IT'S Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday. Our racing man Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) takes a look at four of the key races for us.
Ascot 12:45 | Channel 4
An early start to Champions Day at Ascot and the stayers are first up in the two mile Long Distance Cup. This race looks wide open with bookies offering 11/2 the field and at first glance it looks like the race is anybodys but there is one I'm quite keen on.
Clever Cookie comes in to this race becoming something of a frustrating sort. He started the season on fire with wins at Chester and York that had him being touted as a Gold Cup horse. He avoided that route due to ground conditions and found himself third favourite for a heavy ground King George. He found himself out of his depth that day, but next time out in the Lonsdale Cup he was somewhat disappointing in a race that looked tailor-made for him. I respect him here but there are others I prefer.
Litigant falls very much in to the “could be anything” category, and that is something you don't often say about a seven year old flat horse! A winner of six of his eight starts for three different trainers he is a delicate but talented type. He took his form to a new level when winning the Ebor last time out, and if he turns up here in the same mood he could win this. I'm not sure if I want to take a chance on him here but he certainly wouldn't be a shock winner.
My fancy here is Forgotten Rules. On the face of it he's a disappointing horse. Beaten favourite in this year's Gold Cup he was then down the field in a quick reappearance at the Curragh before coming down the field in the Irish St Leger behind the impressive Order of St George. Now this doesn't shout out “back me” but I can see reasons for backing him.
He hacked up in this race last year, granted on much softer ground and was third in the Gold Cup on quicker ground which shows he enjoys Ascot. He was also reported to need the run in the Irish St Leger and if he comes on from that then he comes in to this the horse to beat. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Dermot Weld has targeted this race for him and at 6/1 I'll take an each way punt on him reproducing his best form here.
Ascot 13:20 | Channel 4
The Qipco British Champion Sprint Stakes sees undisputed sprint king this season Muhaarar come up against 19 rivals out to take his crown. All week I've had the opinion that he was opposable on the basis that he's had a long hard season and it would be soft ground, but the more I studied the race the more I think this contest is at his mercy.
Ok so Twilight Son looks like a worthy adversary here, an unbeaten winner of the Haydock Sprint Cup but I think his performance that day still needs improved on to get competitive here.
Other than Twilight Son we have the typical sprint field where the 18 other competitors have form that ties them in to one another and for me nothing stands out as a potential win bet. I may once again look like a fool come 1.21pm but I think Muhaarar looks like a great bet.
A sensational winner of the Coronation Cup at Royal Ascot he then won the July Cup getting up on the line to defeat Tropics. It was good to see that performance as it showed he can street fight after his facile win at Ascot. He then took a trip across the channel to take on the best sprinters in France where he beat Esoterique in the Prix Maurice De Geest.
Since then Esoterique has gone on to two Group 1 successes and it makes Muhaarar look even better. He's been given a break since then, and his trainer Charlie Hills, who has raised his profile immensely this season, will have him cherry ripe for this. Barring trouble in running or heavy rain pre race I make him a confident selection here.
Ascot 14:30 | Channel 4
The QEII could have been the race of the meeting with Solow vs Gleneagles but I have a bad feeling it won't happen AGAIN. I have no idea why they don't risk Gleneagles here. He has achieved enough on the track already to set up a lucrative stud career, and surely a victory on soft ground would elevate him to another level as a stallion. He encountered soft ground in Ireland and managed to grind out a Guineas win so I feel he is worth taking a chance on here.
If he runs on good ground I think he wins, but I'm doing this preview on the basis he's not running so the race looks at the mercy of Solow. What a horse he is. Eight wins in a row, the last four of which were at Group 1 level, he is a real superstar. Solow is the most likely winner in a Gleneagles free race, but I don't fancy backing him at 4/7.
So who am I backing? Well I'm taking a small chance on one here and backing Elm Park each way. He won the Racing Post Trophy last season and looked like a horse with a huge future. He missed the Guineas due to the ground and lined up for the first time this season in the Dante where he pulled hard eventually coming third to Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs. It turned out he was facing an impossible task that day!
He was awful in the Derby going off like a scalded cat and eventually finishing second last miles behind the winner. He was put away after that and reintroduced as a miler at Sandown where he beat useful yardstick Gabrial. That day he still looked keen and won in spite of pulling hard. The likely quicker pace here will help and with his ability to handle softer ground I think he is a tremendous each way bet here at 20/1 as he is a horse I believe we are yet to see the very best of.
Ascot 15:05 | Channel 4
The Champion stakes is the highlight of the meeting and in my opinion is a slightly below par renewal. Granted there are some solid Group 1 horses but most of the top 10 furlong horses are missing. It's still an intriguing renewal but I feel for the money on offer its not attracted the field it deserves.
Of the older horses here I like the look of two. The Corsican is one of my favourite horses around and I would love to see him win this. He improves with every start and is a hugely talented horse, but I feel his best chance of a top level win is probably abroad and I'm opposing him here.
Vadamos from the Andre Fabre yard has almost come from nowhere to become a force at the top level. The trainer has been very bullish about his chances here and when the master that is Andre Fabre talks, I listen. His record in big races is formidable and his record of turning older horses who had quiet three year old campaigns into champions means you have to respect him here. He hacked up in a German Group 2 last time, and though he looks like an interesting prospect I can't back him here.
Imagine for one second there was no Golden Horn. If the undoubted superstar of European racing this season hadn't run, Jack Hobbs would be a dual Derby winner who had the summer off, was given an easy all weather prep race and would be coming in to this race about 1/3 favourite.
Golden Horn would be heavy odds on to win here so why is Jack Hobbs not viewed as a certainty here? Ok he is drawn wide, but a wide draw didn't stop stablemate Golden Horn in the Arc and I don't envisage it stopping Jack Hobbs either. The softer ground will bring his stamina in to play and to me he's just better than his rivals here. The 5/4 on offer here is far too tempting for me to turn down.
Ascot 12:45 – Forgotten Rules each way (6/1 Bet365)
Ascot 13:20 – Muhaarar to win (9/4 Bet365)
Ascot 14:30 – Elm Park each way (20/1 BetVictor)
Ascot 15:05 – Jack Hobbs to win (11/8 BetVictor)
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