QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot is a fitting way to end the flat season, and I’m lucky enough to have been invited there to do some reporting work for radio.
I arrived at the course at 10.00am, nice and early to give myself time to get organised. Meanwhile there’s a lot of people milling about, putting in the final touches ahead of kick off. The press room was already buzzing with anticipation, and all the background chat was suggesting that it would be a good day for favourite backers, and that the Aidan O’Brien / Ryan Moore partnership would continue its relentless plundering of Group 1 prizes, and there are four up for grabs today.
I’m pleased to see the rain has kept away, as I like top quality races to be won on merit without the possibility of ground condition excuses.
The first race is the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup, run over 2 miles. It should be a formality for “Order of St George”, he was third in the Arc 2 weeks ago and won the Gold Cup here back in June. On paper he deserves to be odds on but as the race unfolds its clear that he’s struggling to go through the gears and in the end it’s the seven year old, Doncaster Cup winner “Sheikhzayedroad” who motors down the outside, staying on strongly to win at odds of 11/1 for trainer David Simcock.
I shot down to the winners enclosure to grab an interview with David and I got the impression that the result, and the manner of the result came as a little bit of a surprise. David thought his horse wasn’t as good going right handed. Well he is now.
Back in the Pressroom, one of the guys reckoned that the message was on the wall for “Order of St George” as he was sweating at the start. Well so much for a favourite’s day.
The next race is the Group 1 QIPCO British Champion Sprint Stakes, over 6 furlongs. A competitive race with 5 previous Group 1 winners in the line-up, and in the end it went to “The Tin Man” ridden by Tom Queally and trained by James Fanshawe. This was Tom Queally’s first Group 1 winner since he rode the mighty Frankel at this fixture back in 2012. Tom did a nice interview, he was genuinely chuffed for the connections of the horse and came across as very thoughtful, reflective and appreciative of his place and role in racing. I also wanted to get a clip with James Fanshawe, but he was being whisked away to celebrate by the multiple owners of “The Tin Man”. I did see one of the ladies pat him on the back whilst saying “James, you’re a very clever man”. I Couldn’t help smiling as it conjured up images of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. She’s right though, James is a clever man and he could definitely have a place on my pub quiz team if he could make himself free on Tuesday evening’s.
The third race was another Group 1 affair. It’s the QIPCO Fillies and Mares Stakes, and if money talks then Aidan O’Brien’s hat-trick seeking “Seventh Heaven” is the one to be on.
It was a bit of a rough race and the favourite ran disappointingly. Not so “Journey”. She travelled strongly in the hands of Frankie Dettori and at the furlong pole he said Go! And she did, bounding clear by 4 lengths. It was quite a surprise to hear that this was the first Group 1 win of the season for trainer John Gosden. Now everyone knows that a Group 1 winner for Dettori means a flying dismount, so I got myself into the perfect viewing position, which is behind Frankie, looking at both him and the crowd at the same moment. It’s great to see him orchestrate the crowd, hear the cheers and watch the air punching as he jumps off the filly with his unique brand of celebration. Racing will miss him, Big Time, when he does eventually hang up the saddle.
Well there’s no time to sit and reflect as the QIPCO Queen Elizabeth 2nd Stakes is about to start. The build up to this race has all been about Aidan O’Brien’s filly “Minding”, who was attempting to win her 6th Group 1 this season. So far it had been a disappointing day for O’Brien and Moore, but finally order was restored and though far from spectacular, “Minding” dug deep to repel the late challenge of “Ribchester” and give favourite backers something to cheer.
In the post-race interview, the humble genius that is Aidan O’Brien described the filly as incredible. From a man who’s trained some of the best horses in recent times, that means something.
The fifth race, the QIPCO Champion Stakes looked as though it would be a head to head between the French raider “Almanzor” , winner of the Irish Champion Stakes and “Found” runner up in that race, who had then gone on and won the Arc De Triumph.
It was a good race but “Almanzor” was always travelling kindly and only had to be shaken up to stride on and win decisively by 4 lengths, with “Found” back in second.
For the post-race interview I went straight to the winning jockey Christophe Soumillon, he’s a great talker and his English is better than mine. He loves “Almanzor” and suggested that next year he might step up in trip and try his luck in the Arc. That will be interesting.
Finally the day ends with the Balmoral Handicap, the most valuable mile handicap in Europe.
With 19 runners there’s always going to be a few hard luck stories but “Yuften” a 12/1 chance wasn’t one of them. He kept clear of any trouble and was driven out by Andrea Atzeni to win by a length.
So all in all, it was an interesting QIPCO British Champions Day, with something for everyone.
Two standout performances from “Minding and Almanzor”. The first Group 1 win of the season for John Gosden and the 21st for Aidan O’Brien plus a little bit of showtime from Frankie Dettori. What’s not to Like.
By Charlie Hoynes