Friday 20 October 2017

Opportunity knocks for Excelebration

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Qipco Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday will inevitably and rightly be all about one horse, but Ballydoyle's Excelebration heads a potentially robust Irish challenge on the support card.

Frankel, whose conspicuously named half-brother Morpheus makes its first appearance in public for the same Henry Cecil / Khalid Abdullah / Tom Queally formation at Nottingham this afternoon, will endeavour to bring the curtain down on his blockbuster career in the Berkshire venue's Champion Stakes.

The climax of a fledgling programme that has specific ambitions of one day hosting a Breeders' Cup-style grand finale, the 10-furlong showpiece, in which Frankel will clash with the 2011 French-trained winner Cirrus Des Aigles, currently comprises 50pc of the afternoon's Group One fare.

While Morpheus -- Greek mythology's god of dreams who also inspired Laurence Fishburne's iconic 'Matrix' character of the same name -- is likely to trade at less prohibitive odds at the head of the market for today's juvenile opener at Nottingham, his elder sibling is a best-priced 1/6 to complete the symmetry by signing off with a stunning 10th triumph at the highest level on Saturday.

At odds of up to 8/11 for the QE II, then, Excelebration seems positively overpriced to confirm his reputation as an exceptional colt that had the misfortune to be born in the same year as Cecil's unbeaten superstar.

Since making his debut at Nottingham in May 2010, the son of Exceed And Excel has run a dozen times, winning seven, finishing second to Frankel on four occasions and third to him on the other.

On Excelebration's most recent start in the Jacques le Marois at Deauville, he flourished in the absence of his nemesis, readily dispensing with Cityscape -- next best in the betting to exact revenge on Saturday -- to justify Coolmore's purchase of him prior to his second to Frankel in last year's QE II.

Saturday, then, represents a golden opportunity for some deserved Ascot glory. In the Champion, Excelebration's progressive Aidan O'Brien-trained stablemate Declaration Of War is a 50/1 shot to cause a monumental upset, but there are other more realistic contenders elsewhere on the card.

O'Brien's Oaks heroine Was, disappointing in three defeats since Epsom, could line up alongside Dermot Weld's classy Sapphire, successful in three of her last four starts, in the fillies' and mares' Group Two. Weld and O'Brien might also be to the fore in the Long Distance Cup.

The out-of-form Fame And Glory could bid for back-to-back wins in the two-mile Group Two, while Rite Of Passage, Weld's brilliant 2010 Gold Cup victor, is a potential starter for the first time since falling to Fame And Glory on his only subsequent outing at Leopardstown in May 2011. Saddler's Rock, Simenon and I Have A Dream are also in the marathon heat, with Maarek, Starspangledbanner and Slade Power contenders at the other end of the distance spectrum in the sprint.

Meanwhile, Robbie Hennessy has reported that stable star Rubi Light could make his seasonal bow in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on December 9. A decent winner of the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One last year, the Lexis Chase second will be tried over a variety of distances this term.

"We'll certainly not be afraid to try him over three miles again," Hennessy said, "but we're also going to drop him back in trip at some stage. If you take Sizing Europe out of the two-mile division, and Henry (de Bromhead) is talking about running him over further, there's nothing else to be afraid of."

Irish Independent

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