The latest additions to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, Saturday’s Champion S. (G1) and Queen Elizabeth II S. (G1) serve up terrific clashes that promise to be the highlights of British Champions Day at Ascot.
Champion S. (G1) – Race 5 (10:50 a.m. ET)
Top older horse Mishriff and three-year-old star Adayar renew rivalry in the 1 1/4-mile Champion, now a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). In their only prior meeting, Epsom Derby (G1) hero Adayar defeated Mishriff in the July 24 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) going 1 1/2 miles on this course.
But Mishriff was trying to give the younger colt 11 pounds that day. That weight concession shrinks to just four pounds on Saturday, at a distance that could favor Mishriff. Although the John and Thady Gosden trainee captured the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), his other marquee victories have come in the about 1 1/8-mile Saudi Cup and in the vicinity of the Champion trip. Mishriff was last seen conquering the about 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International (G1) by six lengths.
Adayar makes a quick return to action after his fourth in the Oct. 3 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), where he found himself in front earlier than ideal on heavy ground. Interestingly, Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby believes that the Frankel colt will find this his optimal distance.
William Haggas has three contenders. Defending champion Addeybb, who split St Mark’s Basilica and Mishriff when runner-up in the July 3 Eclipse (G1) last out, prefers the ground much softer. Sophomore stablemate Dubai Honour brings a three-race winning streak into his Group 1 debut, including a score over elders in the Prix Dollar (G2) on Arc weekend. Al Aasy has lost his luster since a pair of smashing Group 3 wins at Newbury to start the season, but Haggas thinks he has more to give.
Last year’s French champion two-year-old, Sealiway, was mentioned as a possible Breeders’ Cup Turf candidate after his encouraging fifth in the Arc. That appeared an audacious comeback from a layoff, since the Cedric Rossi pupil had not raced since his second to St Mark’s Basilica in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1).
The Aidan O’Brien-trained Bolshoi Ballet was in the Breeders’ Cup discussion following his Belmont Derby (G1) victory, but the Galileo colt has fallen off the radar since his losses in the ensuing two legs of the Turf Triple. Fourth in the Saratoga Derby (G1) and seventh in the Jockey Club Derby, Bolshoi Ballet hopes to recapture his early-season form that made him the Epsom favorite. Jim Bolger’s Mac Swiney has likewise failed to build upon his Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) success.
Fellow three-year-old Foxes Tales, a course-and-distance handicap winner at Royal Ascot, proved himself of Group caliber when beating elders in the Rose of Lancaster (G3). But the Andrew Balding trainee has also dropped a couple of close decisions, including once to Dubai Honour, and accordingly adds blinkers here. Rounding out the cast is multiple Group 3 veteran Euchen Glen.
Queen Elizabeth II (G1) – Race 4 (10:10 a.m. ET)
Mile superstar Palace Pier, who suffered his lone career loss in this race a year ago, bids to set the record straight in better conditions. But the Gosden favorite must turn back a challenge from his heir apparent in this division, unbeaten Baaeed, in what could be a changing of the guard.
Palace Pier has swept all four starts this term, most notably the June 15 Queen Anne (G1) at this track and trip as well as the Aug. 15 Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) as the defending champion. Both were “Win and You’re In” events for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, like the QEII, but Del Mar isn’t expected to be on the cards. Indeed, the QEII looms as a likely swan song.
In contrast, Baaeed is just at the beginning of his career. Rapidly ascending since his June debut, the Haggas sophomore dominated the Thoroughbred (G3) at Glorious Goodwood before handling the top level in the Prix du Moulin (G1). The Shadwell homebred reportedly had an interrupted preparation for that French raid, so Baaeed is eligible to improve again here.
The all-star cast also features defending champion The Revenant; Godolphin’s globetrotter Benbatl and 2000 Guineas (G1) near-misser Master of the Seas, the respective first and third in the Joel (G2); Coronation (G1) heroine Alcohol Free, who beat males in the Sussex (G1); Mother Earth, the 1000 Guineas (G1) and Prix Rothschild (G1) winner who’s maintaining her Group 1 consistency all season for O’Brien; Nassau (G1) scorer Lady Bowthorpe, runner-up to Palace Pier earlier in the Lockinge (G1); the venerable Lord Glitters, the 2019 Queen Anne hero and fourth-placer in this summer’s renewal; and multiple Group 2-placed Njord, winner of the course-and-distance Balmoral H. on 2020 Champions Day.
