The winners of 83 Group 1 races and 16 European Classics make up the entries for QIPCO British Champions Day, which were released today.
Amongst them is this season’s superstar Enable, trained by John Gosden who could bid to end her British campaign with victory on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday 21 October.
Already the winner of two QIPCO British Champions Series contests this year in the Investec Oaks and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Enable is one of 48 individual Group 1 winners among a total of 242 entries.
Cementing the quality of the programme, all of the 10 highest-rated horses in Europe hold entries for Britain’s richest raceday, with a total of £4.3million in prize money attracting fields that include the very best horses for each of the five category races.
Last year’s winner of the QIPCO Champion Stakes, the Jean Claude-Rouget trained Almanzor, is one of 27 different French-trained horses entered across the unmatched British card which comprises four Group 1s and a Group 2.
Among the other top-class performers laying down a QIPCO British Champions Day challenge are Ribchester, Barney Roy and Harry Angel, together with the winners of the French and German Oaks, and the French Derby.
No trainer, however, appears more often among the entry lists than Aidan O’Brien, who took the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO) at last year’s meeting with Minding. The Ballydoyle team have entered superstars such as Winter, the only three-time winner of QIPCO British Champions Series contests so far this season, as well as Churchill, Roly Poly, Highland Reel and Order of St George.
“It’s a brilliant meeting, but it’s tough, it’s very competitive,” said O’Brien, the Champion trainer. “All of the good horses from the whole year are lining up, so we know it’s always going to be tough.”
QIPCO Champion Stakes (Group 1)
A thrilling and high-class clash already looks assured for the QIPCO Champion Stakes, Europe’s richest mile-and-a-quarter contest, with the 49 horses entered having already accumulated 39 Group 1s between them.
Highlights amongst them include superstar filly, Enable, ranked third best in the world (126) following her barnstorming victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) when four-and-a-half-lengths clear of Ulysses, Idaho and Highland Reel, all of whom also hold entries.
Enable holds dual entries for the QIPCO Champion Stakes and QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes ahead of her next target of the Darley Yorkshire Oaks.
John Gosden said, “Obviously she has been entered in both Ascot races and there is a week longer between the Arc and Champions Day this year. That means from a trainer’s point of view, you’re not trying to back up in 13 days at Ascot this year – there are 20 this time – so all possibilities are open. A lot could still happen in the months ahead but it’s a great day and a meeting we’ve had some success at in the past. We hope to be supporting the whole day with runners.”
Could Enable clash with last year’s winner Almanzor? Jean-Claude Rouget has entered both him and three stablemates – Brametot, Taareef and Afandem.
“I have yet to make any decisions, and we will know more after Almanzor’s comeback race on 15th August in the Prix Gontaut-Biron,” the trainer said. “He satisfied me when working last Tuesday and although he won’t be 100% fit, I’m hopeful of a good performance.”
Alain de Royer-Dupre also has an eye on the QIPCO Champion Stakes for another possible French-trained raider, Zarak, who finished second to Almanzor in last year’s French Derby and took the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on his most recent start.
The trainer commented: “The QIPCO Champion Stakes comes as perfect timing for Zarak’s programme. We are looking forward to it and it is very much in his plans at the moment.”
Another top-class horse firmly on track for the meeting is Barney Roy, the winner of the St James’s Palace Stakes, whose trainer Richard Hannon has made QIPCO British Champions Day a target ever since his colt was beaten in a photo-finish by fellow QIPCO Champion Stakes entry, Ulysses, in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes.
“Barney Roy has been entered in both the QIPCO Champion Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Champions Day is a target for him,” Hannon said. “I’m not sure which race he goes for, it really depends how his next race goes.
“He had two relatively hard races within quite a short space of time, but he came out of the Eclipse jumping and kicking and he’s fresh and well. He’s obviously very effective over a mile, but a mile and a quarter obviously isn’t a problem either. Sandown was a stiff mile and a quarter, they went a fair clip, and he galloped all the way to the top of the hill, so he couldn’t have done much more to prove his stamina.
“So many people came up to me both at Sandown afterwards and said ‘What a great race’ and all I could think was ‘But he didn’t win’, but I know what they were saying. It was a hell of a performance from a three-year-old.”
Other eye-catching entries include French Oaks winner Senga, also entered for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, whose trainer Pascal Bary said, "She’s been in really good form since the Prix de Diane and the plan is to run her in the Group 2 Prix de la Nonette on August 18. We’ll see how she takes that, but the idea would then be to go for the Prix de l’Opera, and have a look at Ascot afterwards. She’s won a Group 1 over 2,000 metres, so that would be more likely to be the distance that we would go for should she run, but nothing is decided for the moment. We wanted to enter her in both so she has a range of options for her programme when the time comes."
