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Champions Day Long Distance Cup

It might have been rather wet this week, and a rather soggy track to race on, but it's still British Champions Day at Ascot. Based on the quality available for the respective races, it's hard to argue against the opening race being the strongest field of the day. Up steps Adam Webb, @adamwebb121

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Long Distance Cup
1.45pm, Group 2, 2m

QIPCO British Champions Day begins Ascot’s final flat card of the year with the stayers in the Long Distance Cup and with the persistent deluge of rain that has hit the Berkshire track this week, we are in for National Hunt style ground. To win this race you will need a thorough stayer who gets every single yard of the two mile trip.

Leading Light has proved to be one of the best stayers on either side of the Irish Sea this season. Last year’s Ladbrokes St Leger winner started his season with a bloodless success at Navan in the Vintage Crop Stakes over a mile and six furlongs beating Royal Diamond and Pale Mimosa. He then went off odds-on in a competitive field at Royal Ascot in the Gold Cup where he only just doing enough to see of the disqualified Estimate and Missunited. The consensus of jockey Joseph O’Brien was that he hadn’t seen out the distance however his class got him through the closing stages.

He then came out and won easily at the Curragh in the Irish St Leger Trial before being given a poor ride in the Irish St Leger itself as the whole field bar Eye Of The Storm allowed a strong stayer in Brown Panther too much rope on the front end and when he kicked for home the race was all but over for the chasing pack. Softer ground here shouldn’t be a concern having won his maiden on heavy ground plus his running style will definitely help as he only does what is required of him.

The young pretender in the staying division scene is Dermot Weld’s four year old Forgotten Rules who has looked devastating on two starts to date including in a Punchestown bumper where he won on the bridle by … lengths. He then made his flat debut at Galway in a maiden and again visually was impressive before missing the Irish St Leger due to the fast ground. This is by far his toughest task to date and he will need to confirm the visual impressions of both starts so far plus the testing ground is an unknown for this son of Nayef.

Estimate has had a much busier campaign than last season. Her return to action this year was a career best when second to Leading Light in the Ascot Gold Cup however was subsequently disqualified due to a prohibited substance found in her urine sample. She then disappointed in the Goodwood Cup behind Cavalryman with jockey Ryan Moore suggesting she was in season which could have explained the poor run.

She then showed a return to form when second behind Pale Mimosa in the Lonsdale Cup before gaining her first success of the year in the Doncaster Cup when beating Whiplash Willie who reopposes here. From all her runs over the last year, Estimate has looked an out and out stayer and potentially the way for her to win the race is by going from the front and stretching her rivals. Ryan Moore is no stranger to this tactic having used it to great effect in the Prix du Cadran a week last Sunday on High Jinx and with there looking to be a lack of pace, it could be that Moore uses his initiative and tries to get the fractions spot on from the front.

Having mentioned Whiplash Willie above, it’s best to mention him next. For those who read this blog on Arc day, he was my fancy for the Cadran for the simple reason that you need a strong stayer and he was the strongest. However, David Probert became a victim of the French ruling as he allowed himself to get trapped on the rail and when he wanted to make his challenge, he simply couldn’t with a weakening horse in front of him and another keeping him in. Once he got the gaps it was far too late and he was a never nearer fourth. The distance is no issue here and the ground should be fine so he has every chance of running into a place but the concern would be whether he is over his Longchamp excursions.

Pallasator is a fascinating contender here and has been running consistently well all year. His return in the Old Newton Cup off top weight was a strong comeback effort when second to De Rigueur before winning on the Sunday of the King George meeting in a twelve furlong handicap beating Double Bluff. He then got a four pound penalty and went off a short priced favourite for the hugely competitive Ebor Handicap at York in which he was drawn in the car park in 22. Despite that, he was dropped in and ran another solid race in defeat when fourth to Mutual Regard having made up plenty of ground from the back of the field.

His run in the Irish St Leger when sixth behind Brown Panther can be forgiven for two reasons. Firstly for a rare bad ride from Andrea Atzeni although it wouldn’t be fair to just point the finger at him and his behaviour pre-race was a huge worry with him not handling the preliminaries at all. His last run at Newmarket however showed Atzeni in a different light as he gave the horse a superb ride to beat Flying Officer when making all the running. He has already won on soft ground before and goes in with a big chance but I doubt the mix of the ground and distance will be to his advantage.

Flying Officer has been lightly raced for John Gosden and only seen twice this year. He won at Nottingham before his second to Pallasator at Newmarket. It will be interesting to see how he gets on as he is in the Horses in Training Sale at Newmarket towards the end of the month but the feeling from his last start was that Pallasator was always going to hold him off and it just could be that two miles stretches his stamina.

Big Orange has improved markedly as the season has progressed. He was only beaten three and a half lengths by Hartnell over course and distance in the Queen’s Vase but has since gone on to win twice, including when beating Whiplash Willie at Chester two starts ago before performing a career best when winning at Ascot in the Noel Murless Stakes beating Marzocco over a mile and six furlongs. He is still unexposed as a stayer but I feel he will be one for next year and this is a very stiff task.

Marzocco has ran consistently enough in Group One company this season including when fifth behind Kingston Hill in the St Leger but will hate the ground and isn’t good enough to win a race of this quality.

The outsider of the field Biographer is definitely interesting. He has been trained for this race and with Estimate around the 5/1 mark, he could be overpriced at 25’s. He was disappointing earlier in the season before coming back to some sort of form last time in the Doncaster Cup behind Estimate and he is one who won’t mind the ground here.

Conclusion

It’s hard to oppose the market leader LEADING LIGHT who we knows act on the track and the ground shouldn’t pose any issue to him. If given a positive ride then Estimate must go very close on what will be her final start before going to stud whilst Forgotten Rules could easily win this but the ground is a major unknown. Pallasator is definitely interesting but one at a price that I can see easily running into the frame is BIOGRAPHER who has been trained for this race and his trainer David Lanigan seemed sweet on his chances when on Racing UK the other day.

Win – Leading Light
E/W - Biographer


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