Tony Keenan rates Champions Day the best flat card of the year and he has five horses to back for this year's meeting on Saturday...
"Ulysses is the best horse in the field and more than that he is most suited by the conditions, his Arc third again suggesting 10 furlongs is his optimum trip."
As someone who dislikes change as a rule, I'm surprised how much I love British Champions Day, a meeting that first came into being in 2011. It is the single best day of flat racing in the year and if the BHA could just tidy up the fixture list and empty the rest of the afternoon to leave Ascot in splendid isolation, it would be perfect.
The going at Ascot is currently described as good with an unsettled forecast ahead; the weather judges may be brilliant at forecasting hurricanes but an accurate rainfall figure for this weekend is harder to come by. Looking at the usual weather sites, I would lean towards the ground being on the slow side of good but in general the horses I like here are not ground-dependent with one possible exception. And yes, there are five of them as I think this card has a really good betting shape.
Stradivarius has been one of the most improved horses around this season, going from a mark of 78 in April to 118 now, and judging on his Leger third he isn't done improving yet. That effort was notable because he was cutting back in distace against a pair of horses that have been or will be contesting Group 1 races over 12 furlongs and this two-mile trip seems more suitable for him.
Certainly he should not be a bigger price than Big Orange who he beat at Goodwood and it is far from ideal that Big Orange has missed a pair of intended targets since. Order Of St George is the right favourite but Stradivarius should be closer to him in the market and is a more reliable sort overall.
Speed-favouring tracks like Haydock and the July Course have shown Harry Angel to good effect all season and while he may just be a sprinting superstar, it could be that this stiffer course finds him out. The usual suspects of Caravaggio, The Tin Man and Tasleet take him on again but the fresher Quiet Reflection looks the way to go.
Rain would certainly help her but her form in winning the Commonwealth and Haydock Sprint Cups last year give her every chance and there should be improvement in her for her return at Naas, an effort that was good on the clock given her long absence.
This has been Journey's race over the past two seasons, arguably the best two runs over her career coming here, and she is a worthy favourite to win again. Bateel may have beaten her in the Prix Vermeille but the ground won't be as soft here and nor will the pace set-up be as favourable; Journey paid for racing closer to what as an overly-strong gallop.
Furthermore, she was having her first run since July and travelled best nor was she given a hard time in the finish. In a week where one of Shakespeare's crazy girls Ophelia dominated the headlines, another crazy girl - Journey is a notably difficult ride and Frankie Dettori an excellent booking - would be a topical winner. Rhododendron can prove the biggest danger after a back-to-form win in the Opera but this twelve-furlong trip remains a doubt for her, allowing that it was Enable that beat her in the Oaks.
There is a case for dutching the two class acts Ribchester and Churchill against the field here at around [2.0] as Beat The Bank looks to be making the market; he has been very good thus far but has much more to find with the multiple Group 1 winners than his price suggests. Ribchester can probably wait until Saturday as he is likely to drift then as one of the headline horses with Churchill seemingly having more scope to shorten.
On the surface Churchill was disappointing in the Irish Champion Stakes but a look at the head-on shows that he never really got racing room and he is worth another chance at the prices. A straight mile is clearly close to his optimum conditions and his International Stakes second was an excellent run in the circumstances considering he was coming off a less than ideal prep. I expect him to run here rather than in the Champion Stakes as it is a softer race.
Sectional times suggest Cracksman is deceptively fast but his good splits have been coming over a mile and a half on galloping tracks and he is worth opposing up Ascot's short straight that favours quickeners. Ulysses is the best horse in the field and more than that he is most suited by the conditions, his Arc third again suggesting 10 furlongs is his optimum trip.
The quick turnaround is a concern but he is better than ever now and some ease in the ground would suit him more than Barney Roy. Brametot looks something of a wise guy horse and is underpriced; he met some trouble in the Arc but it wasn't significant and he needs to improve to figure here.
Back Stradivarius at [7.0] to win the Long Distance Cup
Back Quiet Reflection at [9.2] to win the Champions Sprint Stakes
Back Journey at [4.8] to win the Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes
Back Churchill at [5.2] to win the QEII Stakes
Back Ulysses at [4.6] to win the Champion Stakes