We Are The Champions

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Adayar | racingfotos.com

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If confirmation was needed that Ascot's QIPCO British Champions Day is what it says it is, a glance at the most recently-published Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings reveals all. Of the 11 Europeans occupying the top 20 in the list, five are in action on Saturday with four of the remaining either injured or retired at this point. Heading the A-list quintet at present are the inseparable G1 QIPCO Champion S.-bound Adayar (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) and Mishriff (Ire) (Make Believe {GB}), with the G1 Queen Elizabeth II S. favourite Palace Pier (GB) (Kingman {GB}) just in behind ahead of his chief opponent Baaeed (GB) (Sea the Stars {Ire}) and last year's Champion winner Addeybb (Ire) (Pivotal {GB}).

Ten years on from the inaugural edition of this now firmly-established feature, the QEII hero of that day Frankel is set for his first sires' championship at the expense of his father Galileo (Ire), who has held the title every year since Ascot ensconced this fixture. Charlie Appleby can take huge credit for Frankel's surge in fortunes in 2021, steering both his golden duo Adayar and Hurricane Lane (Ire) to notable victories in some of the season's apex events. Surprisingly, Banstead Manor's beau ideal has just three representatives on this card, with Adayar his sole fancied runner but Godolphin's generation leader is a colt well capable of carrying much weight on his ample shoulders having won the game-changing purses of the G1 Epsom Derby and G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S.

Alongside potentially cementing his sire's pre-eminence this year, Adayar also has the potential to clinch a personal landmark for William Buick, who after Friday's round in his bout with Oisin Murphy sits three behind in his quest for an initial jockeys' title. As always, there are many threads to this epic tapestry and these are just two, with Prince Faisal, John and Thady Gosden and David Egan looking for world domination with a colt in Mishriff who amounts to a rarity in modern racing. Able to assert his dominance on dirt and turf alike, the homebred 4-year-old has his main rival Adayar and the hastily-retired St Mark's Basilica (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}) on his perch at present but a command performance on Berkshire's revered patch could see him transcend both.

Saturday's calm autumn scene will be in stark contrast to the dour damp of 12 months ago, when Mishriff loomed large at the two pole only to sink in the deep ground and finish out of the first three for the first time since his 2-year-old debut. Since that deflating experience, he has forged on unbowed to Riyadh to excel in the Feb. 20 Saudi Cup and to Dubai to subdue Chrono Genesis (Jpn) (Bago {Fr}) in the Mar. 27 G1 Dubai Sheema Classic before gradually extending his influence back in Europe. So emphatic was he in York's G1 Juddmonte International Aug. 18, his re-entry behind St Mark's Basilica and Addeybb in the G1 Eclipse S. at Sandown July 3 and battling second to Adayar in the King George can almost be seen as preparatory exercises.

Ted Voute, racing manager for Prince Faisal, is aware of the magnitude of the occasion. “The Prince has always been happy to take on other good horses, as that's part of the game–to try to be the best. We're excited,” he said. “It's obviously a very good race, but he's still favourite and we're very much looking forward to it. We've got ground that is better than it was for the Arc, which is good. I talked to John on Tuesday after Mishriff had done his final pipe-opener and he said it was very pleasing, so fingers crossed.”

Saturday's feature is anything but a straightforward match, however, with a William Haggas trio and an Irish duo in Bolshoi Ballet (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and Mac Swiney (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}) who at various points in their career have looked capable of having a major say in a contest of his stature. Bolshoi Ballet is a rare Ballydoyle outsider, having failed to shine in three of his four outings since his exciting display in Leopardstown's G3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial May 9, while the May 22 G1 Irish 2000 Guineas hero Mac Swiney is threatening to fade into the background if he fails to make the frame for a fifth time since that Curragh Classic high.

Jim Bolger is not one to underestimate and Mac Swiney is accustomed to springing surprises as well as dropping his guard. “He's capable of throwing in a bad one every now and then, so we just have to hope that Saturday won't be one of those,” the master of Coolcullen said. “If it isn't, he won't be far away. There is no trace of ungenuineness about him, but Kevin [Manning] usually knows after going a furlong if it isn't his day and it's a question we haven't succeeded in working out yet.”

