In UK Flat racing, it has become traditional to end the season with a spectacular feast of racing known as the QIPCO British Champions Day on October 20. Although there is a two-day meeting at Doncaster the following week which features the final Group One race of the season, the Champions Day at Ascot is now regarded as the end of the European Flat racing season.
The term ‘world-class’ is overused in sports, but it is apt when describing this event because it is set to feature three of the world’s six highest rated horses on the Flat. It is a day that has something for everyone as the QIPCO British Champions Series ends. There is a race for Sprinters, Milers, Middle-Distance & Long-Distance horses, and Fillies & Mares.
Overall, there are six races, five of which are Group One or Two, and the Class 2 Balmoral Handicap. Here are the top-six Flat horses in the world; as per Timeform ratings on October 7, 2018. The ones in bold are slated to compete at Ascot, and I’ll take a look at their races in this article:
- Cracksman – 136
- Enable – 134
- Battaash – 133
- Crystal Ocean – 132
- Poet’s Word – 132
- Harry Angel – 131
There was a suggestion that Battaash, Enable, and Poet’s Word would also enter but unfortunately, we will not be rewarded with the prospect of the world’s six best horses running on the same day.
Cracksman Versus Crystal Ocean – QIPCO Champions Stakes – 1m 2f
If both horses are confirmed entries, it will represent a colossal matchup that no racing lover dare miss. At the time of writing, Cracksman is the 11/10 favourite while Crystal Ocean is the second favourite at 3/1.
Cracksman looked spectacular in this very race last year when he destroyed the field; finishing seven lengths ahead of Poet’s Word. After an impressive win at Longchamp in April 2018, he scraped home at Epsom in June, before being soundly beaten by Poet’s Word at Ascot in June.
Crystal Ocean has been defeated by Enable and Poet’s Word in recent months. However, the latter defeat was by a neck, and in the other race, Enable carried eight pounds less.
In this race, it could be a mistake to ignore Roaring Lion who has gone from strength to strength this season. The John Gosden trained horse has won its last three Group One events, including a handy win over Poet’s Word in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York.
Harry Angel Versus the Tin Man – British Champions Sprint Stakes – 6f
While Harry Angel is ranked #6 on the Timeform list, he is not even the favourite for this race! In fact, he is available at 6/1 in places as The Tin Man is the early market frontrunner at 3/1.
Why is such a highly ranked horse available at such long odds? Last year, wins in the Darley July Cup and Spring Cup Stakes marked Harry Angel down as the finest 3yo sprinter of the season. Even a fourth-place finish in this race last season didn’t dampen enthusiasm, and he finished ahead of The Tin Man that day.
This season has been a different story. After a good win in a Group 2 at York, Harry Angel’s last two races have not gone according to plan. The Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Ascot in May was a disaster. Starting as 5/2 favourite, Harry Angel was unsettled in the stalls and never threatened the leaders; finishing second from last.
A bad run can happen to any horse so much was expected of him at this year’s Sprint Cup Stakes. Once again, he was the favourite at 6/4. Once again, it was a disappointing day. After being upset in the stalls, he overexerted himself early doors and trailed home in sixth, over four lengths behind The Tin Man.
As it transpired, Harry Angel’s foot was stuck in a running board at Ascot and was lucky to escape serious injury. It ruined the Diamond Jubilee Stakes for him, and one wonders if it also affected him at Haydock. One thing is for sure if we see Harry Angel act up in the stalls once more, it is a very bad sign. According to his trainer, Clive Cox, Harry Angel needs drier ground at Ascot, or else he will probably not enter.
Where’s the Smart Money Going?
If you want to get on Cracksman, you better be quick because over 55% of the money has been placed on him. Indeed, 26% of the money has gone on Roaring Lion with only 6% being bet on Crystal Ocean at present. Cracksman is already 10/11 in places so is it worth backing him as an odds-on favourite?
The answer is ‘no’ if Roaring Lion is a confirmed entry. John Gosden’s superb horse may yet enter the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, but if he is entered in the Champion Stakes, it would not be a great idea to back against a horse that has defeated Poet’s Word handily this season, not to mention two narrow wins over Saxon Warrior.
Roaring Lion is the world’s top-rated 3yo and could potentially prove to be Cracksman’s kryptonite. Despite the relative lack of interest, Crystal Ocean is also capable of beating Cracksman who was defeated by Poet’s Word last time out.
As for the duel between Harry Angel and The Tin Man, a lot depends on whether the latter is fully recovered from his injury early in the season. If he has, 6/1 represents tremendous value. Librisa Breeze defeated The Tin Man last season but has been in poor form as of late.
For all the talk about the main contenders in the Champion Sprint Stakes (The Tin Man and Librisa Breeze make up 55% of the money wagered thus far), some punters may look to Limato for value at 16/1. Beaten narrowly by Harry Angel and The Tin Man in 2017, Limato found one mile too hot to handle but has been in much better form over 6f and 7f. He could be the horse to watch.
The British Champions Sprint Stakes is no stranger to decent priced winners. After all, Librisa Breeze was a 10/1 winner last year. Overall, there have been four 10/1+ winners since 2005.
In contrast, the Champions Stakes is certainly a race for favourites. 16/20 winners were in the top four in the betting market including six favourites. It seems unlikely that the winner will not be Cracksman, Crystal Ocean, or Roaring Lion with a preference for the latter if a confirmed runner.