saeed Bin Suroor’s Benbatl and the Joseph O’Brien-trained Irish Derby scorer Latrobe. Subway Dancer, trained by Zdenek Koplik and a consistent Pattern-level performer, is a rare entry in Britain from the Czech Republic.
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO)
As expected, a number of the elite milers in Europe who have been scrapping it out at Group 1 level already this season are among the 47 entries, including 16 Group 1 winning horses and three Classic title holders.
Among them are the first four horses home in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, the field having been led home that day by the Eve Johnson Houghton-trained Accidental Agent.
Johnson Houghton was delighted by a recent workout at Sandown with the progressive four-year-old, who is set to run this weekend at Deauville.
“He’s in good form and is going to run in the Prix Jacques Le Marois this weekend,” she said. “We’ll definitely be looking at running in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes later on, because he loves Ascot and he loves the straight mile.”
Also set to be busy this weekend, but being campaigned with an eye on QIPCO British Champions Day, is the Simon Crisford-trained Century Dream, beaten less than a length into fourth in the Queen Anne, but ready to return to action in the US this weekend.
“He goes for the Arlington Million and he will hopefully give a good account of himself there, but he has certainly been given an entry in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and that will definitely be an option for him,” said Crisford.
Third at Royal Ascot, just behind Lord Glitters, but a deserved Group 1 winner at Goodwood since in the Qatar Sussex Stakes was Lightning Spear, trained in Newmarket by David Simcock.
“It was wonderful to see Lightning Spear win at Goodwood. His next options are probably in France, but whether he takes in the Prix du Moulin or the Prix de la Forêt, we’ll have to see,” said David Redvers, racing and bloodstock manager to Lightning Spear’s owners Qatar Racing, headed by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani.
“The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes would be an option for him afterwards but the final decision is one for David Simcock and Sheikh Fahad.”
Beaten only a couple of lengths in both the Queen Anne and the Qatar Sussex Stakes and a good winner in between in the Group 2 Fred Cowley MBE Memorial Summer Mile at Ascot, Beat The Bank is on course to return to Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day, according to trainer Andrew Balding.
“Things didn’t really work out for him at Goodwood, but he wasn’t beaten far despite that and I do think he is a genuine Group 1 performer,” said Balding. “We might look at the Celebration Mile for him at Goodwood next, or there is the Joel Stakes too, although he will have his Group Two penalty.”
Alpha Centauri has proved herself the outstanding three-year-old of her generation, cracking the Ascot mile track record in the Coronation Stakes. She added another QIPCO British Champions Series title in the Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket.
”I’ve entered Alpha Centauri for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes,” Harrington said. “I have no idea at the moment where she will end up, as each race is being taken as it comes, but she has loads and loads of entries."
One horse who hasn’t been seen for some time is the William Haggas-trained Addeybb, winner of both the 32Red Lincoln Handicap and the Group 2 Bet365 Mile at Sandown at the start of the season, but off the course since finishing in mid-pack when favourite for Newbury’s Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes.
He has entries in both the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) and the QIPCO Champion Stakes, with Haggas weighing up the merits of both contests.
“What I learned from Newbury is that I wouldn’t run him on good to firm ground again,” he said. “But he has had some time off since and is currently doing very well, enjoying some sunshine before we bring him back.
“I would think he would have a run somewhere before Ascot, but I haven’t thought too much about where. I’ve put him in the QIPCO Champion Stakes as well because I have always thought it would be interesting to try him at a mile and quarter and we might just do that on QIPCO British Champions Day, but we have got plenty of time to think about that decision.”
Other notable inclusions are With You, winner of the Prix Rothschild for Freddy Head, Sir Michael Stoute’s Jersey Stakes winner and Qatar Sussex Stakes runner-up Expert Eye, and Without Parole, who landed the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
QIPCO British Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes
Since the victory of Investec Oaks winner Dancing Rain first set the tone in the seven renewals of this contest on QIPCO British Champions Day, three-year-olds have held sway in winning four times.
Hoping to continue the dominance of the younger generation could be the Karl Burke-trained Laurens, second in the QIPCO 1000 Guineas at Newmarket first time out this season before landing two Group 1s in France. The form of the filly’s victory in the Prix de Diane, the French Oaks, on her latest start, has been boosted more than once since.