The line-up also includes a powerful roster from Ballydoyle including dual Guineas winner Churchill, Winter and Highland Reel.
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Sponsored by QIPCO) (Group 1)
Richard Fahey is still to decide upon immediate plans for dual 2017 QIPCO British Champions Series winner Ribchester after his defeat in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood last week, but the trainer says that the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day, the richest Group 1 mile race run in Europe, is the “first-choice” target for his high-quality four-year-old.
Second to Minding in the race 12 months ago, Ribchester followed up his success in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury when taking the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot but was not able to land the treble when lining up in the Qatar Sussex Stakes in extreme conditions.
“He’s absolutely fine after the race,” reflected his trainer. “He could go for the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville and then go to Ascot, or I might give him a break and wait for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, but either way Champions Day is the first choice.
“I haven’t entered him for the QIPCO Champion Stakes as I think we’re going to stick at a mile with him for the time being. Ribchester ran very respectably in the race last year against a filly who was something special and I honestly believe he is a better horse this year.
“Quite what happened at Goodwood I’m still not sure, but I suspect it was a mistake to try and make the running and that was my mistake. It was a horrible, horrible day, not just in terms of the going, but also with the weather, and he may have just got sick of having the rain and the wind blowing right into his face up the straight. They were proper extreme conditions. It was just one of those things and we all live to fight another day.”
Churchill, the winner of the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and the Darley Irish 2000 Guineas, is one of a number of top-class horses who could oppose Ribchester among a record entry of 48 horses for the £1.1million contest.
His trainer Aidan O’Brien has also entered dual Guineas winner Winter, while at the same time giving her options over longer trips in the QIPCO Champion Stakes and QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.
However, Churchill and Winter are not the only Classic winners with entries, as UAE 2000 Guineas and Derby winner Thunder Snow has been entered here and in the QIPCO Champion Stakes.
Thunder Snow won the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly on his most recent start and trainer Saeed bin Suroor said, “He worked really well on Saturday and has been a star horse for me this year. I would like to run him at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day and we will look at both the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the QIPCO Champion Stakes nearer the time.
“He has only run over a mile in Europe this year, but he saw out the extended nine furlongs strongly in the UAE Derby and I don’t think stamina will be any problem over a mile and a quarter if we go for that race.”
Those who believe that Here Comes When’s victory over Ribchester at Goodwood was no fluke could get the chance to be proven right, with Andrew Balding very much eyeing this race for his charge, along with the fast-improving Beat The Bank, winner of the Group 3 Thoroughbred Stakes at Goodwood, and owned by Leicester City football club’s billionaire chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
“The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes will come under very serious consideration for both of them,” said Balding. “Here Comes When is absolutely bouncing after Goodwood – he’s in great form and QIPCO British Champions Day is attractive for him. He’s better when lightly-raced and if he were to run at all before, it might be in a Group 2 race in Milan, where he doesn’t have to carry a Group 1 penalty.
“Beat the Bank is only a three-year-old and we have to be careful not to overface him this year as there is lots to look forward to. But he seems versatile and Ascot will certainly be coming under consideration.”
Others with the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on their agenda include Falmouth winner, Roly Poly, and French raiders that include Le Brivido and Al Wukair.
QIPCO British Champions Sprint (Group 1)
With £600,000 in prize money, Europe’s joint-most valuable sprint has attracted a top-class entry, including 10 individual Group 1 winners, featuring last year’s hero The Tin Man.
Trained by James Fanshawe and owned by an enthusiastic syndicate of stable supporters, The Tin Man has continued to thrive this season, taking the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on his most recent appearance at a track he clearly relishes.
“The Tin Man is in great form and he will be aimed at the QIPCO British Champions Sprint,” said Fanshawe. “Hopefully we can have him in as good a form as he was last year when we get to 21st October. It’s a great day and we really enjoyed last year. He seems fine after Newmarket and the idea is to aim for the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock next month.”
Growl was a 50/1 chance when chasing home The Tin Man in last year’s race and Richard Fahey is already eyeing the contest again after his charge’s latest fourth in the Qatar Stewards’ Cup.
“I thought he ran okay at Goodwood and hopefully he is on the way back,” said Fahey. “We had a great day last year on Champions Day with Ribchester also running so well and the prize money is so generous that you have to look at these kind of races.