In the 25th anniversary of Frankie Dettori's remarkable “Magnificent Seven”, it is more than possible that Ascot will offer him further fruit as he prepares for the enviable mount on Palace Pier and another of the Gosden yard favourites in Stradivarius (Ire) (Sea the Stars {Ire}) in the G2 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup. As well as Marc Chan's live contender and 'TDN Rising Star' Kinross (GB) (Kingman {GB}) in the G1 QIPCO British Champions Sprint S., he has a hot prospect in the closing Balmoral H. in Juddmonte's 'TDN Rising Star' Sunray Major (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}).

There is no doubt that the key ride is in the mile championship on the card, however. “I love Palace Pier, he's done absolutely nothing wrong his whole career,” Dettori said of the five-times Group 1 winner whose career is almost flawless. “The only race he has been beaten in is this one last year, when he lost a shoe and I got squeezed out at the start. He was so far back and with everything that went wrong that day it was a massive run to come home third. I have almighty respect for Baaeed, but Palace Pier has beaten everything that he has faced. He's a champion and probably one of the best milers I have ever ridden so I have confidence he will put in a huge performance.”

Thady Gosden added, “It looks a great race, I'm looking forward to it, but obviously there are some nerves for sure. He's been in good form since the Jacques le Marois and everyone has been happy with him at home. Baaeed looks the big danger, he's the horse coming through the ranks and won a Group 1 last time. This race last year is the only blemish on his record, he's an exceptional racehorse but it was frustrating with the ground last year and he lost two shoes which in that ground will hinder your chances. Whether this is his last race, it's a decision for his owners after the race.”

Away from Palace Pier and Baaeed, there is a G1 Coronation S. and G1 Sussex S. winner on display in Jeff Smith's Alcohol Free (Ire) (No Nay Never), who on the form of that July 28 Goodwood feature is an insulting price at around 9-1. Freshened up after her sixth over an extended 10 furlongs in the Juddmonte International, she has ground to suit and her owner-breeder is expecting a bold show in the race which has most captured the imagination of press and public alike. “It brings all the strands of form together and it's certainly the highlight of the day–for me anyway,” he said. “She's already beaten the colts once this year, there was cut in the ground at Goodwood so that won't be an issue, it's just going to be a case of best horse on the day, which is as it should be. She had a break at the stud for about 10 days after York, put on a bit of weight, it was absolutely perfect. I haven't seen her since she went back to Andrew's, but by all accounts she's in cracking form. This will be it for the season, she won't be going abroad but she stays in training next year.”

Godolphin's Master of the Seas (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) is another in the mix, having been beaten a short head when second in the May 1 G1 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Third after a lengthy break to Benbatl (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the G2 Joel S. back there Sept. 24, he is Breeders' Cup Mile-bound according to Charlie Appleby. “Master of the Seas has pleased us since his reappearance in the Joel S. last month,” he said. “He is mentally maturing and the hood is removed this time. This is his stepping stone to Del Mar.” Saeed bin Suroor said of Benbatl, whose two most recent visits to this track have seen his normally-reliable form markedly dip when 10th in the 2018 G1 Queen Anne S. and last of 16 in this two years ago, “He came back good from his last race and is working well. There are showers around, but if the ground stays as it is that would be great. It's a very strong race with some of best milers in the world, but hopefully we will see a good run from Benbatl again.”

If there was any doubt that Al Asayl France's The Revenant (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) retained the ability that saw him garner this 12 months ago, they were assuaged by his dynamic comeback effort when second to Benbatl's highly progressive stablemate Real World (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) in the G1 Prix Daniel Wildenstein he had won for the past two years at ParisLongchamp a fortnight ago. Also second here in 2019, his biggest issue is the drying ground which may detract enough to make this task beyond him at the age of six but there are few who can accelerate as he did last time and this is his chance to prove he is no one-trick pony.

