Ascot Braced for Frankie's Champions Day Farewell

Frankie Dettori is set to ride his final Champions Day at Ascot | Horsephotos

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As if conjuring the renowned Babet as a personal Tempest for his [probable] European goodbye, racing's true Duke of Milan rides back into his beloved Ascot on Saturday as the eye of the storm for a suitably dramatic instalment of the Qipco Champions Day. While this fixture has fast become a resounding success, despite its mid-October nook being that bit too far into the wet season to deliver a fair playing field, it always needs at least one dynamo per year to power it into the headlines. Officials are lucky that the 2023 edition is already taken care of. It's a fitting goodbye to a totem, a genuine racing institution and, quite possibly, a national one too who 27 years ago used the old Ascot Festival card that boasted the QEII as its showcase to carve out his unfathomable Magnificent Seven.

We all know that the imperative glorious farewell victory will come, but from where? Will it be a late gift from King Of Steel (Wootton Bassett {GB}) in the G1 Qipco Champion S., the key race of them all? Dettori will hope that it comes much sooner in the afternoon to release the enormous emotional pressure. There is the 2000 Guineas hero Chaldean (GB) (Frankel {GB}) in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II S., his old friend Kinross (GB) (Kingman {GB}) in the G1 Qipco British Champions Sprint, and the aptly-titled Free Wind (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in the G1 Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares S. Away you go, Prospero.

Ahead of one of his biggest days in the saddle, the QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame jockey is trying to hold it together. “I'll try to keep my emotions in check until after my last ride, but obviously all my friends and family will be there. I'm sure I'll shed a tear on the day, but at the moment I'm really trying to focus on the races and give my friends and family something to shout about on the day,” he said.
King Of Steel's trainer Roger Varian summed up the general feeling ahead of the rider's tumultuous farewell. “We're happy to have him on our horse on Saturday and on the big day, when the goggles come down, he's one of the very best there has ever been and the season he's had tells everyone he is still riding at the top of his game,” he said.

Adding to the sense of occasion is the fact that Dettori will sport the Godolphin royal blue he is most synonymous with as he partners the G2 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup contender Trawlerman (Ire) by his renaissance horse Golden Horn (GB). Hugh Anderson, managing director of Godolphin, is keen to stress the import of the situation. “For Godolphin, Frankie Dettori has been a huge part of our history,” he said. “For my whole adult life–and I'm a little bit older than Frankie–he has been the top jockey or one of the top jockeys in this country and I think his contribution to the sport has been incalculable. I'm very pleased he is going to be wearing Godolphin blue on what is potentially his last Champions Day and we hope he does well.”

Paddington | PA Media

Ballydoyle Big Guns Are Rolled Out…

Despite the feeling of inevitability that things will ultimately fall his way, there are of course 52 reasons why Frankie won't ride a single winner and six of them are from Ballydoyle, with the TDN Rising Star Paddington (GB) (Siyouni {Fr}) having been on the receiving end of Dettori's magic as he suffered a momentum-stopping defeat to Mostahdaf (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) in the G1 Juddmonte International. Prior to that, he had hoarded the Irish 2000 Guineas, St James's Palace, Eclipse and Sussex and his role in a rich renewal of the QEII will tell us where he stands among the season's kingpins. If Paddington isn't a mortal lock, the yard's Kyprios (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) could well be as he continues his improbable comeback from his well-documented strife in the Long Distance Cup.
Aidan O'Brien reflected on his key duo earlier this week. “Paddington loves racing and loves work–when you build up his work, he starts putting on weight and that's just the way he is,” he said. “He's a good strong traveller and quickens very well and handles all types of ground. He goes like a real miler, even though he's won over a mile and a quarter. I couldn't believe Kyprios made it back to any race really–I couldn't believe the day he went out of the parade ring at The Curragh he was actually there. He was just barely ready to run and we think he's made progress since then.”

Allez France?

While the feature Champion has been kind to France since moving to Ascot and the focus is understandably on Horizon Dore (Fr) (Dabirsim {Fr}) to cap a momentous autumn for Gousserie Racing, there is also the prospect of the QEII-bound Big Rock (Fr) (Rock Of Gibraltar {Ire}) to keep Yeguada Centurion and Christopher Head in the big time that they have become accustomed to during the current campaign. Those keen to write off the latter after three excusable defeats will be well served to remember that he dismantled Horizon Dore in Chantilly's nine-furlong G3 Prix de Guiche when the ground was given as officially heavy. Patrice Cottier's emerging star has moved up in trip subsequently while Big Rock has gone the other way, so a sensational double for this Gallic pairing is not a far-fetched scenario.
Pauline Chehboub said of Horizon Dore in the GI Breeders' Cup Turf qualifier, “He is doing well, he is in good form with some freshness. He is stronger than at the start of the season. He needed time this year, so we chose to stay in France for the first part of the season and now it's time to travel and see him at group one level.”

