The race for the Flat jockeys’ title appeared to be over this time last week, but William Buick’s late rally to challenge the defending champion, Oisin Murphy, adds another subplot to what was already the most engrossing and competitive Champions Day in the meeting’s 11-year history.
From the Group Two stayers’ race at the top of Saturday’s Ascot card – which is a Group One in all but name – to the £1.2m Champion Stakes at 3.50, this promises to be a Champions Day that more than lives up to its name.
Murphy is once again a hot favourite for the title after going three clear of Buick at Haydock on Friday but this is a six-race card with no end of possibilities, for all that the most valuable events – the Champion Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes – are priced up as virtual head-to-heads.
Many of the stars of the summer are on the cast list, including Adayar and Snowfall, the Derby and Oaks winners respectively at Epsom in June, but there are several fascinating late-bloomers too, potentially creeping in under the radar as they test themselves against battle-hardened Group One horses for the first time.
The Champion Stakes is the best example, as Mishriff and Adayar are on offer at 13-8 and 2-1 with at least 7-1 chalked up against their eight opponents, including Addeybb, who won 12 months ago on much softer ground.
Mishriff and Adayar are both multiple Group One winners with obvious chances, but Adayar is dropping back in trip after a hard race on very soft going in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe two weeks ago. Mishriff, meanwhile, has been beaten on his only two starts at Ascot, including in this race last year, and may save his very best form for quicker ground.
Addeybb does not have the bottomless ground that suits him so well, which leaves Dubai Honour (3.50) as an interesting option against the market leaders at around 7-1. Like his stable companion Baaeed, who takes on Palace Pier in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes earlier on the card, Dubai Honour has progressed rapidly this year, from victory in a Newmarket handicap in early July to a Group Two win at Longchamp a fortnight ago, when he showed a high-class turn of foot to surge from last to first in the final quarter-mile. That was enough to persuade his owner, Mohamed Obaida, to supplement him for Saturday’s race and any further improvement from a horse with just eight races behind him could see a handsome return on his punt.
The QEII betting has a very similar shape, with Palace Pier and Baaeed dominating the market, but the eye-catcher here already has three Group One wins to her name. Alcohol Free (next best 3.10) is priced up at around 9-1 to give Murphy a potentially crucial win in the title race, despite putting up the best performance of her career to win the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in July on her first start in open company. She did not get home over a mile-and-a-quarter in the International Stakes last time but looks overpriced back at a mile, and at the track where she landed the Coronation Stakes in June.
It is hard to see past Snowfall (2.35) in the Champions Fillies & Mares’ Stakes, while the front-running Art Power (2.00) could prove to have an ideal draw in stall 20 for the Champions Sprint and put up his best performance of the year last time out.
Hollie Doyle is re-united with Trueshan in the Long Distance Cup having missed out on his Group One win at Longchamp two weeks ago due to suspension, and he will finally face Stradivarius on ground that offers neither camp any scope for excuses. Both horses had a hard race in Paris, however, and Baron Samedi (1.25), third home in the Irish St Leger, is a live runner at around 7-1, while Escobar (4.30), at 20-1, is an each-way alternative to hot favourite Sunray Major in the Balmoral Handicap, a race he won easily off a 1lb lower mark in 2019.