I was ready to bemoan the quality of Champions Day and hark back, again, to the balance of the pre-2011 Champions Stakes fixture that also boasted the Cesarewitch and the Dewhurst. Not least since the defections of Australia, Kingman and The Grey Gatsby had taken some gloss off the day.
But I’ve been around that particular nostalgic hamster wheel before. We are where we are. I have warmed to the Qipco series, even though some of the divisions are a little thin. Overall, the programme deserves this end-of-season climax. If only the weather would oblige a little more often.
So what of the quality of the racing? In this well thought out piece, Jamie Lynch of Timeform poses the question “is British Champions Day the best laid plan?” and answers with, “under the circumstances, yes. It might not do what it says on the tin and, related, it probably doesn't have the right name, but as a day, a draw and a definition for British racing it's a work-in-progress that's both working and in progress.”
This will be the richest day’s racing ever hosted in Britain. Churlish then to sit on my hands. Particularly as I appear to be plunging down the vertiginous slopes of a punting trench the depth of the Marianas trench. I’ve forgotten what a winner feels like.
Yesterday, the latest episode in a pattern of choking muggings unfolded when Present View chucked away a winning position by slamming into the last hurdle at Cheltenham. The vital momentum he sacrificed gave Sam Twiston-Davies aboard Vicente all the encouragement he needed. Not for the first time in this fledgling season that Twiston-Davies has impressed from an apparently forlorn position. It could be a big year for the carrot-topped stable jockey to the champion trainer.
Back to the flat then, for the season showstopper. Only one way to combat a losing streak. Stand square-jawed and resilient in the face of adversity and get stuck in. I’m going to give the card a right good go.
1.45 – Long Distance Cup
At 5-2, I’m happy with Leading Light. He’s by far the best horse in the field and should go as well as anything on the ground. It’s unlikely that Joseph O’Brien will ride as bad a race again as he did in the Irish St Leger (although he also rode a shocker the day before aboard Australia when he was comprehensively out-ridden by Ryan Moore piloting The Grey Gatsby). Forgotten Rules seems short on the basis of what he’s achieved, but will like the ground. I like Pallasator on this ground too.
2.20 – Sprint Stakes
I’m a big fan of G Force. He had been unlucky in running over a couple of good 5f races before the step up to 6f made all the difference in the Haydock Sprint Cup. There is reason to believe he won’t be massively inconvenienced by the ground. I can’t abandon him now (even if 7-2 is tight enough) although others may go better through the slop: Gordon Lord Byron, for instance, whilst some of the other mudlarks look too far out of form: Maarek and Jack Dexter. Viztoria looks more of a threat, as does Eton Forever. I’m relying on the class of O’Meara’s charge to get him home.
2.55 – Fillies & Mares
This has a wide open feel about it. At the prices, I like Cubanita, who seemed to run well at Newbury last time after a break and has Group winning form on heavy. That could be key, with question marks about the others, though it will need a career best from the Ralph Beckett inmate to take it.
3.30 – Queen Elizabeth II Stake
The first of the day’s two super-big races and it is a really good one. 2000 Guineas winner Night of Thunder should be popular with ground conditions likely to suit and a good run last time out in France. There are others I want to back though and I’m struggling to pin it down. Custom Cut still looks massively progressive and has a great attitude, serving up the big questions from the front. Integral won her last race that way too. Take out her poor performance in Deauville when in-season and she too looks a serious improver. A doubt might be around her ability to dominate against the chaps and with others who like to cut out the pace. I really like Tullius on this ground as well, but this is tough and may be beyond him. Graphic is almost certainly out of his depth, but this is so, so his ground and at silly prices I’ll take a place only bet. Tough call, but the win wedge piles on Custom Cut on the basis of his visually impressive win at Newmarket.
4.05 – Champion Stakes
And so to the day’s biggest race, a mere £¾m to the winner. Almost a no bet race, though. Everything seems to be in place for the wonderful Cirrus Des Aigles who comes here in imperious form and on a surface that will suit. I don’t like the price, of course, and I may just have a small interest in Ruler Of The World instead. He ran well in this last year and is arguably better over 10f than 12f. Not convinced about the ground, but at a best-priced 8-1 I’ll have a nibble.
I haven’t even mentioned the decent card at Cheltenham. Changing of the seasons. I’ll probably have a right good go over there too.