British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) – Race 3 (9:35 a.m. ET)
Arc sixth Snowfall hopes to regain the winning thread in the 1 1/2-mile British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1). Initially set for the Champion, the O’Brien filly was confirmed in this spot once stablemate Love was ruled out. Snowfall had won four straight, including a record-setting 16-length romp in the Epsom Oaks (G1) followed by the Irish and Yorkshire versions. But her skein ended in her Arc prep, the Prix Vermeille (G1), where she was a belated second, and she was unable to move forward enough in the main event. Snowfall could join the Ballydoyle Breeders’ Cup squad with a strong performance here.
With the defections of leading rivals Free Wind (who is under Breeders’ Cup consideration) and La Petite Coco, Snowfall is finding herself in mostly familiar company. Albaflora was runner-up to her in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), but a venue change could help since she crushed the Buckhounds S. here in May. Eshaada, a too-bad-to-be-true last at York, is worth another chance as the fine second in the Ribblesdale (G2). Mystery Angel was best of the rest at Epsom, and stablemate La Joconde was third in the Irish Oaks (G1) and Vermeille.
The fresh opponents are Invite, coming off a new career high over older males in the Stand Cup at Chester; Group 3-winning stayer Tribal Craft, who was second to Wonderful Tonight in the Lillie Langtry (G3) at Glorious Goodwood; and Lady Hayes, notably runner-up to Alpinista in the Lancashire Oaks (G2).
British Champions Sprint (G1) – Race 2 (9 a.m. ET)
Three-year-olds loom large in the six-furlong dash, especially those who rose to the occasion at Royal Ascot. Dragon Symbol was first past the post in the Commonwealth Cup (G1), only to be demoted for hampering Campanelle. Although winless since, the Archie Watson runner has consistently gone close in a series of majors, and the step back up to six should suit. Rohaan, excluded from the Commonwealth Cup as a gelding, instead posted a brilliant win over elders in Royal Ascot’s Wokingham, and his recent rally for fifth in the Flying Five (G1), after a hopeless start, suggests he’s back on song.
Jersey (G3) hero Creative Force is still finding his way in this division, while Vadream exits a course-and-distance tally in the Bengough (G3), and Minzaal made a pleasing comeback from a year-long absence when second in the Rous. Hackwood (G3) scorer Happy Romance was most recently fourth in the Haydock Sprint Cup (G1), while Prix Jean Prat (G1) near-misser Thunder Moon could use this as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Leading the older brigade is Art Power. Third in the Diamond Jubilee (G1) during the Royal meeting, the front runner carried his speed to devastating effect in the Renaissance (G3) at the Curragh in his latest. Defending champion Glen Shiel, second in the Diamond Jubilee, adds blinkers, and nine-year-old veteran Brando makes his sixth straight appearance in this race. Closest when denied by a nose last October, Brando was also third in 2016 and fourth twice (2018-19).
Gustavus Weston, fifth in the Flying Five, should enjoy the extra furlong as the winner of the Curragh’s Greenlands (G2) and Phoenix Sprint (G3). Lennox (G2) victor Kinross shortens up after a fourth in the Prix de la Foret (G1), and Happy Power reverts to six for the first time since his fourth in the Diamond Jubilee.
British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) – Race 1 (8:25 a.m. ET)
Defending champion Trueshan and the great Stradivarius meet again in this two-mile test. Soft ground played to the strengths of Trueshan when he left Stradivarius far behind a year ago, and in their long-awaited rematch in the Prix du Cadran (G1) on Arc weekend.
Conditions finally could be that happy medium that suits them both on Saturday, giving the three-time Gold Cup legend Stradivarius a chance at revenge. On the other hand, even in his prime, Stradivarius twice settled for minor awards in this race, and had a few anxious moments to avert an upset in 2018. The seven-year-old is nearing the end of his historic career, but the five-year-old Trueshan is at his peak now, with a convincing Goodwood Cup (G1) victory preceding the Cadran.
Several will try to upend the narrative. Last year’s St. Leger (G1) near-misser, Berkshire Rocco, could be poised for a big effort second off the layoff, especially with first-time cheekpieces. Gold Cup runner-up Princess Zoe is eligible to do better than her fifth in the Cadran. The lightly-raced Hamish resurfaced from a 14-month layoff to take the September (G3). Belmont Gold Cup (G2) star Baron Samedi adds cheekpieces after his third in the Irish St. Leger (G1). Ballydoyle sophomore The Mediterranean has been thereabouts all campaign, including placing to Yibir in the Great Voltigeur (G2) and Hurricane Lane in the St. Leger.