Tony Calvin: The Ascot Champion Stakes market a real puzzle

Runners at Ascot
Tony Calvin takes a look at the antepost market for the Champion Stakes at Ascot (pictured)
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With less than a month until the finale of the flat season, Champions Day at Ascot, Tony Calvin attempts to make sense of the antepost market for the Champion Stakes...

"The latest news from the Stoute camp is that they are still mulling over an Arc bid for Crystal Ocean, but he would be a serious threat to all from a form perspective if going to Ascot. He loves the place, is ground-versatile and he does at least have a 1m2f win on his dance card this season, for all by far his best efforts have come over 1m4f and beyond."

I'm happy to come at Friday and Saturday's action afresh later in the week - both days are on ITV - and there is certainly plenty to get stuck into then, namely all the juvenile action and the Cambridgeshire.

But an ante-post race has been troubling me for a while - well, not exactly troubling me, as one of the advantages of being a punter is that we don't have to bet - and that is the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on October 20.

The reason that I have been looking at the 1m2f Group 1 contest is that I cannot believe there isn't an each-way bet in the race, given its current make-up.

The betting is currently dominated by Roaring Lion and Cracksman, best-priced at 2/1 and 3/1 respectively, and the fact that Enable, surely an unlikely runner, is third favourite tells you there simply must be a punt to be had somewhere.

Trying to find it has been driving me absolutely crackers, though.

Doubts over leading contenders

Let's deal with the market principals first, though.

Roaring Lion is the rightful favourite after his recent exploits, and 6/4 with the Betfair Sportsbook, following up his comprehensive win in the Juddmonte from Poet's Word (out for the season, so that's another big player out of the way), with a neck defeat of the now-retired Saxon Warrior in the Irish Champion Stakes last time.

But you can't go overboard about the merit of Leopardstown win with the 109-rated Deauville in third, and the possibility of soft ground at Ascot next month dictates that you can't go near him from an ante-post point of view.

We could well get good ground for the meeting, as we did in 2016, but history suggests it is far more likely to be testing and that would probably rule the favourite out.
The horse has never run on ground worse than good to soft, and John Gosden confirmed on Sunday that he would consider a Breeders' Cup option if the weather didn't play ball as regards to him running at Ascot.

If he would prefer it on the quick side, then stablemate Cracksman certainly wouldn't - and therein lies the attractive betting nature of this race.

Cracksman will be going to the Arc if the ground has enough ease in it at Longchamp (he is fourth favourite), but he will go to Ascot instead if it is deemed too quick. And we all saw what he did to Poet's Word in the Champion Stakes last season when getting his ground.

The issue with backing him though is not only the fact that we haven't seen him since Royal Ascot, but would he asked to take in both the Arc and Champion Stakes in the space of 13 days?

I suppose it is possible Enable could go to Ascot after the Arc, but all her form is over 1m4f, and the same is true of the horse she beat at Kempton on her return (albeit in receipt of 8lb), Crystal Ocean. And he is he fourth favourite at around 8/1.

Serious threat

The latest news from the Stoute camp is that they are still mulling over an Arc bid for Crystal Ocean, but he would be a serious threat to all from a form perspective if going to Ascot.

He loves the place, is ground-versatile and he does at least have a 1m2f win on his dance card this season, for all by far his best efforts have come over 1m4f and beyond.

The Betfair Sportsbook actually have him on the 8/1 mark alongside Ghaiyyath, and there is little doubt that Charlie Appleby's colt is interesting given an belated, and impressive, return to action in a Group 3 at Longchamp over 1m2f six days ago.

He was the stable's number one Derby hope at the start of the season before an injury in the lead-up to the Dante scuppered that plan, and there was talk of a St Leger bid last month.

But he looked to have plenty of pace when beating an 112-rated rival easily enough in France last week - though he got a good lead into the race by a front-running stablemate, who ensured it didn't turn into a sprint - and he is a potential springer in the market (though, again, 'springer' is probably pushing it given the 16/1 in the marketplace disappeared on Monday morning, and I also see he is still in the Arc as well).

Stablemate Loxley would also be half-interesting if he was stepped back down in trip after his St Leger disappointment, but I have no idea where he is going after Doncaster.

Monarch's Glen hasn't been seen out since winning the Wolferton in good style - he was in the five-entries for last Saturday's Arc Trial at Newbury last Saturday, though, before a surprise no-show - and he is up there in the betting around 14/1.

He lacks the proven Group 1 form of the likes of Laurens at a similar price but the star filly's next target is the Sun Chariot on October 6, for which she is the 5/2 favourite, and that muddies the waters a bit if you fancy her for Ascot.

I thought Recoletos could be a player but he is QEII-bound, it seems - he is Betfair's 2/1 favourite for the 1m race, in fact - and Juddmonte third Thundering Blue looks like he is going for the Canadian International next after winning in Sweden on Sunday, and that is just a week before Ascot.

I am puzzled and confused, I don't mind admitting.

Keep an eye on Addeybb

The absence of clearly-stated running plans clearly add to the confusion, along with the guess-up about the ground, but Addeybb is one to keep an eye on.

He was a proper tool on soft ground earlier in the season, and connections were probably ruing the fact that they ran him in the Lockinge on fast ground in May.
He was given the summer off but his comeback was scuppered by a quick surface again when he was pulled out of the Irish Champion Stakes on the day of the race.

It appears that Haggas has wanted to step the horse back up to 1m2f for a while, and the Champion Stakes could be that race for a horse that is one from one at the track, and is likely to get some ease in the ground as a minimum.

Unfortunately, he is also in the QEII, too, and there is obviously the possibility that they could be tempted by the mile race if that looks a much easier assignment come the day.

Anyway, if there is a bet in the Champion Stakes at the moment, I can't find it, sorry!

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