Qipco Champions Day 2014
It’s Qipco Champions Day this weekend from Ascot with some major players withdrawn fuelling the ‘negative nigels’ who would love to see it fail.
Kingman and Australia first, and the scheduled rain looks likely to claim The Grey Gatsby, however each and every race is still well up to its grade and many exceed it.
Dermot Weld is attacking Champions Day with renewed vigour this year and has clearly mapped this as the first true test of his exciting charges Free Eagle and Forgotten Rules. Both are obvious springers, their prices cautious though short of miserly, so they essentially render the Champion Stakes and Long Distance Cup as non-betting races as it stands. Let the purists have those two.
The other four races on the card are notable in how open they are: the shortest-priced favourite at the time of writing is Night of Thunder at 3/1 in the QEII. Were we still yielding to the purists, they’d say that it’d be beneficial for Night of Thunder to win since Kingman and Australia, placed behind him in the 2000 Guineas way back in May, aren’t here to speak for themselves.
The punter sees Night of Thunder differently. Besides that Guineas win, which has looked increasingly distorted as the season has worn on, he’s seemed a beatable horse at Group 1 level. He was twice thumped by Kingman, failed to stay in the Eclipse and shaped only just best in the Moulin if he did at all. The same assessment can be extended to Toronado and Charm Spirit, both closely matched with Night of Thunder on that French form.
You might be surprised at how compressed the QEII ratings are. Just 3 lb separate the top six on the Timeform scale. Custom Cut and Tullius, first and fourth in the recent Joel Stakes, are in that group and therefore make appeal at double-figure odds.
Custom Cut is the latest David O’Meara success story; the Joel was his fifth win in a row. He hasn’t run much on testing ground for this yard, but as a game front runner he’s exactly the type to benefit from the way races under such conditions pan out. The supposed big guns will be stretched to pull him back.
Tullius is very much at home on softer ground. So much so that you fancy he’s been held back with this very race, on hoped-for and delivered autumn ground, in mind. He was a big improver in the spring, finishing second in the Lincoln and Lockinge either side of winning the Sandown Mile. Were he to recapture that form he’d be involved in the finish.
The Sprint is one race that seems set to outperform its Group 2 status. The only big name missing is Slade Power, who won it last year. Then it was Jack Dexter and Viztoria that ran him closest and those two return this year, in the same sort of form and without the significant obstacle of Slade Power in their way.
Jack Dexter was eighth in the Ayr Gold Cup, compared with third from the same mark in 2013, though he’d been drawn on the ‘wrong’ side this time so his performance can be taken as roughly comparable. He generally thrives at this time of year and is well worth getting onside at the prices.
Viztoria was admittedly a distant third last year but has shown the improvement since- on Sunday, specifically- to suggest she can still make her presence felt. Few would doubt her easy win at the Curragh over the weekend represents a career-best and it’s one she’ll bring back to conditions that suit her so well. The fact she’s proven over seven furlongs (won the Park Stakes in 2013) is another plus point.
The Fillies & Mares is arguably the most closely-fought race of all, as 6/1 the field should tell you. In truth, we think it’s just a little more clear-cut than that.
Seal of Approval and Chicquita have found 2014 heavy going. Cubanita and Tasaday appear to be reaching their natural limits. The improvers, Hadaatha and Silk Sari, look to be the two to focus on, with emphasis on the former.
Hadaatha has made significant strides in just four starts: maiden win on debut; third at listed level; win at listed level; third in the Prix de L’Opera. It’s no more than is demanded by her pedigree, which also implies ample stamina for 12 furlongs. Those impressions were backed up in the L’Opera, Hadaatha staying on strongly at the finish that day. Now she gets a chance over 12 and another opportunity to show just how far she’s come. It needn’t be much further to see her land a Group 1.
Finally, we tackle the Balmoral Handicap, a very valuable mile handicap that sits more comfortably at the end of this card than the apprentice race of old.
The carrot of a six-figure prize to the winner has tempted a raft of the most promising handicappers. It’s definitive proof, had it been needed, that the bigger the field does not mean the bigger the certainty.
The one we’ll be looking out for is Cornrow. After his promising run in the Cambridgeshire, many at Timeform and your correspondent in particular filed him away in that nook of the brain set aside over the winter for Lincoln horses. That John Gosden has seen fit to try for a prize nearly three times as lucrative this autumn with Cornrow is just another testament to his fresh thinking.
Cornrow simply didn’t get nine furlongs in the Cambridgeshire and had been drawn on the wrong side to boot. On testing ground, the concerns is that he may fail for stamina again, though we’ve no doubt over his ability to win from a BHA mark of 97 should he settle and stay this time.
0.5pt win Custom Cut @ 12.0 & 0.5pt win Tullius @ 13.0 in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
0.5pt win Jack Dexter @ 9.4 & 0.5pt win Viztoria @ 9.8 in the Qipco Sprint Stakes
0.5pt win Cornrow @ 15.0 in the Balmoral Handicap
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