Runner-up to Palace Pier and beaten just 1 1/2 lengths in Newbury's G1 Lockinge S. on a similar surface May 15, the July 29 G1 Nassau S. heroine Lady Bowthorpe (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}) is no back-number despite her latest flop when seventh in the G1 Prix Jean Romanet also over 10 furlongs at Deauville Aug. 22. Engaged in the Champion up to Thursday, she was re-routed to the QEII by trainer William Jarvis who said, “Once I saw that the Derby winner Adayar was running in the Champion as well as Mishriff, it wasn't a difficult decision. I don't think we could beat either of them, but we might be competitive in the mile race. Nothing emerged after the Deauville race, although she didn't settle in the stables despite having travelled over there well. I've been delighted with her since and we are all looking forward to this.”

There is significantly less intrigue in the preceding G1 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares S., where Snowfall (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) will trade as the day's shortest-priced favourite owing to a clutch of absentees from the mile-and-a-half contest. Like Adayar and a host of others staging a quick turnaround from ParisLongchamp having been sixth in the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the G1 Epsom Oaks, July 17 G1 Irish Oaks and Aug. 19 G1 Yorkshire Oaks heroine may only need to repeat her clear-cut defeat of Kirsten Rausing's Albaflora (GB) (Muhaarar {GB}) in the latter contest to provide Aidan O'Brien with his most likely winner on the afternoon. “Snowfall ran well in the Arc,” he said. “The ground was very soft and there wasn't much pace. We took our time on her, but we probably expected there to be more pace in the race.”

Albaflora, who was the seven-length winner of the Listed Buckhounds S. over this course and distance May 8, may have been largely underwhelming subsequently but there is a sense that she is a filly coming good at the right time. “We have four lengths to make up on Snowfall, but she has had a hard race in the Arc and we are coming here fresh and ready,” jockey Rossa Ryan said. “We've learnt a thing or two about her and she's been working well at home and feels great. She tends to go a lot better when she has had a good break between her races and is bucking and fly-leaping at home. She really comes into her own in the autumn and we've learnt that she likes to pass horses and come through them. This stiff mile and a half will suit her better than York, as my filly gets a mile and six.”

Team Valor's Invite (Ire) (The Gurkha {Ire}) is another who stays well, having won the Listed Stand Cup over an extended 12 furlongs at Chester Sept.  11, and will be suited by the ground riding on the soft side. Ridden by David Egan's father John, she offers the intriguing prospect of a family double on the card with Mishriff to come for Egan Jr. “She's not exactly an extravagant worker, but I liked what I saw when she won at Chester on her only start for us,” trainer Andrew Balding commented. “That was nice to see and she's obviously a filly with plenty of ability.”

Now comfortably ahead in the jockeys' championship, Oisin Murphy could seal another title as early as the Sprint, with Yoshiro Kubota's 'TDN Rising Star' Dragon Symbol (GB) (Cable Bay {Ire}) back over the course and distance of his success in the G1 Commonwealth Cup. Stripped of that win by the stewards at the Royal meeting June 18, he was second to the sadly-absent Starman (GB) (Dutch Art {GB}) in the G1 July Cup at Newmarket July 10 and had Art Power (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}), Creative Force (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and Glen Shiel (GB) (Pivotal {GB}) behind there. After three subsequent defeats over five furlongs, he could have his day in the sun at last.

“It's great to get Dragon Symbol back at Ascot,” the rider said. “He's a very good horse and it will be interesting to see how he goes since he's been freshened up. He's had a full month to get over that and Archie Watson is very happy with him. I'm pleased with his low draw in three, he's drawn amongst some fancied horses and it would be lovely to end the season on a high with him.” Watson added, “Dragon Symbol hasn't run a bad race all year and stepping back up to six furlongs will suit him grand. On his Royal Ascot and July Cup form in particular, he should be bang there and he deserves one of these.”

Art Power, who was fourth in this 12 months ago, recorded a confidence-restoring five-length success in the G3 Renaissance S. over this trip at The Curragh Sept. 25, having been set some stiff tasks under aggressive rides this summer. Trainer Tim Easterby said, “He's an absolute machine and he's in great form. He goes well at Ascot–not that it would bother him where the race was run, as he's so adaptable–and he's in great order, so fingers crossed.”

