For some weeks it has seemed likely that the Champion Stakes will decide whether Henry Cecil or Saeed bin Suroor (for which, read Sheikh Mohammed) will be the champion trainer of 1996. Now the moment has arrived, and the sub-plot elevates an already fascinating contest into perhaps the most compelling of the season.
Bosra Sham or Halling, Pat Eddery or Frankie Dettori, Cecil or Mohammed? For many punters, it will be a choice of the heart rather than the head, with their betting slip the equivalent of a ballot paper. The choice of the people, no doubt, will be Cecil, thanks to long-standing affection mixed with a dash of insularity.
The more thoughtful, however, may prefer the Sheikh's Godolphin team, outnumbered by 200 horses to 40 but representing the most significant innovation in training for many years. It is also worth noting that Godolphin's level stakes profit on its 39 winners is nearly 40 points. Cecil, for so long the punter's friend, is running a 20-point loss.
Both Halling and Bosra Sham go into today's race at the top of their form, though the latter's delicate feet were a cause for concern yesterday morning. Cecil believes his filly has improved significantly since finishing second to Mark Of Esteem in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, and she allegedly finished one recent gallop on the heels of the group in front of her. The first question for punters is whether this improvement will be enough to take her past Halling, unbeaten in his last eight races on turf.
The second is whether either runner will represent value, given that the market may reflect the attention focused on their trainers. Certainly, this is not a two-horse race, with three other Group One winners in a field which is completed by Even Top, beaten a short-head in the 2,000 Guineas.
First Island, it is true, should not beat either of the market leaders, according to the form book, while Even Top has had an interrupted season since Newmarket. But Timarida, whose recent record shows three Group One victories in three different countries in the space of a month, must be a formidable opponent. As pointed out earlier this week, Glory Of Dancer is by no means the hopeless case that 40-1 quotes might imply, though as an each-way proposition he is less interesting now the field has reduced to six runners. The value this morning must be Timarida (4.15) at around 6-1.
The shape of the Cesarewitch Handicap, the day's principal betting event, is surprisingly similar, with two horses dominating the market. The difference, of course, is that there are 24 alternatives, and neither Jiyush nor Canon Can has the form to justify early quotes of around 7-2. Both may drift on-course, where the bookies have no ante-post liabilities, but it will be surprising if either reaches the 6-1 or so which would represent - in the case of Jiyush - a fair bet.
As always, there are several runners which appear to have been laid out for today's race, with Orchestra Stall and Candle Smile the most encouraging candidates. The former is also a little short in the betting, but CANDLE SMILE (nap 3.00) is an excellent each-way option.
The Bentinck Stakes gives Branston Abby the chance to increase her career record to 24 wins, but while she will get the strong pace she needs, so too will Wildwood Flower (next best 4.45), who has improved throughout the year and should now be ready to step up from handicaps. Those she leaves behind - 23 of them, to be precise - line up for a sprint handicap at 3.35 which all wise punters will avoid.Reuse content