“I’ve also entered Kimberella, who has been a brilliant little horse since he came to us, and Don’t Touch, who was fifth last year, and came back with a little problem from his latest run at Newcastle. He’s back in work again now though and I hope you’ll see a much-improved performance next time.”
Third in the race 12 months ago was Brando, who has since claimed a first Group 1 success in the Prix Maurice de Gheest last the weekend. Kevin Ryan plans to run his charge next at Haydock in the 32Red Sprint Cup and is looking at the QIPCO British Champions Sprint afterwards.
Karl Burke, trainer of Quiet Reflection, the outstanding winner of the Commonwealth Cup and the Haydock Sprint Cup last year, is not ruling out heading straight to Champions Day with his stable star, who has been restricted to just one appearance this year.
“I am really pleased with her,” reported the trainer. “She started cantering this week and she honestly looks the best I have seen her this year. We’ve got four weeks until Haydock and I’d like to run her there, but if the ground was good or quicker we might look for something else between then and the QIPCO British Champions Sprint, or head straight there.
“She’s been walking and trotting for a while and her overall level of fitness is pretty good. She’s a dual Group 1 winner who has shown before what she can do at the top level.”
Also entered are Darley July Cup hero, Harry Angel, Commonwealth Cup victor Caravaggio and dual Group 1 winner, Limato.
QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (Group 1)
Only Enable has prevented Aidan O’Brien from a clean sweep of the five QIPCO British Champions Series races in the Fillies & Mares Division so far this year, and the Ballydoyle trainer has a predictably strong hand in the entries for this £600,000 contest.
His seven possible contenders include Winter, the winner of the QIPCO 1000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes and the Qatar Nassau Stakes already this season and a filly who his trainer believes can see out the mile-and-a-half trip of this contest if required. Also amongst them is Investec Oaks runner-up, Rhododendron and last year’s Irish Oaks winner, Seventh Heaven.
John Gosden sent out Journey to improve upon her 2015 runner-up effort when taking the race 12 months ago under Frankie Dettori and the same mare is again in contention for Britain’s joint most valuable fillies-only prize.
“We’re certainly looking at the race with Journey and for her to come back and do the double would be terrific. We may have one or two others in there too,” said Gosden.
Another eye-catching name among the entries is the Roger Varian-trained Nezwaah, already a Group 1 winner in the Pretty Polly Stakes at The Curragh in July.
“No decision has been taken about future plans for Nezwaah,” said Varian. “She is pleasing me, but we aren’t looking any further forward than her next race at this stage. The QIPCO British Champions Fillies’ & Mares’ Stakes is a possible target and will come under consideration nearer the time.”
Enable is not the only Oaks-winning entry among a field that features 11 individual Group 1 winners, with German Oaks winner Lacazar given the option by trainer Peter Schiergen.
QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup (Group 2)
The thrilling battle between Big Orange and Order Of St George for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot has proved one of the highlights of the season so far and there is the mouth-watering prospect of a re-match at the same track with both horses entered for the contest which has seen prize money raised by £100,000 this year to £450,000.
An excellent entry of 60 horses has been received featuring all of the most popular stayers in training, including last year’s winner Sheikhzayedroad, and the horse who denied Big Orange a hat-trick of wins in the Qatar Goodwood Cup, the John Gosden-trained three-year-old Stradivarius.
Big Orange’s trainer Michael Bell is considering a tilt at the Comer Group International Irish St Leger now with his fantastic performer, but Ascot remains at the forefront of his mind.
“He’s having an easy time for two or three weeks now as he lost a lot of weight, he lost 18 kilos and he was a tired horse after Goodwood,” said Bell. ”He ran a fantastic race. I was hugely proud of him and he absolutely gave his all. It was a very tough ask trying to give all that weight away to a three-year-old but he fell on his sword.”
Aidan O’Brien is planning a similar preparation for Ascot with Order Of St George, who last year finished fourth in the race when he was attempting to back up a big run in France just a fortnight earlier.
“The plan with Order Of St George is we might start him off in an Irish Leger trial and then go for the Irish Leger first, but it’s definitely a strong possibility he’ll go to Ascot,” said the trainer.
“Last year was one of those races that didn’t work out for him, but he’s a big, hardy individual, physically and mentally. He’s had a break since he finished second at Ascot but he’s perfect and not far away from running again now.”
Irish jumps maestro Willie Mullins has entered three, with Max Dynamite, Renneti and Wicklow Brave bidding to give their handler a first Champions Day success, whilst other notable entries include 2015 victor, Flying Officer and Hardwicke Stakes winner, Idaho.