The most valuable racing card in the UK gets under with the Long Distance Cup over two miles where there is a warm favourite.
That is Order Of St George, who finished third in the Arc behind stablemates Found and Highland Reel. It was a good effort from a wide draw and given today’s extra distance he does look the one to beat given his previous form, including his win here in the Ascot Gold Cup.
Simple Verse deserves respect after her win in the Park Hill Stakes where she finished the race strongly to defeat Pretty Perfect. The way she ran on suggested that she’d cope with this trip for the first time she experiences it, especially given the way she travelled through that Doncaster race. Given the pace angles in this race then it could be run to suit and at the prices is worth looking at with her likely to be on the premises.
Quest For More has progressed up the ranks and Roger Charlton’s charge claimed the Group 1 Prix Du Cadran over two miles for furlongs just two weeks ago. He can be ridden in a number of ways because he came from off the pace at Chantilly unlike he’s front running tactics employed at Doncaster and York previously. Once again it’ll be a question of whether he’s ready overcome that effort but the formbook reads that he could be some each-way value in this race.
Simple Verse (E/W if 9/2+)
The Champions Sprint Stakes over six furlongs is an intriguing race featuring Shalaa.
John Gosden’s three year old has only had one start this campaign when making all over course and distance. It was a hands and heels ride from Frankie Dettori at the end when all out and was possibly lacking the fitness at, so should be fully tuned up for this effort. The drying ground is a big positive for this son of Invincible Spirit given he is full of speed.
I could end up with egg on my face after this comment but I’d rather be a layer than a backer of Quiet Reflection. Her form this season stands up winning the Commonwealth Cup here at the Royal meeting and the Sprint Cup at Haydock. There is no doubting her ability and she is a great traveller and mover. However my problem is with the form of the stable and the issues it has had over recent weeks with coughing. Karl Burke hasn’t had a winner in the last 14-days.
Despite there being no Limato, Henry Candy still has a great chance in the shape of Twilight Son and this four year old is the way I’m going. He disappointed in the July Cup and only major blip in his career. This son of Kyllachy has some solid form in the book. His two runs at Ascot have seen him partnered by Ryan Moore, who is on board here, and in those two heats they haven’t been outside the top two, including a victory in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. There is plenty to like about his chances.
Librisa Breeze has been winning over further and flew home in a handicap two weeks ago. Dean Ivory is yet to win a Group 1 in his training career and the wait could continue as I think he’ll find the early speed too much. Mecca’s Angel might have the ground against her as it continues to dry.
Twilight Son (E/W)
The Fillies and Mares Stakes was won by Simple Verse last season but with her in the Long Distance Cup it opens the door for someone else.
Seventh Heaven does look the one to beat after her victories in the Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks. In the latter she beat Found and that was the last time she was seen on the track. She’s a big filly, so Aidan O’Brien seems to have given her plenty of time to grow into her frame. The drying ground at Ascot should suit her and despite the wide draw she has the class to take this contest.
Journey was second in this contest last season and is likely to give her running once again. Her two most recent wins have been in Listed and Group 3 company where she has outclassed her opposition but back in a Group 1 against a high class three year old she could find one too good again.
There at two with good each-way value. Speedy Boarding has won two Group One’s over in France, including the Prix De L’Opera where showing a lovely attitude to get her head up on the line. Once again if she handles the quick turnaround she is a player. The other to note is Queen’s Trust, who looks the typical Sir Michael Stoute improver. She was third in the Yorkshire Oaks behind Seventh Heaven, so has work to do to overturn that. A second behind Minding and a fourth at the Royal meeting when given a poor ride, shows she won’t be far away.
Seventh Heaven (WIN)
Queen’s Trust (E/W)
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is another top quality race full of previous Group 1 winners.
It’s no surprise to see Minding being an early favourite having won six races at this level in her career. She ran well for third in the Irish Champions Stakes however I’m not entirely sure this is the race they had originally planned for her. She’s versatile at the trip and has a good attitude plus she receives weight from her rivals strengthening her credentials.
Ribchester won the Jacques Le Marois at Deauville when last seen and he did it quite nicely. Richard Fahey’s three year old is one that still looks to be on the upgrade. Connections are bullish around his chances in this race and for me he has continued to go on this season unlike Galileo Gold, who beat him in the 2000 Guineas. The son of Iffraaj looks the one to be with and to give a victory to the boys in blue.
With 13-runners we could see one at a price hit the frame and that could be Lightning Spear, who won readily at Goodwood in August. It was only a Group 2 contest, so will need to pull more out but the manner of victory suggested he could pose a threat at this level. He ran in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes here at the Royal meeting when third behind Tepin and Belardo and a run to a similar level isn’t out of the question.
15:45 Ascot – Champion Stakes
This Group 1 looks a belting renewal with last season’s first three plus exciting three year old Almanzor, who we’ll start with.
The French trained colt has won his last four starts, two at this level, and showed his class when holding off Found in the Irish Champion Stakes last month. He travelled strongly into the race under Christophe Soumillon and despite running widest of all the runners quickened nicely. He’s drawn in stall one, which wouldn’t be too advantageous for him given he tends to be held up and comes off the pace plus I have doubts about him on this track, especially the long straight.
Found was superb in winning the Arc just two weekends ago and that would be the question mark for her. She generally takes her racing well but given the nature of the race you’d have thought it would take a few weeks to get over. One thing we do know is she is better at this time of the year than at the beginning of the season. Given the fact she is 2lb better off with Almanzor than when second in the Irish Champion Stakes it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her reverse that form.
Fascinating Rock won this race last year beating Found and has been laid out for it by Dermot Weld having not ran since finishing second in the Royal Whip Stakes. In that race he was behind Success Days, who was given an enterprising ride from the front. The best of his form comes with dig in the ground and scattered showers expected that could give him a chance.
It wouldn’t be an Ascot meeting without a big field handicap and that’s how the card closes. This 20-runner Balmoral Handicap is very competitive summed up by the four co-favourites at the time of writing.
Three year old Morando is unexposed and won impressively at the Ayr Gold Cup meeting last month. Harry Bentley eased him down in the closing stages but the handicapper didn’t miss it putting him up 8lb for that success. There could be more improvement to come and we know that the Varian horses are running well. However, in the hustle and bustle of a big–field handicapper I prefer to side with experience.
That experience leads me onto GM Hopkins, who was second in this race last year when not breaking cleanly from the stalls. He is only 1lb higher this time around and given he’s a bit of a specialist over the straight mile I’d be expecting him to hit the frame. His four runs at Ascot have yielded two wins and a second plus Ryan Moore has rode him to success on both those occasions. He can bounce back from a poor showing in the Cambridgeshire dropped 2lb down the handicap and back on a track he relishes.
On paper it does look a baffling race given the lack of pace. Only Emell looks one to go forward meaning we could have a furlong sprint on our hands, so who has good acceleration?
Firmament ran well when second over seven furlongs here behind Librisa Breeze and he did sit close to the pace before getting chinned by the flying Dean Ivory charge. He steps back up to the mile after two wins in August over this trip and with the consistency of his performance you have to feel his presence will be felt in this race.
Sea Wolf bled at Galway which was the reason behind his poor run that day and if running to the level of his victories either side of that then he can’t be dismissed too quickly for Ger Lyons.
GM Hopkins (E/W)
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