Aidan O'Brien can claim the Champion Stakes at Ascot this weekend
Sean Raymond previews Saturday's Champion Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot, and picks out a selection for one of the biggest races of the season...
British Champions Day is always a fixture to saviour, and the countdown to this weekend is building following the release of the five-day entries on Monday afternoon. The Champion Stakes holds a special place in the heart of racing fans in the UK, and is widely considered the highlight of the day at Ascot as a result of its long and prestigious history.
An end of season championship race run over ten furlongs, the Champion Stakes has been a staple of the British sporting calendar since being first run in 1877, and has been won by some legendary names in the intervening years. New Approach, Twice Over, Frankel and Cracksman are just four of the stand-out winners of the race this century, which only serves to highlight its place as a top drawer Group 1 and it will be fascinating to see which of this weekend's runners follow in those famous hoof-steps in 2019.
The prevailing news around the race at the moment is the weather, with the Berkshire venue taking on plenty of rain in the past few days and testing conditions are expected on Saturday as a result. There is already talk that the card will be moved to the inner track at Ascot and away from the currently waterlogged and more traditional Flat outer course.
The expected heavy ground has clearly had an impact on the market over the last few days, and there has been plenty of money for the William Haggas-trained Addeybb, who is a 5/2 joint-favourite at the time of writing. Admittedly, he has struggled in top level races in the past, but he is an admirable pattern performer who is at his best in the mud, and particularly testing conditions could act as something of a leveller here.
Indeed, the five-year-old won a Group 3 contest on bottomless ground at Haydock on his most recent start in August, and it is no surprise to see plenty of people connect the dots here. However, there are clear doubts about his ability at this lofty level, and he is hard to back at such a short price.
It is impossible to study a race like the Champion Stakes without taking a closer look at the Aidan O'Brien contingent, and there are two particularly interesting Ballydoyle contenders towards the head of the market.
Japan and Magical were last seen finishing fourth and fifth respectively in the Prix De L'Arc De Triomphe at the start of the month, and both came out of that with their reputations firmly intact. Of the two, Magical was the one to take from it with Ascot in mind, deserving plenty of credit for having as much as a say as she did considering that she helped set a particularly searing early pace, and connections will surely be confident of a big run from her this weekend.
The daughter of Galileo has shown her best work at ten furlongs, and has more than enough form on soft ground in the books to be taken seriously on Saturday. Her effort to finish a narrow second to Crystal Ocean in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot back in June is excellent form by any standard, while her win in the Champions Fillies' and Mares' Stakes on this card last year also came in sodden underfoot conditions - which is enough to make her a hugely attractive proposition.
Coronet has been a terrific animal for John Gosden over the past couple of years, and she belatedly opened her account at this level when winning the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in June. Admittedly, that wasn't the strongest of races, but she's followed that up with a second Group 1 win against her own sex at Deauville since - a win which came in testing conditions. She's an interesting alternative as a consequence, though she will likely just fall short now coming up against a bona fide Group 1 field.
The Japanese-trained Deirdre won plenty of admirers when winning the Group 1 Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood in August, and she heads here in good heart having run at least as well as that when fourth in the Irish equivalent of this race at Leopardstown last time out. However, she was firmly put in her place by Magical that day, and it would take some effort to reverse that form.
Fox Tal adds a layer of intrigue to the race, too, with the three-year-old set to take his chance for Andrew Balding and the King Power Racing team. The lightly-raced colt has nothing on his record to suggest he is up to Group 1 level, but the fact that connections are willing to throw him in the deep end on just his sixth start must be something of a tip in itself, even if it would be foolish to part with your hard earned money on such an unproven animal.
The rain could havoc with Champions Day this weekend and you might argue that is the case already with a horse like Addeybb the favourite at the time of writing. The William Haggas animal will have a chance if it turns into a slog but he really shouldn't be good enough at this level and that means it is Magical who is favoured. The Aidan O'Brien-trained horse is joint top-rated on official ratings (with Japan) in the field on 122, eight clear of Addeybb, and with a sex allowance also in her favour, it is Magical who can complete a British and Irish Champion Stakes double.
Has been in excellent form so far this season, winning two Group 1 contests, including the Irish equivalent of this at Leopardstown last month. This year's renewal of the Champion Stakes doesn't look a strong one, and this admirably consistent filly will be difficult to beat.