But despite Laurens having a number of possible openings, the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes remains one of the prime targets for the John Dance-owned filly, who has enjoyed a welcome break since her last victory but who is being trained to return to action at York at the end of this month in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks.
“She had a good, proper three weeks off and ended up putting on 22 kilos but you really wouldn’t know it because she is such a strong filly and the weight went on all over,” said Burke.
“We’ve had some time to start getting the weight back off now and she is only about 5-6 kilos above her racing weight so with another couple of pieces of work we should be right there.
“I know some people are knocking her form, but the horses that have finished behind her keep coming out and franking it. I don’t think she will have a problem with a mile and a half at York and if that’s the case then the QIPCO British Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes will certainly be a race we look at very carefully. The Arc is another race she has an entry for and although they are a little close together, running in both wouldn’t be an impossibility. The QIPCO Champion Stakes might come into consideration, for which she has also been given an entry.
“She looks in fantastic shape at present and hopefully the break she has had since Chantilly will help her continue to progress until the end of the season. At the moment we’re focused on getting her to the Yorkshire Oaks and after that, we can work out what the best route to take might be.”
Some 53 entries were received to chase the £600,000 prize. Enable has been given this race as an additional option, whilst the Irish Oaks heroine Sea Of Class, Investec Oaks winner Forever Together and recent conqueror of the Qatar Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, Wild Illusion, are also included.
Runner-up to Hydrangea last year for trainer Francis Graffard and owners Al Assayl Bloodstock, Bateel is set to represent France again in the mile and a half contest. The six-year-old won her only start this term in the Prix Corrida at Saint-Cloud.
"Bateel will definitely be aimed at the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares once again as it’s a race that really suits her,” said Graffard. “She ran a fantastic race last year to be second, so we’ll enter her again and it’s definitely a big part of her autumn programme. She’ll run in the Prix Jean Romanet next, and then depending on the result we might go to the Prix Vermeille again or take a chance in the Arc before coming back to Ascot.”
Graffard’s compatriot Alain de Royer-Dupre has made an entry for the lightly-raced Shahnaza, who was last seen in the Prix de Diane.
“The QIPCO British Champion Fillies & Mares is a possibility for Shahnaza as she is a very good filly,” he said. “She was hurt in the Prix de Diane but we are trying to get her back for the end of the year and this could be an interesting option.”
Andrew Balding has entered Horseplay, who was only eighth last year but looked an improved performer in landing last month’s Lancashire Oaks at Haydock.
QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes
No horse has ever covered Ascot’s six furlongs more quickly than Charlie Appleby’s Blue Point when he won the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes in 2017, one of three successes from four course visits for the Godolphin-owned sprinter.
A fascinating 42-strong entry has been received including Battaash, who is currently the top-rated sprinter on 127 and who delivered another exhilarating performance at Glorious Goodwood.
Blue Point’s most recent Ascot win came at QIPCO British Champions Series level in the King’s Stand Stakes, when he inflicted a rare defeated to Battaash over five furlongs.
Appleby said, “We’re going to drop back to five first off and head for the Nunthorpe at York but at the end of the day he held the track record over six furlongs at Ascot as well so it’s a course that he seems to bring his ‘A’ game to, whether it be five or six furlongs. For sure, depending on how he goes in the Nunthorpe, he’s going to be a horse that’ll be heading towards QIPCO British Champions Day.”
Harry Angel, another who could potentially carry the blue Godolphin silks here, has been closely matched with Blue Point in the past and was a Group 1 winner in both the July Cup and Haydock Sprint Cup in 2017. He suffered a poor start and pulled too hard when fourth to Librisa Breeze in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes, and had stalls issues again when 11th to Merchant Navy in this year’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Trainer Clive Cox said, “He obviously had a hold-up after Ascot and it’s very much day-by-day with him. The aim is for him to be ready for the Haydock Sprint Cup and we’ll see how that goes first.
“We ran him on QIPCO British Champions Day last year, even though the ground was softer than ideal for him, and a horse like him has to be entered in a race of the calibre of the QIPCO British Champions Sprint again. It’s a meeting you want to be involved at, a very special day, an occasion to savour and always a fitting finale to the season.”
