Betfred TV’s Matt Hulmes marks your card ahead of Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday

The final day of the Flat season is upon us.

Six races play a huge part in defining the season’s stars in the relevant disciplines, and it looks looks like we’ll have the best ground for the big finale for five years.

 

1.25 – Long Distance Cup

Twelve stayers line up for the longest race of the day.

It will likely be very different conditions to last year when Trueshan routed his rivals by over seven lengths on very soft ground. This year, it’s looking like it will ride just on the easy side of good as Alan King’s five-year-old returns to defend his title.

There’s no questioning his form after a runaway success in the Prix Du Cadran at Longchamp a fortnight ago, but that race was run on soft ground and over two and half miles.

He had Stradivarius four lengths behind that day and despite the seven-year-old refusing to lie down, surely his powers are on the wane. He only beat one home here 12 months ago, and the form of his wins this season fall below his efforts in his pomp – and he’s another who had a gruelling race in Paris just fourteen days ago.

Similar sentiments apply to Princess Zoe, who was fifth in France and needs the ground deep to show her best.

Baron Semedi has been a winning machine for Joseph O’Brien but may just fall short in top company, while The Mediterranean adds intrigue as a three-year-old from Aidan O’Brien’s yard.

The one to be on is HAMISH, one of nine runners on the card for William Haggas – although none would mean more to him than a victory here as the horse is owned and was bred by his father Brian.

Hamish can get revenge on Trueshan in the opener

He’s a very lightly-raced five-year-old who has never finished out of the top four, winning half of his eight races to date. He has clearly had problems having had just two runs in 28 months, but the latest was success in the Group 3 September Stakes at Kempton, beating subsequent easy winner Hukum by a neck.

He promises to be suited by the step up in trip having cantered to victory in a Melrose Handicap as a three-year-old and was denied by a neck by Trueshan in their younger years. Two years on, he can exact revenge and get us off to a Champions Day flyer.

 

2.00 – Champions Sprint Stakes

A maximum field of 20 sprinters head to post for the shortest race of the day over six furlongs.

Last year’s winner Glen Shiel is back to retain his crown, although his form this season does not inspire confidence and the Archie Watson team may have higher hopes with their three-year-old Dragon Symbol, who has enjoyed an incredible rise this season having only made his debut in March and about to have his 11th race.

Three of his last four races have been in Group One company and he is yet to finish out of the first four. He was first past the post in the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal meeting but lost the race in the Stewards’ room before being placed in the July Cup, the Nunthorpe, and a close fourth in the Flying Five.

He looks sure to be thereabouts, as does his old adversary Rohaan. He has had an even greater rise having won an all-weather handicap off a mark of 55 in December before climbing the ranks and beating Dragon Symbol in the Sandy Lane at Haydock in May. From there he flew home to land the Wokingham at Royal Ascot over this track and trip, before his best effort in top company came at the Curragh last time out when finishing fifth, just behind his old rival.

Minzaal is an intriguing contender having won the Gimcrack last year at York and was an eye-catcher on his first start since when running on well here a fortnight ago. The fact he pitches up suggests connections expect a bold show, while Kinross and Creative Force are closely matched on their Goodwood form in July.

The selection for the sprint is ART POWER, who was only beaten a length into 4th in this race last year.

Art Power

Art Power has consistently competed in Group One assignments – Saturday looks like his chance to win one

He was a cracking 4th in the July Cup this season, when he raced alone along the far rail, and he appreciated the drop in class to scoot five lengths clear at the Curragh three weeks ago. That was some excellent placing by the Tim Easterby yard who have had an incredible season, capped by Nunthorpe success courtesy of Winter Power.

Art Power flew home to win at last year’s Royal meeting over the minimum trip before a close third in the Diamond Jubilee in the summer. He clearly loves the track, plus six furlongs on easy ground, and he can land the big prize his consistency deserves.

 

2.35 – Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes

Having been against her all season, I can’t see past SNOWFALL here.

Snowfall

Snowfall “looks like the banker of the day”

In all honesty, and with the greatest of respect to the rest of the field, this contest needs Snowfall because without her the standard slips a little way short of what is expected on this day.

If the busy campaign hasn’t caught up with the triple Oaks scorer, she looks like the banker of the day. Her winning run did come to an end in a messy Prix Vermeille in September, but even her sixth-placed finish in the Arc looks to be beyond what her opposition could achieve. In theory, she could run a little below par and still have enough to win.

Albaflora has to improve to turn the York form around with Snowfall, but her best performance did come here back in May.

Invite may be the one to chase the favourite home. She won a Listed contest at Chester on her first start for Andrew Balding and is still lightly enough raced to have more improvement in her.

 

3.10 – Queen Elizabeth II Stakes

This looks like a race for the ages with a ten-strong field comprised of EIGHT Group One winners. Only Njord (Balmoral winner last year) and Master Of The Seas (2000 Guineas runner-up) are yet to score at the highest level.

Many people see this as a match between Palace Pier and BAAEED, who have won fourteen of their fifteen races combined.

Palace Pier’s only defeat came in this race last year on deep ground, and after three runs in three months to start this campaign he has been seen just once when beating 2000 Guineas winner and runaway Royal Ascot scorer Poetic Flare in the G1 Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville in August. He has been trained to right the wrong of 2020 in this race, but he comes up against a horse that wasn’t seen in public until June.

