Alex Hammond reckons Opinion Poll can shine at Ascot on a weekend set to be dominated by Frankel.
Last Updated: 19/10/12 12:06pm
The racing on Saturday is so superb I'm counting the sleeps down as if it were Christmas!
Frankel fever has caught on and I can't wait to see him in action. I've never seen the world's highest racehorse in the flesh and would love to be able to say 'I was there' at Ascot.
It's not a complete formality though, which seems a strange thing to say given he is 13 from 13. The ground is riding at best soft, and could even have heavy in the going description by Saturday afternoon at the Berkshire track.
His rivals have to handle the testing conditions, too, but last year's Champion Stakes winner Cirrus des Aigles has won on heavy and is reported to be in good form. There is no doubt this is Frankel's toughest task in his flawless career but despite all that I expect him to win in his usual electrifying way.
So, taking a look at the race in a bit more detail, Frankel will face just five rivals, one of which is his constant companion and half-brother Bullet Train. Cirrus des Aigles is his closest market rival, but still has 10lbs to find from somewhere on official ratings. Sir Henry Cecil feels Frankel won't have any problem with the ground, but like any unknown quantity, it has to be a slight concern.
Nathaniel is no slouch either and John Gosden will be keen to win every penny of prize money in his bid to be champion trainer. He currently leads Aidan O'Brien for the title, but this day could make all the difference with decent prize money on offer - £3m in total over the card.
This horse is the winner of a King George, but got turned over by Snow Fairy in Ireland last time out. The ground will help him here as it will bring out his stamina and he certainly won't be stopping at the finish.
He missed the Arc due to a high temperature, but that shouldn't have held him up too much in his work and he should run well.
Having said all that this is a watch and savour race and all being well the king of the sport of kings will still be wearing his crown just after 4pm on Saturday.
Sky Bet have a host of Frankel specials on their website which are worth checking out. If you fancy him to win by over 10 lengths you can get 5/1, let's go for a dramatic swansong where hopefully he will pull miles clear of his field!
Now to the first race on Ascot's card, the Long Distance Cup, a Group Three over Two miles. There hasn't been one stand-out horse in the stayers division this season with them taking turns to win the Cup races. Readers of the blog will know I've followed Saddler's Rock over a cliff this season and he has let me down on quite a few occasions.
He was expected to be an exciting horse in these types of races this season, but things haven't quite gone his way. He finished third in the Ascot Gold Cup in the summer, which was one of his best efforts, but unfortunately he won't get his preferred top of the ground in this and may be a horse to follow on better ground next season.
Testing conditions will be right up Opinion Poll's street (he has won on heavy) and he can run very well for Mahmood Al Zarooni. The horse has been a model of consistency this season winning twice and finishing second to another Godolphin-owned runner Colour Vision in the Ascot Gold Cup. The pair lock horns again here with Opinion Poll Sky Bet's 3/1 favourite and Colour Vision a 5/1 shot.
Splitting the pair is Fame and Glory who is 9/2 second favourite. He hasn't looked the force of old this season and although he is the sort of horse (with the sort of trainer) who could bounce back any time, I'll be leaving him alone in this.
If you're looking for a bigger priced selection you could do worse than back Ile de Re (7/1). One thing this horse isn't short of is stamina and when they have to dig deep on this ground he will keep plugging on. It's Opinion Poll for me, though.
It's then the turn of the speedsters in the Sprint Stakes, a Group Two over six furlongs. James Fanshawe saddles Society Rock in a bid to repeat the win of stablemate Deacon Blues in this last year. He ran a great race in the Diamond Jubilee despite completely messing up the start and was only beaten two lengths by Black Caviar in the end. He is 3/1 joint favourite along with French mare Wizz Kid.
Society Rock handles this type of ground and was third in the July Cup to Mayson on heavy, although he is versatile when it comes to underfoot conditions. Wizz Kid may just be stretched over the six furlongs as all her wins have come over five. The ground holds no fears for her though. She was second in this race last year and comes here in great form having won the Abbaye last time out.
