Channel 4 presenter Nick Luck dissects all the action from Champions Day at Ascot.
The Long Distance Cup (1.25) provides an excellent curtain-raiser to a meeting full of depth and quality. Most will expect Order Of St George to kick things off in style after his excellent third in the Arc and, whilst I have huge admiration for the horse and thought he was breathtaking when winning the Gold Cup, I think he may have a fight on his hooves in the shape of SIMPLE VERSE who has had a lighter campaign than most and has once again blossomed as the leaves have started to fall. She was impressive at Doncaster given she had to extricate herself from a pocket and run down a horse who was rolling on the front end, we know she doesn’t mind some cut in the ground and this race has very much been Ralph Beckett’s instinct since she passed the post in the Park Hill Stakes, so I’m glad they have opted for this. Clearly the favourite will be a mighty tough nut to crack but the selection is a filly not to be underestimated on a going day.
Amazingly and unusually, the sprint division has been one of the more interesting ones this year given the clutch of genuine top class performers. I could honestly have gone for four or five of the contenders in the Champion Sprint (2.00) and been perfectly optimistic about their chances, but in the end I have settled on TWILIGHT SON who has been pointed towards this ever since his disappointing run in the July Cup, where he was trapped away from the action and unsuited by the firm ground. That race may also have come a little quickly for him after his excellent effort in winning the Diamond Jubilee. The fact remains, his best two career performances have come at Ascot, with a little cut in the ground and when ridden by Ryan Moore, so to my mind that makes him a very fair price. In a less illustrious line-up I could see horses like Librisa Breeze and Brando effortlessly upgrading from top handicaps but, unusually for this division, that pair need to take a decent step forward. Mecca’s Angel have been tremendous for the most part this season but I can’t believe that she is going to be as effective over six furlongs and I can’t get her dismal run at the Royal meeting out of my head. As for Quiet Reflection, she probably deserves to head the market after her smooth victory in the Sprint Cup at Haydock but I don’t believe there is much between her and Twilight Son and the latter is three times the price.
Providing there isn’t a huge deluge on Saturday morning, I’m pretty confident that SEVENTH HEAVEN can win the Fillies And Mares (2.35). I think you would have to be foolish to take a literal reading of her drubbing of Found in the Yorkshire Oaks because her stable companion was widely reported to have needed the run that day. That said, the manner of her victory was full of authority and, but for failing to handle the track at Epsom, she would be unbeaten with a fairly impressive resume this season. For all that she hasn’t quite had the headlines of Minding or Found, she isn’t far behind those two, if at all, and I strongly fancy her to win again. The only rival I would be seriously wary of is Zhukova who took a notable scalp in US Army Ranger last time and her trainer has already established a pretty formidable record with his horses at this fixture.
A magnificent running of the QEII (3.10) with all the good three-year-olds turning up, but I would be as sure as I could be that Minding is the best of that age group, judged by her run in the Irish Champion Stakes. The return to this trip won’t bother her at all as a straight mile on this track requires the stamina for further anyway. She is the likeliest winner but, having said that, I think the value lies in backing an older horse and the play in the race is an each-way bet on LIGHTNING SPEAR. David Simcock’s horse put up one of the better pieces of miling form this season when third to Tepin in the Queen Anne Stakes, on this track and on this sort of ground, and he was very impressive at Goodwood last time. He has been aimed at this race for some time now and I expect him to hit the frame at least.
The presence of last year’s closely matches 1-2-3 plus the brilliant Irish Champion Stakes winner Almanzor in the Champion Stakes (3.45) makes this a particularly knotty puzzle to solve, particularly as none are drawn well in a race where early position is likely to be important. Almanzor’s draw in stall 1 could turn out to be worse than being drawn wide given he is not the sort of horse who is likely to go forward from that spot. Even though he was devastating in Ireland and FOUND has exerted herself significantly in winning the Arc since then, I think this brilliant filly can pull it off. She is evidently a completely different beast now to the one we saw early in the season despite the consistent nature of her form figures. I particularly like the way she put her head down in the finish the last twice, something that appeared to be lacking a bit at Royal Ascot and in the Coronation Cup. Physically she looks to have made quite significant progress since her mid-season break so although this is a huge ask to back up quickly after Chantilly, if there is one horse in training who could do it, it’s her. I don’t have any negatives for last year’s winner Fascinating Rock and it will be interesting to see how Jack Hobbs gets on after his absence, but If you are looking for one at bigger price, you could do worse than My Dream Boat who memorably beat the selection at Royal Ascot and ran a perfectly respectable race in the Irish Champion Stakes.
They didn’t put the Balmoral Handicap on this card to give punters a nice easy get-out, but I’m pretty sure of two horses that are going to run very well in the finale. The narrow vote goes to THIRD TIME LUCKY who had been kept all season for a repeat tilt at the Cambridgeshire only for the ground to go against him horribly on the day. He really just wants good ground, maybe with a tiny bit of give, and in the circumstances he ran a huge race at Newmarket. I’m expecting a big run from him off this mark. I’m wary of Firmament who has a huge amount of talent and it appears that he just needs to be finessed to arrive on the line when it matters. That means he is a hostage to fortune but he definitely warrants a saver.