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Last Updated: 18/10/13 12:06pm
Cirrus Des Aigles: A worthy favourite
Corine Barande-Barbe is confident Cirrus Des Aigles has finally reached his peak for the campaign as he looks to regain his crown in the QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot.
The seven-year-old was something of a surprise winner when beating the likes of So You Think and Snow Fairy to the prestigious prize in 2011, while he pushed the brilliant Frankel closer than most horses managed 12 months ago.
It has not been all plain sailing for the French star this term, with a setback suffered in the Far East late last year delaying his comeback and when he did eventually return, he appeared a shadow of his former self.
Defeats in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, the King George and twice at Deauville in midsummer suggested Cirrus Des Aigles' days may be numbered, but as predicted by his trainer, the gelding has burst back into life this autumn.
A minor-race victory at Maisons-Laffitte was followed by the demolition of his rivals in Longchamp's Prix Dollar and Barande-Barbe believes her pride and joy has everything in his favour on his return to Berkshire.
"The horse is very well. He took his last race well and we are looking forward to the race," said the Chantilly handler.
"All year I wanted him to be at the top (of his game) for the Champion Stakes and I believe he is, that is what I think. We know he likes Ascot and he has the soft ground, so all the lights are green."
A double-figure price when victorious two years ago and always likely to play second fiddle to Frankel last time around, Cirrus Des Aigles this year carries the pressure of being a red-hot favourite.
The usually bullish Barande-Barbe admits her charge deserves to head the market, but is taking nothing for granted.
"He is the favourite for the race, which is normal. He deserves to be the favourite and he is my favourite too," said the trainer.
"But the race is not over until it has been run and you have to give consideration to the opposition. Hillstar is a good horse and Farhh has been a good horse, so we can only keep our fingers crossed and see what happens."Godolphin's talented but fragile Farhh appears to most obvious threat to the Gallic raider.
After kicking off last season with victory in the Thirsk Hunt Cup, the five-year-old was placed in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Coral-Eclipse before beating all bar Frankel in the Sussex Stakes and the Juddmonte International.
He was beaten just a head by Moonlight Cloud on his final start of 2012 in the Prix du Moulin, so was hardly winning out of turn when making a brilliant seasonal reappearance in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May.
Farhh has not been seen in competitive action since and takes his chance over a mile and a quarter this weekend instead of tackling the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over a mile.
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor said: "He seems in very good form. He won the Lockinge, had an injury after the race and we gave him a nice break.
"He has come back and is working well and is in good condition. He won well at a mile in the Lockinge, but also he has run the mile and a quarter very well in the past and good to soft ground is no problem for him.
"He is fit and well. Cirrus Des Aigles is the one to beat, he is a very good horse. But, at the same time, Group One races are always tough and our horse is good enough to be there."
The William Haggas-trained Mukhadram has enjoyed a fine campaign, winning the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown before being placing behind Al Kazeem in the Prince of Wales's and Coral-Eclipse.
He secured a deserved return to the winner's enclosure in workmanlike fashion at York in July and Haggas feels his charge should make his presence felt on Saturday.
"He's in really good shape, he's done well for his break earlier in the year," the trainer told At The Races.
"He's obviously better on better ground but he won on heavy ground at Sandown earlier in the year and he'll run a good race, he's a very genuine horse. Paul Hanagan rode him in the gallop at Newmarket last weekend and was delighted with him so if he's happy, I'm happy.
"He wasn't right after York. He got an abscess in his foot which burst out on the Monday. He was lame after York and hung badly, he didn't turn at all. I put it down to him not liking going that way but that wasn't true, I was looking for an excuse.
"We harboured an idea to go for the Juddmonte International but that was immediately scratched, then it was just a case of whether he needed a race before the Champion Stakes and the Dollar was the only option and we felt that was too close so we're going there first up."
Jim Bolger's Parish Hall has suffered his fair share of problems since winning the 2011 Dewhurst, but retains plenty of ability.
Since returning from an 18-month absence, the four-year-old has won twice, most recently striking gold in a Group Three on the all-weather at Dundalk.
Bolger said: "Parish Hall missed the whole of last season, he's had a lot of problems. It's good that we've got him back and he won well at Dundalk but the problem for him is that he much prefers the top of the ground.
"There's nothing else for him though, so we may as well run as he's in such good form."
Last year's Epsom Derby runner-up Main Sequence has not rediscovered that level of form so far in 2013, although his close second to Mukhadram in the Brigadier Gerard would give him some sort of place chance.
His trainer, David Lanigan, said: "I'm looking forward to him coming back to a mile and a quarter. I think his best performance this year was over that trip at Sandown and he'll wear cheekpieces again.
"He hasn't had a particularly hard year, so we might as well take our chance."
Cirrus Des Aigles is joined on the trip from France by Jean-Claude Rouget's Morandi and the Andre Fabre-trained Triple Threat.
Parish Hall will make the journey from Ireland along with Aidan O'Brien's Derby hero Ruler Of The World, who three-times champion jockey Ryan Moore chose to ride in preference to Sir Michael Stoute's Hillstar.
Hillstar, winner of the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, will be partnered by Richard Hughes.
The 10-runner field is completed by Godolphin outsider and probable pacemaker Hunter's Light.