Frankel is the talk of the racing world as Champions Day at Ascot draws near
By Tom Krish
It is being hailed as the greatest day in English racing. The QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday promises to provide an afternoon of top class racing. The star attraction will be the Sir Henry Cecil-trained Frankel who will be going for a nine-for-nine record in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
I have been in London since Sunday. There has been no rain. It has been unseasonably warm. London is a great walking town and I am making the most of it with the wonderful climate. Chris Stickels, Clerk of Course at Ascot, has had the unenviable job of pleasing competing interests. “I am looking to offer ground which is a combination of good and good to firm on Saturday. We will not be putting on a lot of water. We will monitor the situation. However, there is a watering policy that is designed to ensure a level playing field. Both the straight and round courses are being watered,” Stickels has commented.
Ascot is in Berkshire, a town about 50 minutes by train from London. You board a train at London Waterloo. From the train station, there is a walk of a shade over a quarter of a mile to the race course. The last part of the journey is uphill. It is good exercise and when I reach Ascot, I am alert and ready to go. I am getting a media badge with paddock access.
The British Champions Long Distance Cup over two miles is the first big race at 1:50 pm. It is a Group III event and is worth 113,420 pounds to the winner. There are thirteen runners. Opinion Poll and Fame And Glory are the market leaders.
The Sprint Stakes at 2:25 pm is the next race. It is a six-furlong Group II contest and the winner gets 141,775 pounds. Eighteen have been declared. Deacon Blues, Moonlight Cloud, Royal Rock and Society Rock are the top contenders.
Fillies and Mares are in the spotlight in the 3 pm race. It is a Grade II event over a mile and a half. Fourteen runners will answer the starter’s call. The winner’s share of the purse is 141,775 pounds. Dancing Rain, winner of the Epsom Oaks and the German Oaks, is a leading fancy. Ferdoos, another major player, represents Roger Varian who has taken over the late Michael Jarvis string. Sea Of Heartbreak, fresh off a win at Longchamp over the Arc weekend, joins the cast. Meeznah is another high-profile contestant.
We move to 3:35 pm and it is the feature of the day. Frankel, the world’s highest-rated horse, heads the 10-horse field in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. The winner receives 567,100 pounds. The Q E II Stakes is a Group I race over a mile. The Khalid Abdullah-owned Frankel has been unstoppable and comes off a romp in Goodwood’s Sussex Stakes. Frankel is an odds-on choice. Immortal Verse, winner of the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and conqueror of Goldikova at Deauville, goes for four wins in a row. Dick Turpin and Poet’s Voice are in the Q E II field. Excelebration, twice behind Frankel this year, has won three major events. The Marco Botti-trained Excelebration has won the German 2000 Guineas at Cologne, the Hungerford Stakes at Newbury and the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp.
Trainer Marco Botti has been showing optimism. “We have chased Frankel twice. Maybe, it’s third time lucky for us. I have to say that Excelebration looks in good order. He had his final work on Saturday and everything went well,” Botti said.
Sir Henry Cecil has been restrained in his confidence. “There is no such thing as a good thing in racing. I am happy with how Frankel has progressed. I respect the opposition. I would not like to see him make it all. It will be great to win at the world’s biggest stage,” he stated.
The next race is the Group I Champion Stakes at 4:10 pm. It is a mile and a quarter race and the winner receives 737,230 pounds. Coral, one of the leading bookmakers in England, has So You Think, fourth in the Arc de Triomphe, at 2/1. So You Think is being described as the dual-hemisphere superstar. Nathaniel, runaway winner of the King George in late July, is next in demand. Snow Fairy, dual Oaks winner and successful in Japan and Hong Kong last year, takes her chances. Racing Post is reporting that Olivier Peslier may be aboard Snow Fairy who took third in the Arc. Wigmore Hall, recent winner at Woodbine, will be in the Champion line up. Godolphin will be represented by Dubai Prince. Cirrus des Aigles carries France’s hopes. Reliable Man, winner of the French Derby at Chantilly in June, may not run if there is no cut in the ground.
The new whip regulation is generating heated debate in England. There have been three casualties so far. Kieren Fox, Richard Hughes and William Buick have received bans. In flat races, a jockey cannot hit the horse more than seven times, not more than five times in the last furlong. In jumps, the limit is eight.
Dettori has spoken out. He has expressed a dim view. Talking to reporters at Nottingham on Wednesday, Dettori said, “all people are talking about is the whip controversy. I am tired of it. Let us talk about everything else.”
Tony McCoy, top jumps jockey, has been critical of the new rule. “It makes no sense. In the heat of battle, there are so many things you need to pay attention to. The number of times the whip is used cannot be counted,” McCoy has said.
Pat Smullen, top Irish jockey, has come out against the rule. The Irish authorities have not followed the British example.
The British Horseracing Authority is adamant. The jockeys are asking for a review. An infraction costs the mount fee and the percentage of the winner’s purse. Part of the Champions’ Day glamour is being taken away because of the whip controversy.