March 24, 2023

Magical leads distaff brigade in Champion Stakes at Ascot

Magical shown winning the 2019 Tattersalls Gold Cup (Photo Healy

Ladies’ Day at Ascot properly belongs to the Royal meeting, but given the preponderance of distaff power in Saturday’s Champion S. (G1), one could be forgiven for wanting to transfer the designation. Five of the nine runners in the signature event of Champions Day are females, led by early favorite Magical.

Most recently fifth after stalking a taxing pace in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), Magical wheels back on short rest as she did successfully last year, albeit in a different race on the card. On Champions Day 2018, the Aidan O’Brien trainee moved forward from a 10th in the Arc to capture the British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) over Coronet. Magical went on to run a mighty second to Enable in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), and she reprised that role when chasing Enable in this summer’s Eclipse (G1) and Yorkshire Oaks (G1). Her runner-up effort to Crystal Ocean in Royal Ascot’s Prince of Wales’s (G1) at this 1 1/4-mile trip underscores that she’s the one to beat on form, a series of placings that arguably reflects even better on her than her Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1)/Irish Champion (G1) double.

Japan’s Deirdre was a distant sixth behind Crystal Ocean and Magical in the Prince of Wales’s, but she’s since blossomed in her European sojourn. Upsetting the Nassau (G1) at Glorious Goodwood, the Harbinger mare was a troubled, fast-finishing fourth to Magical in the Irish Champion. Deirdre had handled yielding ground fine in her 2017 victory in a Japanese fillies’ classic, the Shuka Sho (G1). Still, it’s probably better news for her that the Champion was switched from the waterlogged round course to the inner course that was rated good to soft at last report.

While soft going holds no fears for Magical, the mudlark Addeybb revels in the wet, and the antepost market has him pegged as the chief opponent. The Pivotal gelding captured the course-and-distance Wolferton as well as the Rose of Lancaster (G3) at Haydock last out, and he’ll have to capitalize on the conditions to handle the class hike for William Haggas.

The aforementioned Coronet has historically run well at Ascot, and the John Gosden mare comes off overdue Group 1 trophies in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) over males and the Prix Jean-Romanet (G1) on heavy at Deauville. She’d need Magical to regress, though, to gain revenge for her reverse here last October. So would their respective stablemates. Gosden’s Prix de Malleret (G2) winner Mehdaayih, dismissed by Deirdre in the Nassau, flopped in the Prix de l’Opera (G1) on Arc Day. O’Brien’s I Can Fly, who nearly shocked Roaring Lion in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on this day last year, hasn’t built upon that effort and makes a rare foray going longer.

Regal Reality appeared bound for bigger and better things earlier in the season, when bolting up in the Brigadier Gerard (G3) and closing for third to Enable and Magical in the Eclipse. The Cheveley Park homebred lost his luster at York, so it’s intriguing that Sir Michael Stoute sticks him in this line-up. Sophomores Fox Tal (who was supplemented) and Pondus, placed to Addeybb and to Canadian International (G1) repeater Desert Encounter in his last pair, complete the field.

Star Catcher captures the Ribblesdale (Ascot Racecourse)

Gosden is triple-handed in the 1 1/2-mile British Champions Fillies & Mares with classic winners Star Catcher and Anapurna joined by Sparkle Roll. Star Catcher is favored in light of her three-race winning streak spanning the course-and-distance Ribblesdale (G2), Irish Oaks (G1), and Prix Vermeille (G1), but stablemate Anapurna has shown her heart when capturing the Oaks (G1) at Epsom and the Prix de Royallieu (G1) in her latest.

Dermot Weld’s highly regarded Tarnawa rebounded from an Epsom flop to win her next two, including the Blandford (G2) during Irish Champions Weekend. The Aga Khan homebred may have more scope at this point than Ballydoyle familiars Fleeting, Pink Dogwood, and South Sea Pearl – with the possible exception of Delphinia whose recent seconds to Enbihaar and Anapurna have been her best. Antonia de Vega was last seen romping in the Abingdon S. at Newbury in June, but Nausha’s regressed since taking the Musidora (G3). The only two older fillies taking on the sophomore battalion are Group 3 winners Sun Maiden (fourth in the Nassau and September [G3] of late) and Klassique.

Stradivarius, with jockey Frankie Dettori riding, wins the Gold Cup (G1) for trainer John Gosden at Ascot Race Course on Day 3 of Royal Ascot on June 20, 2019 (c) Gustavsson

Gosden’s star stayer Stradivarius will be a heavy odds-on favorite in the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) – if his trainer is satisfied that the inner course isn’t too soft come Saturday. By pocketing the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million Bonus in both years of its existence, the Bjorn Nielsen homebred has won 10 straight majors in the division, crowned by the past two runnings of Royal Ascot’s Gold Cup (G1). But Stradivarius’ last loss came in this very race two years ago, although he did garner the 2018 edition and enters as the defending champion. Gosden also has the Dubawi blueblood Royal Line stepping up markedly in trip, and class, from his September victory over Kempton’s Polytrack.

O’Brien fields his most accomplished challenger in Kew Gardens, star of the 2018 Grand Prix de Paris (G1) and St Leger (G1) who would have been in the Gold Cup but for a summer setback. The Galileo colt likely needed the race when runner-up in the Irish St Leger (G1), and he promises to come on for that tightener. Stablemate Capri is a pale shadow of what he used to be as the 2017 Irish Derby (G1) and St Leger hero (over Crystal Ocean and Stradivarius), while three-year-old South Pacific was only sixth in Stradivarius’ Goodwood Cup (G1) three-peat.

Withhold is intriguing as the 2017 Cesarewitch and 2018 Northumberland Plate winner, and onetime Melbourne Cup (G1) hope, who just crushed them in the Rose Bowl at Newmarket, and Stoute’s Mekong fits as the runner-up to Dee Ex Bee back in May’s Henry II (G3). Cleonte and Max Dynamite were second and third, respectively, to Stradivarius in the recent Doncaster Cup (G2), but Godolphin’s Bin Battuta comes off a Chelmsford handicap win.

See also the Queen Elizabeth II and British Champions Sprint preview…