Thursday, October 17, 2013

QIPCO Champion’s Day

QIPCO Champion’s Day
By Stephen Dwyer



It has all been leading up to this. One day in the racing calendar when the stars collide on an unprecedented scale. Thirty five of the best flat races have been run over the past five months and now all roads lead to Ascot on October 19th. QIPCO British Champions Day is, in a word, unmissable.

Champions Day is the richest day in British racing. On offer is £3.4 million in prize money, an amount that has increased steadily since the inaugural Champions Day scarcely two years ago. Organisers of the showcase event have built upon the resounding successes of the two previous years and the 2013 renewal will conclude the flat season in some style.

Five end-of-season championship races will decide the winners of the respective Sprint, Mile, Middle Distance, Long Distance and Fillies & Mares categories. The Sprint Specialists include Lethal Force who won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Ascot in June. He lines out against the veteran Society Rock and Irish raider Sole Power in the Group 2 Sprint Stakes over 6f. Fifth when 7/2 favourite in the race in 2012, the James Fanshawe-trained Society Rock has finished second to Lethal Force in his last two starts but is a dual course winner at Ascot. Now a 6yo, whether he can turn the tables on Lethal Force on Champions Day remains to be seen. Lethal Force readily accounted for the field in the Darley July Cup and it is interesting to note that  five of the previous ten winners of this race have gone on to become the seasons Champion Sprinter.

With £1 million in prize money, Europe’s richest race over a mile, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes has been won in the past by the likes of Frankel and Brigadier Gerard. The 2013 running is set for another great dual between Toronado and Dawn Approach as they lock horns once more. Last year’s Champion two-year-old and current 2000 Guineas winner, Dawn Approach is currently the 7/2 second favourite for the Queen Elizabeth II and sits just one point behind Toronado in the Mile category standings. Should he prevail against the brilliant Hannon colt and take the title of Champion Miler, it will end the season on a high for connections following a tame fifth in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville. Dawn Approach was not himself that day (scoped dirty) and Olympic Glory who finished a short head behind Moonlight Cloud in the Prix Jacques le Marois heads the betting for the Queen Elizabeth II.

The Middle distance series includes such seasonal highlights as the Coronation Cup, Epsom Derby and the Juddmonte. This culminates on Champions Day in the Qipco Champion Stakes where there is £1.3 million on offer. This ten furlong Middle distance race is likely to feature triple Group 1 winner Al Kazeem amongst a superb field of runners. Since winning the Eclipse at Sandown in July connections of Al Kazeem have strongly hinted that this will be the 5yo will be retired after Ascot and though the fast ground did not suit him when third to Declaration Of War in the Juddmonte, conditions are much more likely to be in his favour on Champions Day where he is currently the 3/1 favourite.

Considering the value of the race and the prestige involved, opposition to Al Kazeem is guaranteed to be very strong. Last year's QIPCO Champion Stakes winner, Cirrus Des Aigles is entered as is Farhh for Godolphin. Paying close attention to the Racing Post analysis of the Lockinge where Farhh “absolutely bolted up”, he is an intriguing entry and his pedigree suggests he has all the required stamina to prove a real threat to Al Kazeem. Irish Derby winner Trading Leather finished second to Novellist who set a new course record in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July. Although many form analysts would question the depth of that race, it still contained five Group 1 winners and Trading Leather handled the track like a very smart colt. Aidan O’ Brien has entered Camelot, Ruler Of The World and Declaration Of War and interestingly, the Champion Stakes is a race that the O’ Brien team have never won. This race promises to be absolutely top class.

The Ladies then take their turn in the Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes which this year is being run as a Group 1 for the first time. The prize money for this race has also doubled in value to £500,000 and attracted a wealth of European talent. The first three home in the British Oaks (Talent, Secret Gesture and The Lark) are pitted against the first three in the Irish Oaks (Chicquita, Venus De Milo and Just Pretending) and the German Oaks winner Penelopa. Last year's winner Sapphire and The Fugue represent the best of the older generation, while Germany's Nymphea and South Africa's Igugu head the overseas challengers. Make no mistake, the Champions Fillies & Mares race is a proper Group 1. The distance of the race, 1 Mile 4 Furlongs, ensures that there can be few excuses for a true-run contest and since Dancing Rain (who had won the Investec Oaks at Epsom and the German equivalent) won the inaugural running of this race in 2011, it has risen sharply as a target for trainers across the world.

The seven races of the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance category vary in trip from the extended 1¾ miles of Doncaster’s Ladbrokes St Leger to the 2½ miles of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. Settling on an even 2 miles, the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup is one of the most demanding and stamina sapping events in the racing calendar. The Queen could be represented in this race as her Ascot Gold Cup winner Estimate was entered. With the Irish having won the 2011 and 2012 renewals, a royal victory would be all too fitting. Michael Owen's Brown Panther is also entered in this £200,000 race which is the final major long distance race of the British season.

With so much on offer for so many, organisers have done well to condense such talent and quality into one day. All that is left now for the rest of us is to enjoy it. An easy task.


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