OCTOBER is a significant month in the horse racing calendar.
The curtain officially closes on a frantic flat season and the jumps game rolls back into town. So long, five furlong sprints. Hello three-mile slogs over 20 fences in the bog!
But before we get stuck into another round of National Hunt action, we wave goodbye to the flat with the richest race day in the UK’s horse racing calendar – QIPCO British Champions Day.
It’s the finale of the European flat racing season and it all takes place at beautiful Ascot racecourse in Berkshire TOMORROW – Saturday October 21.
The world’s best horses and jockeys will do battle in one of the greatest shows on turf. There’s a record £4.26million up for grabs in prize money for trainers, owners and connections while punters are guaranteed plenty of betting opportunities and edge-of-your-seat excitement.
Here’s Marathonbet’s look at all the big races from Champions Day.
1.25pm – QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup (1m 7f)
Flat racing’s staying stars – horses with an abundance of stamina – kick off the magic at Ascot in the £450,000 Long Distance Cup.
This race was won last year by Martin Harley’s Sheikhzayedroad, an 11/1 shot who rallied gamely to ensure odds-on favourite Order of St George (4/6f) finished well beaten in fourth place. It was a huge upset on paper but the race favourite has now failed to win the Long Distance cup for seven years running.
Order of St George is favourite to make amends this year but watch out for the challenge from the much-loved Big Orange – the Royal Ascot Gold Cup winner who saw off St George in epic fashion earlier in the year. The Long Distance Cup 2017 looks set to be a mouth-watering rematch between the pair.
Fancy an interesting stat that might help you pick this year’s winner?
11 of the past 11 winners raced from stalls 1-6.
2pm – QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes (6f)
From long-distance runners to all-out sprinters, this race is a £600,000 spectacle for horses with speed to burn.
Jockey Tom Queally was ecstatic after steering The Tin Man (13/2) to a thumping victory in this race last year ahead of outsider Growl (50/1) and Brando (14/1).
All eyes this year are on speed king Harry Angel, who is bidding to make it a hat-trick of Ascot victories at Champions Day after already bagging wins in the July Cup and Sprint Cup earlier this year. The Clive Cox-trained three-year-old, the current market favourite, will become the first horse to land the treble since 2011 if he can see off challenges from the likes of Commonwealth Cup winner Caravaggio, trained by Aidan O’Brien, and last year’s winner The Tin Man.
Your stat for the race?
14 of the past 14 previous winners ran within the last six weeks prior to competing.
2.40pm – QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (1m 3f)
Ladies, step forward. This £600,000 race is for the fillies and mares of the equine fraternity – the best female horses in training.
Fan favourite Frankie Dettori won this last year on the likeable Journey (4/1), who returns in 2017 for trainer John Gosden to defend her crown.
The then-four-year-old won in decisive fashion by four lengths over Speedy Boarding (14/1) and the way-back favourite Seventh Heaven (5/4f) who could only muster up a fifth place finish.
John Gosden’s Alyssa is also set to run. She was a four-length winner last year and she’ll make it a hat-trick of appearances tomorrow – but no horse has ever won back-to-back titles since the Fillies & Mares inception in 2011.
French raider Bateel looks the biggest challenger to Journey on paper.
Here’s your stat:
8 of the past 8 previous winners had run at least three times during that season.
3.15pm – The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (1m)
Dynamite duo Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore teamed up to win this £1.1million mega-money race last year with the delightful Minding (7/4f). In doing so she became the first horse since the legendary Frankel to win four QIPCO British Champion Series races in one season.
This year though the trainer/jockey pair are more concerned about her health than whether she’ll be able to defend her crown. The seven-time Group 1 winner has not run since landing the Mooresbridge Stakes at Naas on her reappearance in May and injury means a return date is not certain.
That leaves the door open this year for 2016 runner-up Ribchester, who finished just a length behind Minding last time out. Richard Fahey’s horse has already landed the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury and Queen Anne at Royal Ascot this term and looks a warm order to go one better at Champions Day this time around.
Last year’s third-place horse, Massaat, will also take another crack while plenty of punters will fancy dual 2,000 Guineas winner Churchill if the ground hasn’t gone against him.
10 out of 10 previous winners finished in the top two the last time they ran.
3.50pm – QIPCO Champion Stakes (1m 2f)
A star-studded cast is lined up to appear in this year’s £1.3million Champions Stakes – including 18 Group 1 winners. It’s Europe’s richest mile-and-a-quarter contest.
The highest-rated entry comes in the form of Sir Michael Stoute’s impressive Ulysses, who has served connections well this term by winning the Coral Eclipse and Juddmonte and placing in the Arc, Prince of Wales’s Stakes and King George VI. A consistent contender if there ever was one – but Sir Michael is yet to saddle a winner on Champions Day.
He’ll face competition from Cracksman, who is set for a shot at the big prize after doubts about his participation from owner Anthony Oppenheimer after he as pulled from the Arc at Chantilly over ground concerns. The French raider is seeking his first Group One victory but is sired by the legend Frankel, who wasn’t short of a title or two.
Elsewhere, Richard Hannon’s brilliant three-year-old Barney Roy looks likely to have a big shout alongside French Derby winner Bramelot, who ran a respectable fifth in the Arc and whose yard won this last year with Almanzor.
One for the notebook:
8 of the last 10 winners had their last start at Goodwood, Leopardstown or Longchamp.