Canford Cliffs out of Ascot showpiece
CANFORD CLIFFS will miss his eagerly awaited showdown with old rival Makfi in tomorrow's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.
On Wednesday morning, the Richard Hannon-trained three-year-old had apparently left scorchmarks on the East Eversleigh gallops during his final warm-up for the Group One finale to the European mile programme, but just 24 hours later a routine veterinary examination produced a slightly abnormal result, and consequently his name was not among the eight confirmed yesterday the £250,000 contest.
Apart from the thrill of the competition and the kudos of a possible fourth top-level victory on the CV of a potential stallion, the first prize could have sealed a second trainers' championship (the first came in 1992) for Hannon.
"Everyone here is absolutely gutted," he said. "We realise that it could cost us the title, but the welfare of the horse comes first and you need to be 100pc to go into battle for a Group One.
"The result of the scope he had was marginal but he is now such a valuable commodity that you can't take any chances and, having listened to veterinary advice, we had no choice but to pull out."
The intention is that the son of Tagula, third in the 2,000 Guineas and winner of the Irish 2,000 Guineas, St James's Palace Stakes and Sussex Stakes, will remain in training next year; his only possible engagement left this term is the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs in November.
"Kentucky has not been ruled out," added Hannon Jnr. "But at this stage I'd say it was a long shot."
Makfi, which won the 2,000 Guineas, flopped behind Canford Cliffs at Royal Ascot and then bounced back to beat the reigning divisional queen Goldikova at Deauville in August, is now odds-on for tomorrow's contest, and will be perfectly at home on easy ground should the forecast rain materialise.
Rip Van Winkle, the Sussex Stakes runner-up, is now second favourite. He will be accompanied from Ballydoyle by Beethoven and their pacemaker, Air Chief Marshall.
Godolphin representative Poet's Voice is third best in the lists, with the field completed by Bushman, Hearts Of Fire and Red Jazz.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes has, since its instigation in 1955, regularly proved the decider in establishing the season's champion over a mile.
But in future it will no longer be the centrepiece of the three-day meeting that starts this afternoon -- it will be part of a new £3m extravaganza at Ascot in mid-October, the most valuable day's racing ever held in the UK.
Styled British Champions' Day, the occasion has been created and supported by various stakeholders within the sport to rival the two other high-profile end-of-season fixtures, Arc weekend at Longchamp and the Breeders' Cup meeting in North America.
The plans include the controversial and unpopular one of moving the 10-furlong Champion Stakes from Newmarket to Ascot. It and the QEII will be worth £1m each and will be backed up by the six-furlong Diadem Stakes, the Pride Stakes for females and the Jockey Club Cup for stayers; the last two named are also currently held at Newmarket.
In a wholesale rejigging of the programme, in the face of disquiet from foreign racing authorities, Newmarket will next year host a two-year-olds card a week before the Ascot fixture, tagged Future Champions' Day. It will include the Dewhurst Stakes and Middle Park Stakes.
The Ascot finale is planned as the climax to a season-long series of races in five different categories -- sprinters, milers, middle-distance performers, stayers and females. The trouble is, where horses are concerned championships cannot be contrived or planned in advance. Just ask BHA chairman Paul Roy, one of the part-owners of Canford Cliffs.
Meanwhile, Irish St Leger winner Sans Frontieres has been confirmed as an intended runner in the Melbourne Cup. (© Independent News Service)