Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Almanzor set to be crowned Champion

Jean-Claude Rouget’s Almanzor looks a couple of ticks overpriced around 6/4 under Christophe Soumillon. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Jean-Claude Rouget’s Almanzor looks a couple of ticks overpriced around 6/4 under Christophe Soumillon. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Wayne Bailey

This year has been a good year for formbook followers in Britain, particularly in the Group One races. As readers will know, one of the most basic measurements of a horse's ability is the official rating which is simply a numerical value given by the assessor as to how good or bad the horse is.

It's a crude measurement and lots of other variables come into play but as a basic guide, it's a good start. Of course, animals will always be unpredictable and that was proven once again in late August when Karl Burke's Thankyou Stars was beaten in a maiden at 1/16 at Hamilton - but in the top races, horses generally run as expected and the official rating is a remarkably good guide as to how well or otherwise the horse will perform. Take the clear top-rated horse in UK Group Ones as an example: had you backed each of those in 2016, you'd have had ten winners from 25 bets (40pc) and earned over €40 to a €10 stake.


It's certainly not a fortune but if you went down to your local bank looking for a return on investment of 16pc on your money over the summer, they would call the men in white coats to take you away.

Now in its sixth year, British Champions Day at Ascot has a cracking line-up which includes four Group Ones and I'm hoping the cream rises to the top in the Qipco Champion Stakes for which Jean-Claude Rouget's Almanzor looks a bit overpriced around 6/4 under Christophe Soumillon.

The winner of this race will take a colossal £737,230 out of the total prize fund of £1,300,000 so it makes a lot of sense for the French Derby winner to take a chance at Ascot, having beat Found and Minding to win the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September.

That was a stunning performance in one of the strongest fields we've seen in years and with Found since going on to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the form has been well and truly franked. Found re-opposes and although beaten by a number of these before including Fascinating Rock, her success at Chantilly has made us all reassess the filly which seemed destined to become the forever bridesmaid, having finished second five times before the Arc.

It's sure to be a great contest but Almanzor is the best of a great bunch of horses and should have enough to see this through.

For something at a better price, a chance is taken on Michael Dods' Mecca's Angel in the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes (2.0), available at 8/1 yesterday evening.

Quiet Reflection is expected to go off as favourite and certainly has strong claims having won a number of Group Ones but with Shalaa, The Tin Man and Twilight Son all coming here with some very good performances under the belt, the 11/4 about the filly in the early markets looks a little skinny.

The 6f trip might not be ideal for Mecca's Angel which prefers the minimum distance but if Paul Mulrennan can get her out early into her preferred prominent position, she may be able to dictate the pace and hopefully won't end up chasing the pack in the final furlong.

The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (3.10) is an intriguing renewal with the aforementioned 1,000 Guineas and Oaks winner Minding dropping back to a mile. Although she'd prefer further, she's quite versatile and has won some top races over various distances. She produced a career best when taking on male horses for the first time when third in the Irish Champion Stakes, and her six Group One victories puts her right up there as one of the best in the field.

Ribchester and Galileo Gold are the obvious dangers. The former comes here on the back of a well deserved Group One win at Deauville although the latter was disappointing in that contest and raced a little freely. Still, his 2,000 Guineas and St James's Palace Stakes wins are respected and it would be no surprise to see Hugo Palmer's colt bounce back to form back on home turf.

A price of 2/1 about Seventh Heaven seems fair in the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (2.35). One of the top-rated three-year-old fillies in the world, she's beaten a number of these already and similar to Almanzor, her victory over Found in the Yorkshire Oaks has been given a huge boost since the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Dermot Weld's Zhukova is the one most likely to follow her home.


Odds of 14/1 suggest that chances of Donncha winning the Balmoral Handicap (4.25) are 6.6pc but I reckon the five-year-old's prospects are more in the region of 10pc so as such, it's a value bet for me.

Robert Eddery's charge remains on a rating of 100 having finished mid-division in a handicap at Ascot a couple of weeks ago but it was his first race in over two months and he appeared in need of the run.

Fourth in this race last year off 97, he's a consistent sort which has won or placed in 11 of his 21 starts and this looks wide open with Morando, Yuften, Afjaan and Firmament all vying for early favouritism.

Today's Selections

1.25 Ascot: Order Of St George

2.0 Ascot: Mecca's Angel

2.35 Ascot: Seventh Heaven

3.10 Ascot: Minding

3.45 Ascot: Almanzor

4.25 Ascot: Donncha (e/w)

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