Frankel may be missing for the first time from Qipco British Champions Day, but the spectre of this extraordinarily talented horse will nevertheless be hovering over Ascot this afternoon.
Around 24,000 are expected in Berkshire, a decent turnout, but one which straight away tells us how much the once-in-a-lifetime colt is missed – 32,000 were in attendance when Frankel took his final bow in the Champion Stakes 12 months ago and, of course, brought the house down with the perfect goodbye.
And then there is the legacy Frankel has left in the form book. Unbeaten in 14 starts, perhaps the best we have ever seen, and now horses like Cirrus Des Aigles and Farhh, top class in their own right, will not have to chase his tail any more. Instead they will be taking each other on in today’s Champion Stakes and connections of Cirrus Des Aigles, in particular, will be confident of winning this enormous pot – this is the most valuable race (£1.3m) on what is the most valuable day’s racing (£3.4m) in the British calendar.
Cirrus Des Aigles won the Champion Stakes in 2011 (when Frankel was otherwise engaged) and then briefly threatened to spoil the farewell party last year. This French-trained veteran boasts an impressive CV and will revel in the soft ground, but there is a suspicion that he is not quite the force he was and if he is not he will most likely be found out here.
The current Classic crop has suffered a bit of a bashing, but do not be surprised if the Derby winner Ruler Of The World (4.05 Ascot) comes good again. Ten furlongs on a soft surface might be ideal, especially with the front-runner Mukhadram sure to provide a proper test.
Ryan Moore will be in the saddle and he may have already made everybody’s day by winning the opening Long Distance Cup on the Queen’s Estimate, who has already provided one of the golden moments of the season by becoming the first horse ever to win the Ascot Gold Cup for a reigning monarch.
But Estimate, under an inspired ride, could not have won by another inch and, on form, has nothing in hand of Godolphin’s Ahzeemah (1.45 Ascot), who, at four times the price (about 8-1) makes more appeal as a betting proposition.
If we are to have another perfect day, then I suppose Estimate, Cirrus des Aigles and Dawn Approach – all hugely popular with the racing public – will win today, but this sport is rarely so neat and obliging, especially at this time of the year when the change in ground conditions that has kept many big names at home also often contributes to some totally unpredictable results.
Dawn Approach, a wide-margin winner of the 2000 Guineas before flopping in the Derby, attempts to end his campaign on a high note in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, but once again dangers lurk everywhere, not least from Gordon Lord Byron and Maxios, another classy French visitor adding still more substance to proceedings. Gordon Lord Byron (3.30 Ascot) is so good over six furlongs that he would have had a favourite’s chance in the Sprint, but Tom Hogan, his trainer, is clearly of the opinion that the gelding also has it in him to be a big player over this mile. Maybe we should take the hint.
In his absence from the Sprint, last year’s winner Maarek (2.20 Ascot) looks good to double up on what could be a great day for the Irish, as the change in the seasons has brought about a return to his best form.
QIPCO British Champions Day is part of the QIPCO British Champions Series. For more information go to