Alex Hammond previews Champions Day at Ascot and Cheltenham's Showcase
Alex Hammond previews Champions Day at Ascot and the Showcase meeting at Cheltenham.
By Alex Hammond
Last Updated: 21/10/13 10:35am
Let's begin at Ascot where Cirrus des Aigles is bidding to regain his Champion Stakes crown. He won the Group 1 two years ago but had to settle for second behind the mighty Frankel last year.
Corine Barande-Barbe's stable star had started to look as if it was time for his pipe and slippers in the early part of the season, but his trainer never lost faith in the seven-year-old gelding and he has now rewarded her with wins on his last two starts, the last time winning the Prix Dollar in great style.
Farhh is back from a lay-off for Saeed bin Suroor. We last saw the colt when winning the Lockinge at Newbury back in May, but he has been a hard horse to train and has been limited to just the nine career starts to date.
The five-year-old has won four of those mind you and has been placed on the other five occasions, twice behind Frankel. The break won't have done him any harm as he has won after layoffs in the past. Saturday's race is over a mile and a quarter, a trip he is yet to win over, but he has shown good form over 10 furlongs and that isn't a concern.
Other horses to consider are Mukhadram and Ruler of the World. The former comes here with a win on his last start for William Haggas having won the Sky Bet York Stakes on the Knavesmire after a couple of epic battles with Al Kazeem before then. He has been given a bit of time to get over those races which may have done him good as he didn't completely convince at York.
Ryan Moore rides Derby winner Ruler of the World again for Aidan O'Brien. This will be his first run over the trip since his debut in April and I think it's fair to say he won't go down in the record books as a brilliant Derby winner.
It's hard to get away from the favourite, but Farhh is hard to ignore too and at the prices I'm going to take a chance on the Godolphin horse coming back from a break with another win. The rain softened ground won't inconvenience the top two in the market.
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
Like Cirrus des Aigles another French raider, Maxios, has been popular ahead of the one mile Group 1, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
The Jonathan Pease trained five-year-old won the Prix du Moulin in good style last time beating another of Saturday's rivals Olympic Glory. The rain has come at the right time for him and I can see why he has been well supported for this race.
He takes on star miler Dawn Approach, though who doesn't have the opportunity to get his own back on Toronado as the ground has scuppered that clash. This is the first start for Jim Bolger's colt since his fifth place in the Prix Jacques le Marois and he is favourite to get his head back in front for the first time since his win in the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, where he just got the better of the Richard Hannon-trained colt.
He will have another Richard Hannon inmate to get the better of here though as Olympic Glory represents the Wiltshire handler and what happens at Ascot will have a huge bearing on whether he regains his champion trainer crown so a bold show is important.
I'm not sure if Olympic Glory will reverse the placings with Maxios, though, although the blinkers have been fitted for the first time to try and get a bit more out of him in this.
Soft Falling Rain represents Mike de Kock and comes here with an impressive win in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket last time. That run was a trial for this race to see how the straight mile would suit and he has allayed any fears on that front.
I'm looking forward to seeing Kingsbarns run again. You have to excuse his dismal effort in the Irish Champion Stakes on his reappearance and you would like to think something had transpired from that run or Aidan O'Brien wouldn't be running him again - let's see. This is a top-class mile contest and Dawn Approach is the highest rated but I'm going to go with Maxios to win this on suitable ground.
Fillies and Mares Stakes
The third Group 1 on the card is for Fillies and Mares over a mile and a half and it has attracted a very smart international entry. Oaks winner Talent takes a drop back in trip having finished a gallant second in the Leger last time out. It was good to see her back in form and Saturday's ground should hold no fears.
Dalkala is yet another fancied French raider on the card for Alain de Royer Dupre. She won the Prix de l'Opera last time out by a narrow margin and won't mind the ground. It's interesting that she comes here having won that Group 1 last time out as connections achieved what was required for her career at stud last time out so they must feel she can acquit herself well.
The Lady Cecil-trained Hot Snap is a half-sister to Midday so the step up to this 1m 4f shouldn't be a problem. It looks as if the extra distance will suit judging on her last couple of outings over 10 furlongs and as she is by Pivotal the soft ground shouldn't be a problem either.
Sir Michael Stoute and Ryan Moore team up with Waila who takes a step up in grade having won a Listed race at Newmarket last time out back in July. She wore a hood for the first time that day, but it has been left off here.
I think this is an incredibly competitive and classy contest and although the top two in the market are very classy performers, I'm going with Hot Snap to improve for the step up to this trip.
Long Distance Cup
Also on the card there are some real favourites running in the Long Distance Cup which sees the reappearance of Gold Cup winner Estimate. The Queen's filly is already a winner on soft ground and is a big improving filly and I can't look past her in this. She is trained by the master and I'm sure there is plenty more to come from this four-year-old.
Eye of the Storm is the interesting runner for Aidan O'Brien and Billy Lee. The three-year-old stays well, and handles the ground and at the prices is my each way selection in the race. He looks a typical Ballydoyle Cup horse in the making and could be the each way bet in this race.
Harris Tweed has his ground too and is a smashing horse when conditions are right and he comes here with his confidence on a high. Despite that I'm going with Estimate to win again.
Cheltenham's opening meeting of the 2013-14 jumps season starts on Friday and I like the look of a few runners from the Nigel Twiston-Davies stable as he has made his usual great start to the Autumn.
Pure Science could prove a surprise winner in the opening Novices' Hurdle. The stable won this race last year with a very talented horse in The New One and this horse can't be written off and at the prices is worth a punt.
Irish raider Rebel Fitz is a shade of odds on in the Novices' Chase but should take all the beating having won his last five starts over fences. He jumps well, and this could be a path-finding mission before a winter break and returning for the festival in March.
Nigel Twiston-Davies' According to Trev has Alan Kings' Pantxoa to beat in the 3m ½ f Novices' Chase but I think he can as he seems to jump well and could be better than the bare form which has seen him win a couple of races at Southwell. Both protagonists have 8lbs penalties to carry.
Pure Science in the Novices' Hurdle @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Rebel Fitz in the Novices' Chase @ 10/11 with Sky Bet
According to Trev in the 3m ½ f Novices' Chase @ 9/2 with Sky Bet
Farhh in the Champion Stakes @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Maxios in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes @ 9/2 with Sky Bet
Hot Snap in the Fillies and Mares Stakes @ 7/1 with Sky Bet
Estimate in the Long Distance Cup @ 2/1 with Sky Bet
Eye of the Storm in the Long Distance Cup @ 8/1 with Sky Bet (each way)