One who is an unknown against these battle-hardened sprinters is Shadwell's unexposed G2 Gimcrack S. winner and G1 Middle Park S. third Minzaal (Ire) (Mehmas {Ire}), who was second in the five-furlong Listed Rous S. here on his belated seasonal bow a fortnight ago. Trainer Owen Burrows said, “It was very pleasing to see him run such a good race and it proved he's still got it. The ground will be much better than last time and he's back up to six furlongs, which we know he's a lot more effective at.” Also in action on that day was the 3-year-old filly Vadream (GB) (Brazen Beau {Aus}), who stayed on strongly to win the G3 Bengough S. over this trip. “She's been unbelievably consistent all year,” trainer Charlie Fellowes said. “She is a very good filly and a quick filly. She has run very well at Ascot, which is always a big plus on that straight course. She needs to step forward again, but the better ground would not be an issue. We go there very much in hope rather than expectation, but she is in cracking form.”

Stradivarius has his G1 Prix du Cadran conqueror Trueshan (Fr) (Planteur {Ire}) to deal with in the Long Distance Cup and with Ascot blessed with a dry week, their reunion takes place on a surface neither ideal or otherwise for both. Frankie believes it will be closer this time. “Stradivarius takes his racing well and seems ready for a rematch with Trueshan,” he said. “I have plenty of respect for Trueshan, who is a very good horse under extreme conditions, but I think now that the ground is going to be better at Ascot that will help bridge the gap and make things more of a level playing field.”

Trueshan's trainer Alan King is hoping this is not a case of going back to the well too often and said, “We haven't done much with him since Longchamp, but he had a little breeze on Wednesday and Dan [Horsford], who rides him every day, was happy with him. We're under no illusions, it's only two weeks since the two of them had a hard race, but it's Trueshan's last race of the season so he's got all winter to get over it. We think he's okay, but we can't really be certain until we get on the track. The ground will be fine. I've always said I'd run him on good ground, so I'm not that worried.”

William Haggas has a potential wildcard for the Cup in the family-owned and bred Hamish (GB) (Motivator {GB}), who beat Hukum (Ire) (Sea the Stars {Ire}) in the G3 September S. on his seasonal debut over a mile and a half on Kempton's Polytrack Sept. 4. Bred to stay this two miles, he is one of the race's most interesting candidates and could be a potential star of the staying ranks if he can be kept sound. “If you want to take the Hukum form at face value, Hamish would definitely have a chance, but I don't think we saw Hukum at his best at Kempton,” his trainer said. “Hamish is a good horse all the same and the ground is going to suit him. He's in good form and he looks great.”

Like Hamish, LECH Racing's June 4 GII Belmont Gold Cup winner Baron Samedi (GB) (Harbour Watch {Ire}) is a stayer on the up and his latest third in the G1 Irish St Leger at The Curragh Sept. 12 puts him in the frame here. “Baron Samedi has been the most wonderful horse, winning seven times as he improved from basement-level handicapper to Group 2 winner,” trainer Joseph O'Brien commented. “He ran a very good race to finish third in the Irish St Leger last time and that run confirmed to us that staying trips will be his game. This even stronger test of stamina, combined with first-time cheekpieces, should suit him and it wouldn't surprise to see him run a big race.” He also saddles one of Frankel's trio of runners in Master of Reality (Ire) and he said of that veteran, “The last time he ran at Ascot, he gave Stradivarius a scare in the Gold Cup at the Royal meeting so it would be brave to dismiss him.”

Away from Ascot, Leopardstown stage the seven-furlong G3 Richmond Homes Killavullan S. which has been won by the subsequent G1 2000 Guineas heroes Footstepsinthesand (GB) and Poetic Flare (Ire) (Dawn Approach {Ire}) in recent times. The latter's trainer Jim Bolger saddles Boundless Ocean (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}), who was second on his debut only on Thursday at The Curragh while Footstepsinthesand's trainer Aidan O'Brien also backs up Saturday's G1 Dewhurst S. sixth Glounthaune (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}). Interestingly, that was the same tactic applied by Bolger with Poetic Flare 12 months ago, while two 'TDN Rising Stars' are also lining up in Moyglare Stud Farm's Sept. 12 G1 Moyglare Stud S. fifth Homeless Songs (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) and John and Sheila Lavery's Sept. 26 Curragh maiden winner New Energy (Ire) (New Bay {GB}).

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