You could do worse than back The Cheka each way at 16/1. Ground holds no fears and he ran brilliantly to be second in the July Cup. You have to forgive a bad run in the Ayr Gold Cup last time out, but that's why he's 16s. He gets on well with jockey Neil Callan and back in group company, should acquit himself well. He'll do for me.
The Fillies and Mares Stakes is next. Was could give Aidan O'Brien a boost in the trainers championship if she were to win here. The Oaks winner will enjoy this mile-and-a-half trip which is her optimum. It seems strange to say this about a classic winner, but this filly just lacks the ability of a true top-class performer and the good ride she got to win at Epsom in June gave her the edge.
Great Heavens is 5/2 favourite and John Gosden will be hoping his filly can take the majority of the prize money in this Group Two. She will adore the ground, but with her last start in the Arc possibly taking the edge off her she may be worth opposing.
7/2 shot Sapphire is the one I like and Dermot Weld's filly suited the step back up to this trip to win at Cork last time out. Prior to that she ran well to be second to Izzi Top over 10 furlongs in the Pretty Polly and she is another who will enjoy the ground on Saturday.
I was keen on Testosterone when she had her second outing for Ed Dunlop at Haydock back in July, she disappointed there and has been off since. Her new owner paid 1.2m guineas for her last November, no doubt predominantly as a broodmare prospect.
But she had some smart form for Pascal Bary and could bounce back. It wouldn't be a surprise to see her run well at a price. I think Sapphire just gets the nod for me in an open contest where you can make valid points for a few of these.
Frankel won the QEII Stakes last year and whilst there may be no Frankel in this field it's a superb contest. Excelebration has seen the heels of Frankel on a few occasions and he now has the chance to shine on Champions Day and is odds-on to win this mile Group One. This could be a valuable prize in the bag for Aidan O'Brien who took over the training of this horse from Marco Botti at the end of last season.
However, at 8/11 it may be worth looking for some more value, despite him winning on both the starts this season where he didn't meet Frankel. He was impressive in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville on his last start and is a top class miler in his own right.
Cityscape (4/1) will enjoy the ground. Roger Charlton's flashy chestnut horse was just behind Excelebration at Deauville but he has done little wrong this season and can run well. Elusive Kate is 5/1 for John Gosden and was one place further back at Deauville.She is a super filly, but she has a bit to find to turn that around. Despite that she ran an excellent race in the Sun Chariot last time out despite stumbling out the gates and seemingly coming back with an injury as she was bandaged straight after.
Carlton House (8/1) could give Her Majesty the Queen a winner and the owner will be attendance to see her colt in action on Saturday. He hasn't run since disappointing in the Summer Mile at this track in July, the race wasn't run to suit there but the fact he hasn't run since makes you wonder if there was a problem. That aside he is very consistent and lightly raced so there could be more to come from this one time Derby favourite, I quite like him against the favourite.
16/1 shot Most Improved could be the forgotten horse in this. Brian Meehan has his team in good form and he has taken the wise move of booking Richard (super seven) Hughes to ride. Hughesie may not have captured the public's imagination in the same was Frankie Dettori did back at this track in 1996, but don't underestimate his tally of seven winners from eight races at Windsor this week. It's a tough track to find winners at and even harder to ride round so he deserves plenty of praise for that achievement.
Back to Most Improved then and he will wear the visor for the first time on Saturday. Although he has been disappointing on his last couple of starts, the headgear and a change of jockey may bring about a resurgence as is so often the case. He was keen last time, but Hughes is a master of getting one to switch off and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make the frame. One for the shortlist, perhaps?
So now the 'sleeps' countdown is almost done it's time to enjoy the best of the best that flat racing can offer and give the best horse we are likely to see a magnificent send off.
Let's hope it's hats off to Frankel to crown a tough year off the track for his admirable trainer Sir Henry Cecil.
Frankel to win the Champion Stakes by over 10 lengths 5/1 with Sky Bet
Opinion Poll in the Long Distance Cup @ 3/1 with Sky Bet
The Cheka in the Sprint Stakes @ 16/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Sapphire in the Fillies' and Mares' Stakes @ 7/2 with Sky Bet
Carlton House in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes @ 8/1 with Sky Bet
Most Improved (each way @ 16/1 with Sky Bet)