Almanzor looks the one in Saturday’s Qipco Champion Stakes – A race first run in 1877 in which, over the next one hundred and forty years, the classic generation have had more than their fair share of success, but since the race was transferred from headquarters to Ascot in 2011 no three year old has managed to get his head in front. Sir Michael Stoute with two winners, Pilsudski 1997, and Kalinisi in 2000, has been the most successful of Saturday’s trainers, but one name, most conspicuous by its absence from the roll of honour, is one, Aidan Patrick O’Brien. However the Ballydoyle maestro, with four entries at the time of writing is attempting to fill in this glaring gap in his amazing CV, and as his 1000gns and Oaks winner, Minding, is more likely to run in the Qipco Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes, his best chance would seem to lie with the “Arc” heroine of 13 days ago, Found. She was probably a little unlucky when finishing second in this to Fascinating Rock last year, but it is significant that she was again beaten, fair and square over 10f, in the Irish Champion Stakes by Almanzor, prior to that superb Arc victory, and it may be that she now needs a full 12f to show her best. Indeed the French race, which was run in a really fast time strongly played to her undoubted stamina. However she is a really tough animal, as she showed last year when, having finished second in this and the Arc, she went on to take the 12f Breeders Cup Turf only two weeks later, and as this is her time of year, her chance is certainly not easily dismissed.
The Dermot Weld trained Fascinating Rock won last year’s renewal by 1 1/4L and 1/2L from Found and Jack Hobbs, and indeed the score between the Weld 5yo and the filly stands at 2-1 in his favour, emphasizing what a top class animal the son of Fastnet Rock is. He is a big gross horse who needs to get his toe in and if he gets his conditions at the weekend he must have serious prospects of adding to his master trainer’s impressive Ascot record.
Having won his only 2yo race, and hacked up by 12L on his reappearance as a 3yo, Jack Hobbs looked like an animal going places, and so it proved, finishing second in the Derby and winning the Irish equivalent by 5L. Following that honorable third in last year’s Champion Stakes he was put away for the season and reappeared in a 12f Newmarket Group 2 in April where he was sent off the 8/15 fav. He was pulled up, and a stress fracture to his pelvis was diagnosed. His hugely talented handler John Gosden, was firmly of the opinion that the son of Halling was immature as a 3yo, and that he would be more the finished article with another year on his back, so obviously that Newmarket setback was a blow. However on the positive side, horses do make full recoveries from this particular injury, and as he is an animal who obviously goes well fresh, the enforced holiday could prove to have been a blessing in disguise.
Sir Michael Stoute attempts to add to his two previous successes with the very lightly raced 3yo son of Galileo, Midterm, and it would come as no surprise at all if this beautifully bred animal figured very prominently on Saturday. He is out of that marvellous mare Midday who won six Group 1s, including an unprecedented three timer in Goodwoods 10f Group1 Nassau stakes, in her fabulous racing career. An impressive winner of both 2yo starts, Midterm confirmed the promise shown, when winning a Sandown Group3 on his reappearance and was sent off a warm order for the Dante Stakes. Unfortunately he sustained an injury during the course of the race, but for which he may well have started favourite for the Derby itself. However he showed that no lasting damage had been caused when finishing a close second in a Chantilly Group2 four months later. This beautifully bred animal’s career has yet to seriously take off but Saturday could well see him in the departure lounge.
J.C. Rouget’s 3yo Colt Almanzor is a hugely progressive animal. He won the French Derby, (10 1/2f) as an unconsidered 20/1 shot at the beginning of June, and followed up with a comfortable win in a Deauville Group2 eleven weeks later. It was last time though, which showed what giant strides he had taken, when he cruised to success in the highly competitive Irish Champion Stakes 33 days ago. Second last of the 12 runner field at the two furlong marker, he was switched to the outer, and made rapid headway to get to the leader, Found, and effortlessly went past the filly inside the last 100yds. With strong reservations on breeding, (his sire Wotton Basset never won beyond 7f) he didn’t take up his engagement, in the Prix de L’Arc, quite rightly in my opinion. He should arrive at the start on Saturday a fresh animal, and is going to be hard to beat.
E.W. : Midterm