Tuesday 26 September 2017

Head's big hope can show right 'Spirit' in Champion Stakes

Winner Thierry Jarnet riding Treve, actress Juliette Binoche, trainer Christiane Criquette Head-Maarek pose on the podium during The Qatar Prix de I'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp racecourse in Paris, France
Winner Thierry Jarnet riding Treve, actress Juliette Binoche, trainer Christiane Criquette Head-Maarek pose on the podium during The Qatar Prix de I'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp racecourse in Paris, France

Wayne Bailey

RACING journalists often refer to Christiane 'Criquette' Head as one of the best female trainers in the world but, having watched Treve win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe not once but twice, I think it's about time we drop the 'female' prefix and simply recognise Head as one of the all-time greats.

Following injury concerns and three defeats on the trot, Treve was not widely fancied for the Arc but when she powered into the lead and went clear, it became obvious that this was a very special horse handled by a very special trainer.

The fact that connections have changed their mind about Treve's retirement (with next year's Arc in mind) is a delight for racing fans everywhere, especially since we've seen numerous good ones retire lately.

Hailing from a family steeped in racing tradition, Criquette's brother Freddy is multi-talented too and Freddy became the first to win Breeders' Cup races as both a jockey and a trainer in the Mile with Miesque and Goldikova.

While both trainers rarely send horses to Britain, when they do they are worth careful consideration and at 10/3, I'm going to have a decent wedge on Freddy Head's Charm Spirit in this afternoon's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot (3.30).

With the official ratings ranging from 111 to 122, it's fair to say that this year's running is not quite as good as what we've seen in recent years although the likes of Frankel (2011) are obviously a hard act to follow and the poor weather hasn't helped attract the best of the best to the meeting as a whole.

Still, Charm Spirit possesses a serious amount of talent and I was particularly taken with his win in last month's Prix Moulin De Longchamp, in which he beat the Richard Hannon trained pair of Toronado and Night of Thunder.

It was a complete reversal of his Guineas effort (finished fifth to Night Of Thunder) and, while the margin of victory was slight, I'm convinced he had more in the tank crossing the line and he seemed firmly in control once they hit the final furlong.

Previously, he got the better of Shifting Power (fourth in the Guineas) in the Prix Jean Prat although it's fair to say that the seven-runner renewal was fairly average.

Night Of Thunder re-opposes today and the three-year-old will most likely go off as favourite (5/2) if the tussles in the early markets are anything to go by.

Certainly, he has serious claims and he's already proven himself in testing conditions - but so too has Charm Spirit, and Head has said the ground at Ascot will not bother his charge, claiming "he will go on anything".

With Night Of Thunder now three races without a win, the jolly has questions to answer and Charm Spirit is the one best poised to take advantage.

In the Champion Stakes (4.05), Cirrus Des Aigles (11/8) is a worthy favourite following a number of high profile withdrawals.

The eight-year-old has a cracking record in this race, having won it in 2011 and finishing second in 2012 and 2013. He was demoted to fourth for interference in a Group Two at Longchamp last time but was first past the post and appears to have retained his ability, despite his age.

Each Way

G Force looks the one to beat in the British Champions Sprint Stakes (2.20 Ascot) but 3/1 is a little short in a competitive 17-runner field.

Tropics makes appeal at 10/1. He shaped better than the bare result over this course and distance when fourth in a Group Three a couple of weeks ago, and I'll be fairly surprised if he doesn't go close.

Today's selections

1.45 Ascot: Leading Light

2.20 Ascot: Tropics (e/w)

2.55 Ascot: Seal Of Approval

3.30 Ascot: Charm Spirit

3.45 Chelt: Your Busy

4.05 Ascot: Cirrus Des Aigles.

4.25 Chelt: Bygones Sovereign (e/w)

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport