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Billed as flat racing’s grand finale, Qipco Champions Day, now in its seventh year, takes place at Ascot on Saturday afternoon. Soft or heavy going has often been a feature of this illustrious meeting, but good ground is predicted this weekend. A bigger problem could be the wind, forecast to be gusting in excess of 50mph and possibly blowing into the face of the runners in the home straight.
We turned to horse racing expert Andrew Mount to tell us who to look out for in this historic meeting.
Qipco Long Distance Cup (1.25)
The meeting commences with a mouth-watering Gold Cup re-match between BIG ORANGE (9/2) and ORDER OF ST GEORGE (6/4) in the 2m Qipco Long Distance Cup (1.25). Michel Bell’s popular veteran gamely held off the Aidan O’Brien-trained Order Of St George by a short head in that 2m4f Royal Ascot contest and lost no caste in defeat when runner-up to STRADIVARIUS (11/2), who re-opposes here, in the Goodwood Cup. Big Orange is two from two when racing at Ascot on good or faster going, but his stable has been struggling for winners in recent weeks and Order Of St George is taken to reverse the form. The five-year-old scored twice at the Curragh after his narrow Gold Cup defeat and then ran a fantastic fourth behind super-filly Enable in the Arc.
Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes (2.00)
If the forecast headwind materialises, it could severely compromise the chance of front-runners in the 6f Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes (2.00), including the current market leader HARRY ANGEL (11/10). Preference is for THE TIN MAN (6/1), who arrived late to win this race 12 months ago. He could only finish a modest third to Harry Angel in the Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock last time, but it was very difficult to come from off the pace that day and the heavy ground was against him. The James Fanshawe-trained five-year-old has often bounced back from a below-par run, recording form figures of 1111113 immediately following a defeat. He looks the best bet of the meeting. QUIET REFLECTION (7/1) returned to form to land a Group 3 contest in Ireland last time but she would have preferred much softer going.
Qipco Champion Fillies and Mares Stakes (NRNB)
Three and four-year-olds have taken all six renewals since the Group 2 Qipco Champion Fillies and Mares Stakes was moved to this card, which is a concern for supporters of five-year-old market leaders JOURNEY (7/2), who won this race last year, and BATEEL (4/1). French-raider LEFT HAND (16/1) has yet to win this term, but the four-year-old has run some fine races in defeat, including when a close-up fifth behind RHODODENDRON (5/1) in Group 1 company at Chantilly last time. Aidan O’Brien’s SEVENTH HEAVEN (6/1), who could never strike a blow in the Arc, will appreciate the drop in class and faster ground. She also warrants consideration.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (3.15)
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (3.15), won by the likes of Frankel, Excelebration, Solow and Minding in recent years, could potentially serve up another classic. RIBCHESTER (2/1) deservedly heads the market after winning three of his four starts in Europe this year. All the wins came in Group 1 company, with the defeat – by a neck in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood – easily excused as he raced on the slowest part of the track. However, his prominent style of racing could be his undoing if the headwind has a role to play and BEAT THE BANK (4/1) gets the vote. He was beaten in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes at the Royal meeting but has improved since, scoring in Listed, Group 3 and Group 2 company. He was very impressive when slamming SIR JOHN LAVERY (25/1) by five lengths in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket last time and deserves a crack at the top level.
Qipco Champion Stakes (3.50)
The highlight of the card is undoubtedly the 1m2f Qipco Champion Stakes (3.50), the race in which Frankel ended his career back in 2012. CRACKSMAN (3/1) declined an Arc clash with stablemate Enable to wait for this but is 0-2 in Group 1 company and makes limited appeal at short odds. French trainers have a good record in this race, landing four of the last 11 renewals, and at a bigger price it could be worth chancing BRAMETOT (6/1). The three-year-old found the 1m4f trip too far when fifth in the Arc and remains open to further improvement on only his tenth career outing.
Qipco Long Distance Cup (1.25): Order Of St George (6/4)
Qipco Champions Sprint Stakes (2.00): The Tin Man (6/1)
Qipco Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes (2.40): Left Hand (16/1)
Qipco Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (3.15): Beat The Bank (4/1)
Qipco Champion Stakes (3.50): Brametot (6/1)