Coronation Cup winner Cracksman, the defending champion, is the headline act on Saturday as he tackles Irish Champions Stakes winner Roaring Lion in the British Champion Stakes at Ascot.
With £1.3m in prize money on offer, the British Champion Stakes is the most valuable 1m2f race in Europe and that stellar John Gosden-trained pair are both firmly on course to serve up a mouthwatering clash.
Cracksman, set to sign off his incredible career in the Group 1, is even-money favourite to win the race for a second time, his stablemate Roaring Lion out to 5/1 in the British Champion Stakes betting as ground conditions soften.
The British Champion Stakes is a Group 1 that features as the centrepiece of Champions Day at Ascot and now serves as the middle-distance final of the British Champions Series.
A great line of heritage accompanied the race from Newmarket, where it was run from its inception in 1877 until 2010, and the 2012 renewal was really one to savour as one of the best racehorses of all time – Frankel - scored his 14th straight victory in the final race of his career.
In his swansong before being retired to stud, Cracksman is the clear favourite to go out in a blaze of glory with best of the online bookmakers, and the even-money with BetVictor is currently the best price in the village.
Cracksman was a facile winner of last year’s Champion Stakes, but comes into Saturday’s feature with something to prove, having not been seen in public since his surprise defeat in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.
That defeat was attributed to the fast ground and his mind being on the fairer sex, however Ascot’s clerk of the course has described the going as a mix of soft and heavy this week, and is now predicting soft ground for Champions Day.
This will be music to the ears of the Cracksman team, given that the son of Frankel has had to sit out the King George (July), International (August) and Arc (October) due to unsuitable ground.
Stablemate Roaring Lion has been a revelation in the second half of the season, completing a hat-trick of Group 1 wins in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, the Juddmonte International at York and the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
However, the ground has gone against Qatar Racing's three-year-old with the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Crystal Ocean second favourite in the betting at 3/1 with William Hill.
Stoute has remarkably never trained a winner on British Champions Day, but he will be hoping to rectify that with his Sea The Stars colt, who has been denied Group 1 victory thus far by merely a neck and half a length.
The four-year-old won the Hardwicke Stakes before being touched off by his stablemate Poet's Word in a thrilling climax to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. On his latest start, he had to concede 8lb to the now two-time Arc winner Enable at Kempton, and understandably had to settle for second.
British Champion Stakes has surprisingly eluded trainer Aidan O’Brien, but the Ballydoyle maestro, who turned 49-years-old this week, appears to have a fighting chance with Capri.
Last year’s Irish Derby and St Leger winner has had an indifferent season, but showed some of his old zest when fifth behind Enable in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. A greater stamina test will be ideal for Capri and connections will be hoping the predicted rain arrives.
He was a real stamp of a horse on a soft surface at the start of the season and his run in the Lockinge on fast ground in May was probably a tactical mistake. Haggas appears to have recognised his faux pas in that respect and has given the Pivotal gelding the summer off.
Unfortunately, his comeback plans have been scuppered twice due to quick or false ground. In the first instance, he was pulled out of the Irish Champion Stakes on the day of the race and then he was removed on raceday from the Prix Daniel Wildenstein.
Ready for the track for almost six weeks now, the four-year-old could quite easily blow away some of his race jaded rivals.
It seems that almost every year since its inception we ask the question, 'Are these really the true champions of Champions Day?' after we witness another day of attritional racing on a damp Saturday afternoon in late October.
However, it is what is it is, and quite often the old adage 'horses for courses' comes into play, reputations flying right of the window. If you back the winner of the Champion Stakes, the horse will certainly be a 'champion' in your eyes right?
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