The last two heroes of this race are both set to be in the line-up again. James Fanshawe’s The Tin Man built upon his 2016 victory by landing the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2017 and was a fine fourth in that same QIPCO British Champions Series race in June. Most recently, he was an eye-catching third in last Sunday’s Prix Maurice de Gheest.
Fanshawe said, “The QIPCO British Champions Sprint is a race we’ve run The Tin Man in for the last three years and he has always run well in it, so we’ll definitely be looking at running him in it again. He seems to be as good as ever this season and, as he likes his races spaced out, we’ll have a think about the various options for him.”
Librisa Breeze, fourth in the Maurice de Gheest, made his Group 1 breakthrough for Hertfordshire trainer Dean Ivory when coming a length and a quarter clear in last year’s QIPCO British Champions Sprint.
“The race will be a major target again at the end of the season and we’ll just have a look at what we’ll do between now and then – I should think we’ll look for another race abroad,” Ivory said.
“I was very, very pleased with his run at Deauville. The ground had been watered to maintain it at good, and it just goes to show how the ground is a big thing to these horses.
“Tropics was second in Group 1s and you do start to wonder whether you’re jinxed. For Librisa Breeze to finally win us one last year was very special and it would be nice if we could get another one with him.”
Representing France is last year’s fourth City Light, who was beaten just a short head over course and distance in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes back in June.
Stephane Wattel, his trainer, said, “City Light has come out of the Diamond Jubilee really well and I’m delighted with how much he has progressed this season. The QIPCO British Champions Sprint is definitely an objective and we would really like to come back to Ascot in October. After the Prix Maurice de Gheest, his options are either the Prix de la Foret or Ascot, or both.”
QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup
This season’s outstanding stayer Stradivarius is among 56 entries for the £500,000 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup which has had a prize money increase of £50,000 on last year.
John Gosden’s winner of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and the Qatar Goodwood Cup would face many familiar rivals, including Order Of St George, who is expected to have a busy autumn en-route to defending his QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup. Aidan O’Brien’s fine stayer, who inflicted a half-length defeat of Torcedor and Stradivarius at QIPCO British Champions Day last October, is being given a very similar campaign to 2017 and was last seen taking fourth in the Gold Cup.
"It was always the plan to give him a break after Ascot, just as we did last year,” said O’Brien. “We could have run in the Goodwood Cup, but he'll now go for a prep for the Irish Leger and then try to win the Irish Leger for a third time. He's fresh and well and in good form.
"After that, he could well repeat the same pattern as last year and go for the Arc on the way to Ascot, although we'd have to look at that nearer the time. Certainly, the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup does look like it could be a target for him again after he won it last season."
O’Brien has 14 entries in all including a number of exciting three-year-olds such as Hunting Horn and Kew Gardens, who took the Hampton Court Stakes and Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot respectively, with the latter going on to take the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris.
Torcedor has continued to excel since last year, adding a course and distance victory in the Longines Sagaro Stakes and finishing within a length of Stradivarius at Royal Ascot and Goodwood.
Trainer Jessica Harrington said, ”Torcedor is very well after Goodwood, he’s all raring to go again. He’s been back cantering and I’m very happy with him. I’m not sure which way we’ll go now, either to York for the Lonsdale Cup or for the Irish Leger at the Curragh, but I’ve got time to do both if I want. I’m just going to wait and see. If he gets through that, then we’ve got Ascot to think about.”
With more representatives than both of his Irish compatriots, champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins has made 16 entries including the likes of Renneti, Limini, Max Dynamite, Thomas Hobson and Wicklow Brave.
He said, “Some of the horses we have entered would need to find some improvement if they wanted to be taking part, but the entries were closing and I thought we ought to put everything in that might want to be going there. Most will be running over the next few weeks and that will help us sort things out, while some might be heading to Melbourne, but I suppose Max Dynamite is one that stands out as a possible – he ran quite well behind Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup.
“Limini ran twice at Galway and I guess that, with hindsight, the second run came too soon for her as she was a bit disappointing, but the handicapper had forced our hand to some extent by putting her up 9lb. The plan is to stay on the Flat with her for the foreseeable future and although she is only rated 98 and would have to improve to be running in a race like the QIPCO British Champion Long Distance Cup, I wouldn’t rule that out.”
Investec Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee and Northumberland Plate winner Withhold are other notable inclusions.