Tom Peacock considers five subjects ahead of Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday
By Tom Peacock
Will Aidan O’Brien break Bobby Frankel’s record?:
It is, of course, a reasonable way of illustrating the genius and dominance of Aidan O’Brien this year but rarely has as much attention been drawn to a rather unexciting record attempt.
One imagines, as humble as he will no doubt be when he secures the last two Group One winners to draw ahead of Bobby Frankel’s world mark of 25 in a year, that it is not an achievement that will have greatly occupied the mind of the brilliant O’Brien.
He is trying simply to maximise the potential of the horses in his care and race them around the world, rather than compare himself with a man whose 2003 mark was secured exclusively in North America.
O’Brien will surely reach it through the Breeders’ Cup, Racing Post Trophy and remaining events in France but it might actually be tough for him to get two on the board at Ascot as the likes of Caravaggio, Churchill, and Hydrangea have major obstacles in their path. William Hill offer 3-1 that he will cross off the two winners, if that floats your boat.
Then again, he may only need one by the time Ascot gets under way as his Johannes Vermeer is favourite to land the Caulfield Cup in Australia on Saturday morning.
The Cup runneth over:
One of Ascot and Champions Day’s remaining ambitions is surely for the Long Distance Cup to become another Group One on the card and this year’s race has attracted the two best stayers in Britain and Ireland as Order Of St George and Big Orange prepare to re-enact their epic meeting in the Gold Cup.
It appears that Melbourne’s loss is Ascot’s gain in the case of these two. The former is partly Australian owned while the latter has appeared in Flemington for the past two years. The competitive nature of the Melbourne Cup would make it very hard for these top-class stars to give away lumps of weight in a handicap and the promise of another tooth-and-nail battle promises to open the card with a bang.
Enable the missing link in Champion Stakes:
However well Cracksman - or indeed Ulysses or Barney Roy - wins the Champion Stakes there is a danger that the victory will feel a little hollow. It looks to be a fascinating and wide-open edition of this lucrative event but Europe’s middle-distance champion Enable is conspicuous by her absence.
No slingshots are being aimed towards the connections of the filly, who stated that she would be wrapped up for the year not long after her blistering victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
However, she has now beaten nearly all of the middle-distance protagonists during the course of the campaign and, should her stablemate Cracksman deliver a powerful display, one will once again be left wondering whether his owner Anthony Oppenheimer should have insisted that his horse ran in the Arc, as there can be no guarantee he will be in the same shape in 12 months’ time.
Silvestre De Sousa still being overlooked:
It continues to baffle as to why Silvestre De Sousa is not being utilised on the big occasion. The Brazilian will be crowned champion for the second time on Saturday, with his margin over Jim Crowley likely to be more than 40 winners.
Yet, at the time of writing, De Sousa only has booked rides in the Qipco Long Distance Cup aboard Desert Skyline, and one in the Balmoral Handicap on the afternoon he picks up his trophy.
There have been several complimentary articles about the rider in national papers lately and he is undoubtedly a man of substance over style. Not only does he work hard and make few mistakes, but he has won on horses that might not have done for others during a relentless few months up and down the nation’s motorways.
Those trainers without retained jockeys for the weekend ought to pay homage by offering him the spare rides.
Never rule out the French:
France’s trainers were whitewashed on their biggest occasion on the Sunday of the Arc meeting, as well as with a number of other Group races heading the way of overseas raiders.
However, they have enjoyed considerable success on their away days at Ascot, with Almanzor and Cirrus Des Aigles taking the Champion Stakes, and Solow and Charm Spirit lifting the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Brametot and Al Wukair, neither of whom have had the most arduous of campaigns, could be realistic possibilities in those races this time around.
The best hope of French success in 2017 could well come in the British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes through Bateel, pictured, who easily disposed of the title-defending Journey in the Prix Vermeille.
Journey is entitled to be sharper for the outing and seems to have been trained for this race in particular but Bateel has made boundless progress for Francis Graffard during the campaign and would not have looked out of place in the Arc line-up on her latest effort.