Most of the talk these past few weeks has been about who will not be at racing’s end-of-term big bash, Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot, with Kingman and Australia, prematurely retired after untimely injuries, the two most celebrated VIPs unable to accept the invitation.
But there are still enough A-listers in town to make this a swell party, starting with the Queen’s Estimate, having her last dance in the opener before retiring early to bed, and later the remarkable old French swinger Cirrus Des Aigles, running in his fourth Champions Stakes and evidently as sprightly as ever.
The eight-year-old, amasser of almost £6m in prize money in a 59-race career, won the first of his six Group Ones in this race in 2011, but will probably be best remembered for threatening briefly to spoil Frankel’s farewell jamboree the following year when, as trainer Corine Barande-Barbe recalled with a smile, “the crowd took a deep breath.”
Same race, new challenge and this time it is an exciting young Irish colt throwing down the gauntlet. Free Eagle, a serious Derby contender until meeting with a setback, gave us a glimpse of what we had been missing with a devastating display at Leopardstown last month.
Dermot Weld, concerned the ground may be too testing, will check the track this morning, but Deep Eagle’s dam and siblings have all revelled in the mud and perhaps the bigger concern is his relative lack of experience, quite apart from his strictly limited achievements when laid out alongside Cirrus Des Aigles’ extraordinary portfolio.
Even so, I would not want to bet against Free Eagle (4.05), who looked every inch a champion in the making on his comeback.
Custom Cut, a half-brother to Free Eagle, is one of several upped in grade to tackle 2,000 Guineas winner Night Of Thunder in the QE2 Stakes. He beat Captain Cat and Tullius (3.30) fair and square at Newmarket last time, but the latter was returning from a summer break and may well spring a surprise on his favoured softer surface.
The ground will play a large part in the outcome of all six races and is a significant consideration when siding with another two Irish raiders, Weld’s Forgotten Rule (1.45) in the Long Distance Cup and Ed Lynam’s Viztoria (2.20) in the Sprint, as well as Seal Of Approval (2.55) for a repeat triumph in the Fillies & Mares and Levitate (4.45) in the handicap finale.
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