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Godolphin’s Harry Angel leads Arab bid

The UAE-owned Harry Angel, the world’s best sprinter, goes in the Sprint Stakes at Ascot. (AFP)
ASCOT: Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot racecourse is a stage designed to anoint the greats. In its seventh year, it could well fall short of its mission today.
The marketing suits will tell you that at £4.3 million ($5.66 million) it is Britain’s most valuable race day. The jewel in the crown is the Qipco Champion Stakes, and at £1.3 million it is Europe’s richest race over 2,000 meters. There is not a more valuable mile contest in Europe over 1,600m than the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, either. If it is handicaps you are looking for the Balmoral Handicap, that brings the six-race card to a close, before singer George Ezra struts his stuff in a specially-arranged concert to the crowd of 30,000, has a £250,000 purse that is the envy of foreign racecourses.
If Champions Day is billed as an autumn blockbuster, then the producers, through no fault of their own, have failed to lure an A-List cast.
Europe’s star filly, Enable, who capped a memorable season for owner Prince Khalid Abdullah with victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe three weeks ago, is enjoying a well-earned rest. So, too, Ulysses, the Eclipse Stakes and International Stakes winner, who has been saved for the Breeders’ Cup in Del Mar in a fortnight. Winter will most likely be over before the future of Aidan O’Brien’s dual Classic-winning filly of the same name has been decided, after the Irish trainer decided not to run her in midweek.
Without that trio, the limelight naturally falls on others. There are 21 Group 1 winners among the 81 runners and of them all it is Godolphin’s Harry Angel, the world’s best sprinter on international ratings, who commands top billing in the Qipco British Champions Champions Sprint Stakes.
In the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes Godolphin’s Ribchester, a four-time Group One winner, will try to better last year’s second to Coolmore’s Minding by taking on that same stable’s dual Guineas winner Churchill. Order Of St. George, rated the world’s best stayer, has skipped an engagement in next month’s Melbourne Cup to run in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup in order to avenge his narrow defeat to Big Orange in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in June. To illustrate the paucity of true stars, however, Cracksman, Enable’s stable companion but without a top-level win to his name, will start as favorite in the Champion Stakes ahead of Godolphin’s Barney Roy, a horse who is yet to break through over the distance.
“It has been one of the most significant successes of modern times for our industry,” Nick Smith, Ascot’s director of racing, told the Racing Post, the British trade daily, this week of the Champions Day idea.
He added: “Internationally there are few racedays that host five pattern races with as high an average rating as these five attain collectively.
“You have to regard Champions Day as a great success. It is a genuine industry success, designed by many people, conducted by British Champions Series, with the commitment of Qipco, the BHA, the Jockey Club and other partner courses, and Ascot is proud to be its home.”
It has been some achievement to staple together the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes card to the Champion Stakes card, which used to take place at Newmarket. In world terms, however, British Champions Day still has a mountain to climb, though that is not to say it is an insurmountable one.
Last month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on its own boasts more prize money than the entire Champions Day card at €5 million ($5.9 million). The Breeders’ Cup Classic is worth $5 million and all eyes continuously look in admiration at Dubai World Cup day at Meydan, with its $30 million prize money across the nine races which featured horses from 13 different countries in March.
Qipco British Champions Day has not been without its charms so far. Frankel showed twice why he remained unbeaten throughout his 14-race career. The searing pace and power of champion sprinter Muharaar illustrated why Dubai-based owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid packed the colt off to the breeding sheds two seasons ago – there was nothing left to prove after his mesmerizing performance. On the same day Solow underlined there was no better miler in the world in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
And then there is the romance and emotion. The yeomanry charms of Cirrus Des Aigles, who won the first repackaged Champion Stakes in 2011 and Noble Mission, Frankel’s full brother who struck for Lady Cecil, the widow of Frankel’s trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, in 2014.
If the biggest equine stars are somewhere else, the human ones make up for their absence. Unsung British champion jockey-elect Silvestre De Sousa will be crowned for the second time in his career this afternoon, while internationally-acclaimed jockeys Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori will take center stage. Aidan O’Brien, who could be level withBobby Frankel’s world record of 25 Group One wins after Johannes Vermeer runs in the Caulfield Cup in Australia this morning, has sent over a record 12 runners from Ireland as he bids to cement his champion trainer status in Britain.
“Champions Day has been a great initiative and something we really look forward to,” O’Brien said. “It’s a very special day with tremendously competitive racing at an unbelievable venue.”
O’Brien is always the perfect template of humility when asked about what it might feel like to break Frankel’s long-standing record. De Sousa’s humble roots in Brazil and quiet public persona make sure he downplays his significant achievements. If the Irish maestro reaches or surpasses Frankel’s landmark today, the humans have stepped in to the breach.