ROBERT COOPER OFF THE BOX
TV celebrity with mixture of wit and wisdom
There were plenty of nonbelievers when Ascot’s first Champions Day was staged in 2011, I was one of them, but now seven years on it is justly a day to celebrate the very best of British racing, both equine and human.
My humble role on the inaugural fixture in 2011 was to offer ATR viewers a bit of jaunty banter from the starts of the six races. The weather was perfect – warm, sunny with the golden leaves illuminated – the classic autumn day. But could it work as described on the label, a Champions Day? Taking place just a fortnight after the Arc and three weeks before the Breeders’ Cup it was surely doomed to struggle – and would the stands be packed on a wet and windy October afternoon?
With a little help from Frankel in 2011 and 2012, Champions Day has never looked back, and the six races this afternoon with total prize money of £4.35 million (you could but a half decent yearling for that money) is of the highest quality. It’s just a shame I’ll be watching it on a dodgy TV at Ffos Las – but I’m not complaining, as it is Welsh Champion Hurdle day, more on that later.
If John Gosden requires a cherry on his heavily iced and decorated cake, today could be the day. He has already notched ten Group Ones in 2018 and CRACKSMAN (Champion Stakes), ROARING LION (QEII) and LAH TI DAR & CORONET (Fillies and Mares) could quite easily provide three more. And, of course, Gosden’s day could get off to a flyer with STRADIVARIUS in the Long Distance Cup – only a Group 2 I’m afraid.
I certainly wouldn’t oppose STRADIVARIUS [1.25 ASCOT] although FLAG OF HONOUR looked a big improver stepping up to a mile and three quarters.
He was impressive in the Irish St Leger but beating STRADIVARIUS will be mighty tough. He’s had a nice breather since York, and the softer ground shouldn’t pose a problem – he was third to Order of St George last year and is a vastly improved performer this season.
Aidan O’Brien runs six of the eleven in the Fillies and Mares including last year’s winner HYDRANGEA who hasn’t scaled similar heights in three runs this summer. Maybe the fast ground has been against her and today’s underfoot conditions should suit but this is a race I’ll probably dodge on the betting front.
St Leger runner-up LAH TI DAR is untested on soft going, whereas her stable-mate CORONET [third last year] will definitely handle it. If you twisted my arm I might take a chance on Andre Fabre’s KITESURF – the poor old French had such a wretched Arc meeting, I’m almost – but not totally – commiserating.
CRACKSMAN (3.50 ASCOT) looks head and shoulders better than his seven rivals in the Champion Stakes. Life is full of surprises but I’d raise an eyebrow or two if he didn’t repeat last year’s stroll. He hasn’t had a strenuous campaign because of the unsuitable rock-like ground, but today all the boxes are ticked.
On form it would be folly to oppose ROARING LION in the QEII but two factors put me off – trip and ground. Win or lose ‘the lion’ is a true champion with fabulous performances at Sandown, York and Leopardstown but all three victories were over ten furlongs on quick ground. I’m ready and waiting, knife and fork tightly clutched, to eat my words but I’m going to take a chance with William Haggas’ ADDEYBB (3.15 ASCOT). He won the Lincoln [beating LORD GLITTERS] back in March and proved he was better than a handicapper when winning the Group Two Mile at Sandown in April. Fresh and raring to go, he’ll do for me.
The Sprint is a bit of a puzzle – HARRY ANGEL has enjoyed no luck this season and his Ascot form figures – 22240 – don’t augur well. Last year’s winner LIBRISA BREEZE will have his optimum conditions but he’s not shown a glimmer of his 2017 form, so he too gets the heave-ho. The admirable BRANDO deserves to win a race like this but is currently losing 6-1 to THE TIN MAN on previous encounters. I’ll take THE TIN MAN [2.00 ASCOT) to repeat last year’s victory for James Fanshawe. No praise is too great for the Skeleton Man; year on year Fanshawe extracts the very best from his relatively small string of horses.
In recent weeks I hope readers have given many of my selections a wide berth but we all have lean spells – some leaner than others! However I can pride myself by urging my reader(s)way back in April, to invest a few quid on Nicola Currie at 7/1 in the handicap betting to be top female jockey of the championship season that ends today.
She’s nailed it good and proper, but sadly she won’t be receiving any trophy alongside the champ Silvestre de Sousa or top apprentice Jason Watson but she has great chance of glory in the Balmoral Handicap on Jamie Osborne’s RAISING SAND. He gave Currie the biggest win of her career over course and distance a fortnight ago and he’s been ante post favourite since the entries were made. He’s far to short for me, but take a close look at VIA VIA (4.30 ASCOT) who finished third, 4 ½ lengths in front of RAISING SAND, in the Cambridgeshire, leading at the furlong pole. He’s been in my tracker ever since a luckless run behind ADDEYBB in the Lincoln. He’s left it late but it looks like he’s back on song.
Away from the roar of the Ascot thousands, at Ffos Las Nigel Twiston Davies’ admirable campaigner THE NEW ONE (4.25 FFOS LAS) bids to win first time out for the eighth consecutive season – an incredible record. Zak Baker keeps the ride after winning the Welsh Champion Hurdle last year – he gave him a great ride too. Zak was at Uttoxeter on Thursday and he was beaming at the prospect of today’s race.
“If John Gosden requires a cherry on his heavily iced and decorated cake, today could be the day. He has already notched ten Group Ones in 2018 and could easily land three more”
Tough to beat: Stradivarius
Top jockey: Nicola Currie