The title of the day's feature may prove prescient on this occasion. The Champion Stakes, with a purse of over £430,000, could settle the matter at a stroke. Each of the duellists will be three-handed in the 10-furlong finale to the older-horse Group One season in Britain: O'Brien with Oratorio, the ante-post favourite, Ace and Mullins Bay, and Stoute with Maraahel, Chic and Rob Roy.
Chic had been among the original entries but was taken out of the race at an earlier stage after a couple of poor runs. But this week she was reinstated, at a cost of £24,000, at the behest of her owners, David and Patricia Thompson, in whose Cheveley Park Stud colours she runs. And her stablemate Peeress will carry the Group One penalty earned two weeks ago in the Sun Chariot Stakes in the opening Challenge Stakes.
Stoute will be going for his eighth title. "I think it is in Mr and Mrs Thompson's minds that it would be nice if he could win it again," said the Cheveley Park manager, Chris Richardson, yesterday, "and they'll be doing all they can to help, so long as it does not adversely affect the horses. If they're fit and well, they'll run."
The two rival trainers have been trading places at the top of the table for most of the summer. Stoute took the lead at the end of August, then O'Brien's St Leger victory with Scorpion put him back on top, before being relegated again by Peeress's Sun Chariot Stakes success 11 days ago.
A double at Leicester yesterday with Papal Bull (ironically, the colt, who was ridden by Kieren Fallon, runs in the colours most immediately associated with Ballydoyle, the Magnier navy blue) and Best Alibi brought Stoute's seasonal tally to £2,058,927.
Richardson acknowledges that Chic, who was the unplaced favourite in the Sun Chariot Stakes, faces an uphill task. "I think she was unlucky last time when the field split up, because she came to win her bit of the race and then stopped in the soft going," he said. "Saturday's race will be a tough one. But she's well in herself, so we'll have a go."
Maraahel, a close third in the York International, is owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, and the well regarded Rob Roy, another supplementary entry after his encouraging comeback win at the last Newmarket meeting, by Philip Newton. And in the case of Maraahel, another secret weapon - a pair of blinkers - is to be introduced to help his quest.
The four-year-old, who started his season off with a Group Three win at Chester, was beaten only a neck and a head by Electrocutionist and Zenno Rob Roy on the Knavesmire in one of the most pulsating finishes of the season. "I rode him the other morning with the blinkers on," said Richard Hills, his jockey, "and they will help him concentrate. He travels very well in his races and we just need him to finish a little better. It's a big difference between winning a Group Three to a Group One, but he nearly did it at York, a tremendous run. With the blinkers we will try to squeeze that bit more out of him."
Over the next four days Stoute has 21 horses entered and O'Brien 29, though many of the Irishman's are block entries in two-year-old races. He has, for instance, eight still engaged in Saturday's other Group One feature, the Dewhurst Stakes. Stoute has none, and it is the Ballydoyle juvenile strength in depth, with the Racing Post Trophy yet to come, that makes O'Brien, champion in 2001 and 2002, odds-on to take his third British title.Reuse content