A fantastic day of racing is in store at Ascot on Saturday, and here with his thoughts on every Champions Day race, along with his six tips, is Tony Calvin...
"He also handled deep ground well when winning at Haydock in July, and his confirmed stamina over 1m2f could come in very handy here, so I think he has to be included on anyone's short list."
The Champions Day meeting at Ascot on Saturday gives favourite backers - if such a committed band of punters exists - plenty of opportunity to perm a few shorties, and there will be many believing that Stradivarius is the good thing on the card.
They may well be right, as John Gosden's 6yo holds outstanding claims in the opening Long Distance Cup at 13:20 and if I fancied him for the Arc over 1m4f against Group 1 winners then I surely can't envisage defeat for him back up in trip and against a bunch of rivals none of which can boast a rating in excess of 117 among them?
Previous defeats in this race on sixth start a concern for Strad?
Well, of course I can see him getting beaten - he is evens, after all, and not a 1/5 poke - but I think he probably has a slightly better chance of winning than his coin-toss odds on the exchange suggest.
You couldn't say he had an overly-hard race in that slowly-run dawdle at Longchamp, as Olivier Peslier refused to do the obvious and send him to the front once it was clear the miler Persian King was setting a funereal pace.
In the circumstances, he didn't run all that badly in seventh - though it was personally very costly - and you just know that he is highly likely to run his best, back up to 2m on soft ground, and that should be good enough.
But he has had five runs since June, and he was beaten in this race in 2017 and 2019 on his sixth start of the campaign, so I wouldn't be firing in at short prices myself - and maybe he did have a hard race in France last time - not that I ever tend to unless it is at 10/11 in a rugby handicap punt.
If you are looking for an each-way bet against him, then I think Trueshan looks sure to be suited by his first attempt at 2m, while the 3yo Dawn Patrol stuck it out really well when winning on his initial try at this trip at the Curragh last time.
But both do have plenty to find and I had hoped to be getting four places for an each-way punt, given there are a few with realistic claims outside of the favourite - maybe, I am getting too greedy and expectant with these generous bookmakers offers - so I can pretty much start the punting day without a bet here.
Group 1 placed form gives Fernandez a great chance at a price
I laid Dream Of Dreams at an average of 2.93 in the ante-post market for the Champions Sprint at 13:55.
I know he has leading claims here, and may even be one of the favourites in those multiples we are told about, but I was more than happy to oppose him at sub-2/1 given the depth of opposition in a big field, and he did finish 16th of 17 and 13th of 14 in this race for the past two years (though I acknowledge a subsequent gelding operation seems to have a made a big difference to him)
I wouldn't really be interested in backing him at 3/1, to be perfectly honest, so that has to be mean that there are bets to be had elsewhere in this race.
The Group 1 winners Oxted and One Master are obvious alternatives, but I am going to give Lope Y Fernandez another chance at 16/117.0 or bigger.
He is drawn in four, which may be problematical as all the big guns such as the favourite (drawn 16 of 17), One Master (11) and Oxted (13) are drawn in double figures.
But hopefully Happy Power in one will take his side along and Art Power is not too far away in 10, and the far rail could be the place to be on this ground.
Not being ideally positioned on the course has been a theme of Lope Y Fernandez's season to date, especially in his placed efforts in Group 1 events at Deauville.
He was beaten a length or under in both of those starts, and his 3/4 length second to Pinatubo in the Prix Jean Prat was particularly noteworthy considering he was definitely disadvantaged by racing away from the winner in the middle of the track.
That performance puts him bang on the coat-tails of the favourite form-wise, and I gather he had an interrupted preparation before the Haydock Sprint Cup last time, so maybe his 4 1/2-length seventh to Dream Of Dreams and Glen Shiel wasn't quite as disappointing as it seemed at the time.
He has to prove himself on the ground but he ran well at the track when second in the Chesham last season, and a reproduction of his Prix Jean Prat second or Prix Maurice de Gheest third certainly does not make him a 14/1 chance here.
A pair of 12/1 shots for the Fillies and Mares
I was all set to go big on Alpinista in the Fillies And Mares at 14:30 but, somewhat mystifyingly, she wasn't confirmed for the race at 10am on Thursday morning.
Hopefully, I have a pair of super-subs though, as I am still going in two-handed with Mehdaayih and Thundering Nights, the other pair I mentioned in my ante-post piece on Tuesday.
There are a couple of potential negatives about Mehdaayih and they are entwined, namely the combination of 1m4f in soft ground.
She gets 1m4f well, as evidenced by her Group 2 win in France on good to soft last season (though Timeform called it good), and she handles soft well enough, but I am just a little concerned about her stamina holding out.
That said, Timeform did call it soft when she trounced Manuela De Vega by 4 ½ lengths over an extended 1m3f in the Cheshire Oaks last season, a performance in which suggested she seemed to relish the ground and saw her sent off 11/4 favourite for the Oaks.
I suppose if you were looking for another worry it is that we haven't seen her since the Prince Of Wales's in June, a race in which she cut out pretty quickly after trading at 2/1 in-running after moving up very menacingly 2f out.
But I have to proceed on the basis that she will be fit and firing for this Group 1 prize and I just think this Nassau runner-up brings the best form to this party if at her best.
She met all the trouble going in the straight in the Champion Stakes behind Magical at this meeting last season, and still finished a very creditable fifth, with Group 1 performers fore and aft, so I think she is well up to handling her own sex here.