Baaeed made his racecourse appearance at Leicester on June 7 and just 12 days later won by seven lengths under a penalty at Newmarket that had all the time analysts purring. He then saw off solid yardstick Maximal, who had some collateral form with Classic contenders, before seeing off Group Three opposition at Glorious Goodwood by an easy six lengths.

It’s his laid-back style of racing and turn of foot that marks him out as special – and although that wasn’t in evidence at Longchamp in the Prix Du Moulin, his first Group One assignment, he still won by over a length from a Breeders’ Cup winner. This is his ultimate test.

It would be folly to make it just about these two, though. Godolphin are having an excellent end to the year and Master Of The Seas was clearly going to come on a bundle for his return in the Joel Stakes three weeks ago. He can be expected to turn the tables on the globe-trotting Benbatl, who has never won a Group One on these shores.

The Revenant won last year’s renewal but would appreciate further easing of the ground, while Alcohol Free has had an incredible season, including a win at Royal Ascot in the Coronation Stakes and the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. She and Mother Earth have been hard to separate all season and I expect they’ll be close to one another once again – although neither should be quite good enough to score.

In fact, Lady Bowthorpe was unlucky not to beat both of them in the Falmouth Stakes when having a dreadful run and finishing around half-a-length behind them. She showed she stays ten furlongs when landing her maiden Group One in the Nassau Stakes and, on 6lb better terms here, she can turn the form around with her younger contemporaries and rates an each-way player at around 16/1.

 

3.50 – Champion Stakes

Champion Stakes by name, Champion Stakes by nature – the ten runners here share thirteen top level successes and over £18.5m in prize money.

It’s a rematch between Adayar and Mishriff from their meeting in the King George V and Queen Elizabeth Stakes here back in July over 2f further. Derby winner Adayar got the verdict that day by almost two lengths and has since gone on to finish a front-running fourth in the Arc de Triomphe. Mishriff, meanwhile, is 7lbs better off and crushed the opposition at York in the Juddmonte International Stakes.

Mishriff is the current 6/4 favourite at Betfred to win the Champion Stakes

They are rated the same on 127, just 2lbs ahead of last year’s winner Addeybb who finished ahead of Mishriff in the Eclipse at Sandown in July. He’s guaranteed to run his race for William Haggas, who also saddles the supplemented Dubai Honour at a cost of £75,000 on the back of a pair of Group Two victories – including one on Arc weekend – and the quirky but talented Al Aasy who will be held up and delivered late.

The French have a good record in this having won the inaugural running in 2011 with Cirrus Des Aigles and in 2016 with Almanzor before Skalletti finished second last year. This year they rely on SEALIWAY who looks to be the forgotten horse.

He ran away with the Group One Jean Luc Lagardere on Arc weekend last year before heading to America and finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup. It was an early start to his 2021 season when taking in the French Guineas (beaten three lengths by St Mark’s Basilica) and French Derby (beaten 1 ¾ lengths by St Mark’s Basilica) – form that leaves him closely matched with Mishriff and Addeybb.

After a mid-season break, he returned two weeks ago with an eye-catching fifth in the Arc de Triomphe, just one place behind Adayar.

Having been held up and wide throughout, he was still on the bridle turning for home and was last to be ridden. Suspect stamina and a lack of a recent run perhaps took its toll in the closing stages, but he did best of those held up out the back and, at a double-figure price dropped back in trip, he rates a big each-way player.

 

4.30 – Balmoral Handicap

Once all the Group racing is done and dusted, the £200,000, 20-runner Balmoral Handicap closes the card, providing a traditional Ascot punter’s puzzle.

Current favourite is the highly-regarded half-brother to Kingman Sunray Major, the mount of Frankie Dettori and one of three in the race for John and Thady Gosden. He easily won a seven-furlong contest at the track a fortnight ago, and is 1lb well-in under a penalty on just his fifth start – so, with improvement to come, many people will judge him as a good thing. 

The team also saddle King Leonidas with James Doyle on board. He returned from 15 months off the track when third at Newbury a month ago and will also be having just his fifth start. Having started favourite for the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, a mark of 103 may underestimate him also.

The race is full of usual Ascot straight course specialists, including Escobar, second in 2018 and winner of this contest in 2019, Sir Busker, third in the Group One Queen Anne over track and trip in June, former Queen Anne winner Accidental Agent and Oh This Is Us.

They might all have to play second fiddle to younger rivals who are ahead of the handicapper, so let’s find a couple of runners who should give you a run for your money.

First up is NUGGET for Richard Hannon and Ryan Moore.

Nugget winning last time out at Haydock off a mark of 101

He had an early start to his four-year-old season when third at Nottingham and then won the Spring Cup at Newbury before a close second in the Thirsk Hunt Cup. A break of almost five months saw him return with a narrow victory in a small field at Haydock, for which the handicapper only put him up 3lbs. He will come on for that return and the small rise underestimates him. He beat Danyah at Newbury in April and he is now rated 112, so a mark of 104 looks more than fair.

The second selection is KENZAI WARRIOR for Roger Teal and Hollie Doyle. He ran in the 2000 Guineas last year after an unbeaten two-year-old campaign, but his career unravelled somewhat. Only ninth in that Classic was followed by a poor run at Royal Ascot and two well-beaten runs at Newmarket at the back end. After pulling up at Newbury in May, connections did some investigating and found he was suffering from “inner pressure” on a bone that has been relieved, and he showed the benefit of that when winning at Kempton. Although 4lbs ‘wrong’ under his penalty, ihe could have plenty of mileage in his mark if his issues are resolved and is one to keep onside.

 

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