Our racing expert Andy Holding previews Saturday's Group 1 at Ascot
QIPCO Champion Stakes - Saturday 15.50
Cracksman has occupied many a column inch throughout this season and by and large John Gosden’s charge has come up with the goods and justified the hype. His performance when winning the Prix Neil had media hacks in a subsequent frenzy over a possible participation in the Arc, but connection’s steadfast decision not to run– albeit clearly riling a few – was probably a wise one in account of what stable mate Enable did to the opposition on the day. The only slight surprise one could argue is that the son of Frankel comes here rather than be put away for the season as previously hinted, but on form and potential, he still remains the one they’ve all got to beat come Saturday at Ascot.
Of those that did bite the bullet in the big French spectacular, both Ulysses and Brametot came out of the race with great credit and have to be some sort of factor on form, but the big sticking point is they both had particularly hard races and maybe this might come as a bridge too far. One with no excuses from a fatigue perspective is Barney Roy and his performance when landing the St James’ Palace Stakes over this course back in June remains the highlight of his career so far to date. Although beaten by Ulysses on his next two starts, one could argue if he’d had the rub of the green or been ridden differently (particularly at York), he may have won at least one of those contests and given that he’s been freshened up and specifically saved for this big, end-of-season prize, it’s easy to make a strong case for him being the cast-iron each-way bet of the race at his current odds.
Away from the so-called big players at the front end of the market, CLIFFS OF MOHER (best price 16-1) has rather been overlooked by punters and bookmakers alike, but that stance seems a little harsh given that Aidan O’Brien’s inmate hasn’t had much go right for him throughout the majority of the season. Unlucky to get his pocket picked when nailed by his stable mate Wings Of Eagles in the Derby, the son of Galileo was quite rightly sent of a warm order to gain compensation in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown on his next outing. Once again, the fickle hands of fate were against the three-year-old as he nearly got brought down by a concertina effect cause by his stable companion Taj Mahal half way down the back straight and although he made a bold fist of things to get back into the contest in the latter stages, the damage was done.
As it stands, the form from that contest on the Esher slopes is arguably the best from that division all season as the likes of Ulysses, Eminent, Decorated Knight and Lightening Spear have all gone on to endorse the race subsequently and the way he was staying on at the end suggested he surely would have been a bigger factor but for that early scrimmaging. Keen to avoid a similar mishap, connections decided to try and make the running in the Juddmonte International next time out, but unfortunately James Doyle on Barney Roy had similar intentions and as it turned out, that they both softened each other up and left the race on a plate to the much more efficiently ridden Ulysses.
Last time out at Leopardstown, Cliffs Of Moher was seemingly going better than most until his pilot that day, Seamie Heffernan, decided to send his mount up a blind alley around the unfavourable part of the track at the Dublin venue, and as it ended up being a manoeuvre he could never recover from, he was left to come home in his own time. Finishing hard on the bridle, he came home a never-nearer sixth, but it does mean he will arrive here on Saturday a relatively fresh horse with a bit of a score to settle. Obviously the weather forecast will be a significant factor who Ryan Moore chooses to ride on the day, but with the ground unlikely to be in favour of Highland Reel and Churchill looking almost certain to run elsewhere (similar comments apply to Winter, Hydrangea and Rhododendron), there’s a decent chance the ex-champion jockey will be reunited with the Derby runner-up. If so, current odds around the 16-1 mark would seem way out of line with his overall ability and don’t forget he was only a 7-4 chance to beat Ulysses and Barney Roy at Sandown.