Back her at 12/113.0 or bigger.
I want a second bet in the race, and the saver is Thundering Nights at 12/113.0 or bigger, too.
She is actually the lowest-rated in here but she has had just the seven starts and she comes in here on an upward curve, and seemingly crying out for a longer trip when third over 1m2f at the Curragh last time.
Her sire Night Of Thunder doesn't scream middle distances but the dam won over 1m5f, and her run-style certainly gives every indication that the extra 2f here will suit. If she is good enough, then the ground will not stop her winning, as she is at home on a testing surface.
Pier a solid favourite but Escobar can run a big race
I had a sneaky each-way bet on The Revenant for the QEII at 12/1 before his Longchamp win a fortnight ago, but I can't see him troubling Palace Pier in the 15:05.
The favourite has a look of a good thing to me and is probably a fair bet at around 8/111.73, though I would never dream of backing or tipping him.
Last year's runner-up The Revenant may well fill that spot on again, so I am going to come at this race from an alternative angle and suggest backing Escobar at 25/1 each-way, three places, without the front two with the Betfair Sportsbook.
He remains a bet at 16s or bigger on that market, and I clearly would not put you off backing Escobar at 50/1 each-way without just the favourite, as well.
That may seem ludicrous to say considering he is rated just 105 now and arrives here after a couple of poor runs, but I like the fact that connections are swinging the bat and not going for the Balmoral Handicap at the end of the card.
He would have been around a 16/1 in the Balmoral and is 100/1 here, but we know Ascot over 1m in deep ground is what he wants, as well as a strong pace to aim at, and he has a far better chance than his current handicap mark suggests.
He was rated 115 after beating the subsequent Group 1 winner Lord North by 2 ½ lengths in the Balmoral on this card last season - he really did sluice up there, going one better than the year before - and I just reckon we will see the best of him here with this set-up, and that may be good enough to scrape third.
Or hopefully at least fifth as long as Palace Pier and The Revenant are two of the four in front of him.
Mishriff could win one of the races of the season
I have been bigging up Mishriff for a while now and I honestly think he would have won, or have gone very close to winning, the Arc had connections stumped up the 72,000 euros supplementary fee.
But they kept their hands in their pockets, and instead have come to the Champion Stakes at 15:40.
This has probably turned out to be a far hotter contest than they were expecting though, with last year's winner and Irish Champion Stakes heroine Magical in here along with the likes of the aforementioned, runaway Royal Ascot winner Lord North as well as a host of other Group 1 winners.
It is a seriously warm race, and Mishriff is still to convince the time bandits on those French wins.
So do I walk the walk after talking the talk and put him up at 16/54.2 or better on the exchange?
The answer is no - let the abuse roll - for all that I think he is a monster-in-waiting after his French Derby win and his even better Deauville success last time.
But you have to take each bet on its merits and, maybe like his trainer, I am a bit taken aback by the level of this competition.
It really could be one of the races of the season - it will take more winning than the Arc, that is for sure, and the fact that you can back the 5 ½-length Derby winner at 18/1 tells a story - so I am sitting this one out, albeit reluctantly.
A few Alternative bets for the Balmoral
Alternative Fact has got in at the bottom of the weights in the Balmoral at 16:15 and has Frankie up, and his sixth at York last time should not deter anyone from backing him.
He did remarkably well to finish as close as he did there considering how far back he came from after a sluggish start from a wide draw - he was last 3f out - and he posted a good third in the Silver Hunt Cup here in June, so the course form box is ticked.
He also handled deep ground well when winning at Haydock in July, and his confirmed stamina over 1m2f could come in very handy here, so I think he has to be included on anyone's short list.
The 20s in the marketplace has gone, as did the 16s with the Betfair Sportsbook early on Friday morning, but he remains a win-only bet at 16/117.0 or bigger on the exchange.
This race is chock full of plausible winners though, chief among them the favourite Raeeq who is 5lb well-in after his win here last time - he is the one to beat, for sure - but I can't resist a small nibble on Graignes at 37/138.0 from his midfield draw.
He is another horse I gave a shout-out to in Tuesday's ante-post piece, and I am not bottling out of this one.
I had hoped he would have been sporting headgear here, as he has looked a very tricky customer on all three recent starts, but he at least has come down to a mark of 104 as a result and that makes him very fairly handicapped.
Quite how he cost 600,000 euros at the Arqana sales last winter is anyone's guess - too much red wine perhaps - but I suppose he did finish a 3-length fourth to Persian King on heavy ground in the French 2,000 Guineas last season and he has the talent to make his mark here off 104.
I am hoping a strong pace will straighten out those worrying signs of temperament - though it has to be said there is a distinct lack of front-runners in here, so the hold-up horses would do well to lay up handier than usual - and the George Baker yard, with four recent winners, is going as well as it has done at any stage in 2020.
Nicola Currie has lost her regular ride on Raising Sand to the trainer's 7lb-claiming daughter (and that is not a bitchy comment, by the way, Jamie), but I hope she is sitting on the right one here.
Lope Y Fernandez at 16/117.0 or bigger in 13:55
Mehdiyaah at 12/113.0 or bigger in 14:30
Thundering Night at 12/113.0 or bigger in 14:30
Escobar at 25/1 each-way in Betting Without Palace Pier and The Revenant with Betfair Sportsbook in 15:05
Alternative Fact at 16/117.0 or bigger in 16:15
Graignes at 37/138.0 or bigger in 16:15