Friday, 14 October 2016

QIPCO Champion Stakes preview

The feature on what is a brilliant QIPCO Champions Day at Ascot is the Champion Stakes, attracting a wealth of talent from across Europe, with over £700,000 going to the winner. And with the best British hope 12/1 currently, the prize could certainly be taken across shores, be it to Ireland or France.

Saddling on for the biggest race of the day is aspiring sports journalist Conor Stroud, @conorstroud95.

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QIPCO Champion Stakes
Group 1, £1.3million, 1m2f
Ascot 1545 BST, 0145 AEST
Generic prices quoted from time of writing


Fascinating Rock – 5/1
One of the lighter-raced horses this year in the field, Fascinating Rock represents a real danger as Dermot Weld and Pat Smullen’s charge seeks to defend his title. Following the victory here last year, he was beaten by Found on reappearance but would win the Tattersall's Gold Cup in Ireland. He was surprisingly beaten last time out by Success Days, but could definitely still be a threat, if on top form.

Gabrial - 66/1
The seven-year-old Gabrial will be a big price for Richard Fahey, after just one win in 18 months, in a Listed race at Windsor. Last time out was well beaten in a Group 3, and I can’t see him being closer in this huge step up in class.

Jack Hobbs – 12/1
For a horse that is approaching his fifth year, Jack Hobbs is coming into this race for just his ninth competitive run, if you include his last run, being pulled up at Newmarket. He did pick up an injury that day (stress fracture to the pelvis), and John Gosden will be 100% sure the horse is capable to run, and if the Jack Hobbs of 2015 shows up, we could be in for an upset. Third in this race last year, the Irish Derby winner could certainly throw up a challenge for those more prominent in the market.

Maverick Wave – 66/1
John Gosden’s other runner is again in Godolphin blue, and in Maverick Wave will more than likely be a pacemaker for Jack Hobbs. Only second in a Class 3 last time, Rob Havlin’s mount will surely have little input at the finish in this high quality encounter.

My Dream Boat – 20/1
Clive Cox’s Prince of Wales hero My Dream Boat is the ride of Adam Kirby, after a good fifth in the Irish Champion Stakes. May need another step up, but is returning to the home of his Group One victory in June. Kirby himself has said that he didn’t have a great run through but stayed on really well, so could be one to take at a price. Do not discount easily.

Racing History – 25/1
Another very lightly-raced four-year-old, Racing History is another that is coming back from a long break, this time being a year exactly. His last run came in this race last year, where he was far from disgraced in fourth, three lengths behind the winner Fascinating Rock. One that should definitely not be discounted too easily, but will surely have suited a warm-up run, and even on that a step up will be needed on last year's effort. Champion Jockey (at least for now) Silvestre De Sousa picks up the ride for Godolphin.

The Grey Gatsby – 50/1
Kevin Ryan will probably be a little frustrated with what has been an average year for The Grey Gatsby, after a string of Group One places in 2015. The Irish Champion Stakes winner in 2014 hasn’t recaptured form from ’14 or ’15 this year, and for that reason probably won’t be involved in the finish here. Well beaten in the Arc and the Juddmonte in his last two runs, the likeable grey will need to improve markedly to go close here.

Found – 5/2
If a few of this field are lightly raced, that certainly can’t be said for Arc winner Found, who blew away the field to win by almost two lengths in an Aidan O’Brien 1-2-3. The ultra consistent filly was starting to look like the perennial bridesmaid with a string of 2s by her name, but the win in Chantilly has ended that run in emphatic fashion. Less than two weeks off could be an issue, but if one man can get a horse right again in a short space of time it’s O’Brien, who has decimated all in his wake chasing a record number of Group Ones. Will almost certainly be involved at the finish.

Almanzor – 6/4
Making his first run in the UK, Almanzor will likely go off favourite for Jean-Claude Rouget after winning the Irish Champion Stakes last month. Christophe Soumillon, who is on-board again here, gave him a patient ride that day and if he runs a similar race I can’t see him being beaten. The extra two furlongs suited Found in France, but back at ten furlongs I would take Almanzor to just get the better of Found, and in turn probably win the race.

Midterm – 20/1
The once Derby favourite Midterm is an intriguing runner in this for Sir Michael Stoute. Winning his opening two races, a disappointing Dante led him to swerve the prestigious race due to injury, and wasn’t seen again until last month in France, when putting up a very good battle in the Prix Niel. He was beaten a neck by Makahiki, but Midterm could definitely improve for that run. I would expect the Atzeni runner to outrun his odds, and could be the each-way play in this race. A definite lively outsider.

US Army Ranger – 20/1
The O’Brien trained horse went off favourite for the Epsom Derby this year, and ended up in second, but has since disappointed over 10 and 12 furlongs. Well beaten in a Group 3 two runs back, he didn’t really get going last time until beaten by Zhukova, but did run on well. I would definitely put him down as a horse that wants further than this, given his two best runs have been over the Derby distance. Even with O’Brien training, I would be surprised if he made the first three, and the jockey bookings reflect that with Moore on Found and Heffernan aboard US Army Ranger.

Verdict:
In what is a very puzzling high quality Champion Stakes, I probably couldn’t side against the favourite Almanzor, with Found almost certain to run him very close, but might just need the extra distance that she doesn’t have today. Of the ones at slightly more exotic prices, I would be willing to give My Dream Boat a chance for Clive Cox, and Midterm also for Sir Michael Stoute. But you could do a lot worse than just admiring what is going to be a fantastic renewal.

1. Almanzor
2. Found
3. My Dream Boat

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