Bill Esdaile’s QIPCO Champion Stakes 1-2-3
- Poet’s Word
ASCOT stages QIPCO British Champions Day tomorrow, which now marks the end of the UK Flat racing season.
Plenty of equine stars are on display, including the likes of Order Of St George, Harry Angel, Ribchester, Cracksman and Barney Roy, while Silvestre de Sousa will also be crowned Stobart Champion Flat Jockey for a second time.
The unpredictable weather has already played a big part in disrupting the going at most of this summer’s major meetings and that looks likely to happen once again, with the threat of strong winds and rain.
Guessing quite how soft the ground will be for the QIPCO Champion Stakes (3.50pm), the feature contest on the cracking six race card, is impossible with so many different forecasts predicting varying amounts of rain.
However, you can be certain the ground will be on the soft side, and that’s the reason that Aidan O’Brien has re-routed Churchill to the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Sir Michael Stoute has decided to wait for the Breeders’ Cup with Ulysses.
That still leaves a field of 10 headed by John Gosden’s CRACKSMAN, who comes here fresh after connections opted to miss the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
This season’s Investec Derby third was only beaten a neck by Capri in the Irish Derby and is unbeaten in two starts since.
An emphatic six length win in the Great Voltigeur at York’s Ebor meeting in August was followed by a cosy win in the Prix Niel at Chantilly last month.
Plenty were disappointed by the decision of connections not to take on his stablemate Enable in the Arc, but the eventual manner of that filly’s victory suggests the decision was probably a good one.
Every drop of rain that falls between now and tomorrow’s race will be music to the ears of the Gosden camp, as the only cause for concern is the skinny nature of this 10 furlong trip.
Cracksman has looked every bit a stayer in both of his previous victories and the softer the ground the better, as it should turn this into a test of stamina rather than speed.
He can be backed at 9/4 with Coral, which makes more appeal than the 3/1 on offer about Richard Hannon’s Barney Roy, his biggest danger on paper.
Second to Churchill in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas, Barney Roy followed that run with a win in the St James’s Palace Stakes here at the Royal meeting.
Both of those runs came over a mile and importantly on a fast surface, as did his agonising nose defeat by Ulysses in the Coral Eclipse when stepped up to this trip on his next start.
He finished further behind that rival on rain-softened ground in the Juddmonte International at York when last seen in action back in August.
The ground will be even softer here and will surely blunt the speed of a brilliant colt who comes here fresh too.
Plenty of French horses have let me down in recent weeks, but I cannot help but feel that French 2000 Guineas and Derby winner BRAMETOT will be Cracksman’s biggest danger.
He looked like being Europe’s leading three-year-old colt at the beginning of June, but disappointed on his next start when missing the break in a Deauville Group Two.
Last time out he showed signs of life again when finishing fifth in the Arc behind Enable and looks a contender here with a soft ground 10 furlong contest looking his ideal test.
Highland Reel is a multiple Group race-winning globetrotter who has won twice at the track before.
It’s always hard to discount him from races like this, but is unquestionably a better horse on faster ground.
For that reason, I fancy Sir Michael Stoute’s improving POET’S WORD to grab third spot.
He took his form to a new level when finishing a close runner-up to Decorated Knight in the Irish Champion Stakes last month.
That was his first run at the highest level and the fact that he handles soft ground and stays a good deal further than this are in his favour too.
Whether he is quite good enough to win is questionable, but he looks sure to be in the mix.