Girl Power…

Nashwa | Scoop Dyga

This day is all about bringing the best together and, luckily, the two power contests boast three power players among the females. It just so happens that Nashwa (GB) (Frankel {GB}) represents double trouble in that regard, with Hollie Doyle combining to make for a potent threat in the QEII that has for so long looked tailor-made for her. More about pure muscular pace than stamina at four, Imad Al Sagar's beloved filly bullied her sex in the G1 Falmouth S. and comes back to that mile trip after two huge efforts attempting to carry her speed over 10 furlongs.

Hollie Doyle, who will have already steered her perennial hero of the hour Trueshan (Fr) (Planteur {Ire}) in the Long Distance Cup, is geared up for her latest dose of the Nashwa treatment. “It really hasn't mattered to me which race they chose,” she said. “Nashwa seems just as good at a mile as a mile and a quarter, so the trip doesn't seem to be an issue and she goes on any ground. The figures say she's improved significantly again, which is mad, so I'm delighted she's staying in training.”

What Nashwa has in brute strength, The Aga Khan's Tahiyra (Ire) (Siyouni {Fr}) possibly makes up for in tactical elan but this potentially horrible going is not what she needs and Dermot Weld will be quick to spare her a gruelling examination in the QEII–a “Win and You're In” for the GI Breeders' Cup Mile–if the expected torrents come this way. Any volume of rain is of no concern to the Champion S. siren Via Sistina (Ire) (Fastnet Rock {Aus}), whose performance in Newmarket's G2 Dahlia S. in May still stands as one of the season's major moments. What she achieved subsequently, even when winning at a higher level in The Curragh's Pretty Polly, did not have that same elevated feel but the ground has come right for another tour de force from Rebecca Hillen's star of the George Boughey show.

“She looks amazing for this time of year and her best performances come after a break, which she's had since Deauville two months ago,” Boughey said. “Oisin [Murphy] already knows her well, having ridden her work when she was with Joe [Tuite].”

Not A Bridge Too Far…

Bay Bridge | Megan Ridgwell

When it is on the soft side, it is fair to describe last year's Champion S. hero Bay Bridge (GB) (New Bay {GB}) as one of the best of the middle-distance division. His success over Adayar (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) and My Prospero (Ire) (Iffraaj {GB}) in this 12 months ago, and more importantly his brushing aside of Mostahdaf in the G3 Brigadier Gerard S. last May, mark him as a special talent when conditions are kind. On the Polytrack, James Wigan and Ballylinch Stud's flag-bearer again showed what he is capable of on his penultimate start in the G3 September S. and it is possible to excuse all defeats around those wins mostly on surfaces too quick.

Sir Michael Stoute's sole runner in the card's pattern races is probably still the one to beat in the feature and the master trainer's assistant James Savage is giving out the right vibes. “We've been very pleased with how Bay Bridge came out of the Arc, which was a tough race on ground that dried out throughout the day,” he said. “He ran well at Longchamp and was only beaten about six lengths, having done a little bit too much in Richard's hands in the early and middle parts of the race.”

“We are pretty sure he stayed the mile and a half, as he did at Kempton, but you'd have to say that going back to Ascot in conditions we've been waiting for all year he'd have a great shout,” he added. “I think Mostahdaf is a very, very good horse, and so is Horizon Dore, so in my opinion it's just as strong a race as last year, but conditions will hopefully be very much in our favour once again and he's training very well.”

Time Calls For Charlton…

Another subplot to the fixture is the last Champions Day for Roger Charlton as he nears the handover to son Harry at the end of the season. They saddle the fast-improving Time Lock (GB) (Frankel {GB}) in the Fillies & Mares and her impressive defeat of the re-opposing Sweet Memories (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) in Newmarket's G3 Princess Royal S. last month marks her down as one of the favourites. “She is in great form and is on the right path, growing in confidence with her success. It looks very competitive with a big field but she's in as good form as any of the others at the moment,” Harry said. “It's hard to be too confident, as the conditions aren't ideal. We'd be going with more confidence if they weren't looking at so much rain, as good ground would have been ideal, but she handles soft.”

Inner Track Decision Made…

Ascot announced that the inner flat course will be used for the middle-distance races on Saturday, with the going at soft, heavy in places on Friday. It was good-to-soft, soft in places on the inner track then and soft on the straight course. As a result of the change, the Long Distance Cup will now be run over 82 yards shorter, the Fillies & Mares will be 78 yards less while the Champion Stakes remains at 10 furlongs.

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