RARELY has racing been simultaneously so excited and disappointed as it will be around 4.00pm tomorrow at Ascot for QIPCO British Champions Day, when Sir Henry Cecil’s magnificent Frankel takes to the turf for what will almost certainly be his final race.
In two wonderful seasons the son of Galileo has staked his claim to be called the greatest thoroughbred of all time with breathtaking performances that have seen Frankel remain unbeaten in 13 races and pick up over £2.2 million in prize money. Huge winning margins have been the norm and it’s unlikely we will ever witness a horse like this again.
However, the mighty colt faces his biggest test tomorrow in the QIPCO Champion Stakes (4.05pm) when he faces the second best horse in the world, Cirrus Des Aigles, and the high-class Coral Eclipse and former King George winner Nathaniel.
Cirrus Des Aigles is one of the most admirable horses in training and he has a fantastic record with cut in the ground. Madame Corine Barande Barbe’s gelding has won his last four races on ground described as very soft or heavy by at least eight lengths and returns to Ascot the defending champion having lowered the colours of hot favourite So You Think last year.
Frankel’s odds make him redundant from a betting perspective, even if he is the most likely winner, so backing CIRRUS DES AIGLES each-way at 4/1 with Coral is a bet to nothing. At worst he should fill the place behind Frankel and at best he could produce a stunning upset.
The bookies have taken few chances with Frankel’s price but Ladbrokes’ offer of 5/4 for FRANKEL TO WIN BY UNDER SIX LENGTHS looks very tempting.
The opening QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup (1.45pm) looks a good opportunity for OPINION POLL to go one better than his second in this race last year. Godolphin have given the son of Halling a light campaign and he hasn’t been seen since a good second in the Ascot Gold Cup. He loves cut in the ground and the 3/1 with Coral is worth taking.
Fame And Glory beat Opinion Poll in this last year but the former Irish Derby winner is too hard to predict these days and has been a disappointing favourite on his last two starts.
John Gosden will be looking to wrap up the trainer’s title tomorrow afternoon and his Aiken can add some money to his haul. The Selkirk colt is a class act on this ground and is two from three at the Berkshire track but looks a little short now.
James Fanshawe won the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes (2.20pm) last year with Deacon Blues and saddles the favourite this year in the shape of Haydock Sprint Cup winner Society Rock. He is the most likely winner, with conditions in his favour and a good record at Ascot.
Yet, at around 3/1, I will oppose him. He ran a stinker in this race last year and normally pops up when he’s relatively unfancied rather than when the market is behind him.
My choice, SIRIUS PROSPECT, is 14/1 with Paddy Power but Dean Ivory’s charge has a great chance. The four-year-old was one of the most progressive sprinters in Britain last season before badly losing his way. That was until his last two starts where he ran into third both times. Last time at York he was a huge eyecatcher, missing the start by about six lengths but absolutely flying at the death.
If he can break on level terms, Sirius Prospect has the turn of foot to go close in an average looking race.
The QIPCO British Champions Fillies’ and Mares’ Stakes (2.55pm), has a trappy feel to it and I wouldn’t get too heavily involved. I was keen on Great Heavens for this before she was rerouted to the Arc two weeks ago. Nathaniel’s sister loves this ground but she had a hard race in Paris and she might be vulnerable to SAPPHIRE.
Dermot Weld’s challenger has to concede 4lb but is unbeaten in three races at a mile and a half. She loves testing ground, arrives from Ireland fresher than most and 7/2 with Coral is appealing.
Finally, Excelebration, for so long the bridesmaid to Frankel, will go for a third Group One success in the Queen Elizabeth ΙΙ Stakes sponsored by QIPCO at 3.30pm. Aidan O’Brien’s star miler is a 4/6 shot to do so but whether he quite warrants quotes as short as that I’m not sure.
On official ratings he only has one pound in hand of Cityscape, who is 9/2, and, in a race where there is no confirmed front-runner, it could be a messy contest.
The possible lack of pace would also hinder CARLTON HOUSE but at 10/1 with Coral he is worth chancing. The Queen will be in attendance tomorrow and she could end up presenting the prize to herself.
Sir Michael Stoute’s yard is in better form than it has been for a long time and the son of Street Cry has had a light campaign. His ability to stay further than this trip could stand him in good stead.
You can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile for all my views on what promises to be a historic day.
OPINION POLL 1.45pm Ascot (tomorrow)
SIRIUS PROSPECT e/w 2.20pm Ascot (tomorrow)
SAPPHIRE 2.55pm Ascot (tomorrow)
CARLTON HOUSE e/w 3.30pm Ascot (tomorrow)
CIRRUS DES AIGLES e/w 4.05pm Ascot (tomorrow)
FRANKEL TO WIN BY LESS THAN SIX LENGTHS (5/4)