Champions Day

Champions Day

Monday, October 23, 2017

Qipco British Champions Day is serving up a real treat once again. Here's my take on the six races.

1.25 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup

With rain having come this week, the ground will have gone against Big Orange.

That would not be true of Order Of St George, not least because he is trained by Aidan O'Brien, whose horses seem to be effective on any ground through spring, summer and autumn.

That said, we have seen plenty of times in the past - including in this race 12 months ago - that Order Of St George is far from unbeatable. He can definitely be an in and out performer. For a horse who sometimes fails to put two similar runs back to back, his price looks short enough to me.

Stradivarius ran a cracking race in what looked to be in a vintage St Leger and before that had taken the scalp of Big Orange at Goodwood. He gets weight from his older opponents and, for me, he represents the value option.

2.00 Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes

Just watch Harry Angel and enjoy him.

This is one of the very best sprinters we've seen in recent years and, crucially, he now seems to have learned how to race.

For sprinters that's not always a straightforward thing. When he was beaten in the Commonwealth Cup he was clearly a little immature. In some ways this is why sprinters often struggle at three. They are still on a learning curve. On top of that, athletes get faster as they get older. For Harry Angel's future opponents that's a frightening thought.

2.40 Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes

Between them, Ralph Beckett and Kirsten Rausing have won two of the last three runnings. I think they could combine to win it again and spring a shock with Alyssa.

She is going to be a fresh filly having had only three runs this season, in the most recent of which she ran a personal best to win the Park Hill.

In what is much the weakest Group 1 on the card, she represents good value.

3.15 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by Qipco)

Ribchester is my nap of the day.

He has been a serious force now for some time and has already won three Group 1 races this season.

There are some who call him quirky. I don't agree with that view. Those who question his resolution point to his defeat in the Sussex Stakes, but that was an odd race and I don't think what happened there was the horse's fault.

Beat The Bank looks very smart and he keeps improving. However, I do think Andrew Balding has placed him cleverly.

He has kept stepping him up, from Listed company to Group 3 and Group 2. In those lower grades the horse has been impressive but that can be deceptive.

I rode animals who were dominant at Group 2 and 3 level but when you put them into a Group 1 you were left making excuses and trying to find things that had gone wrong. The reality is they were not good enough.

Churchill has been pulled out of a race once before due to soft ground. In what are sure to be testing conditions I don't fancy him.

3.50 Qipco Champion Stakes

Why is Cracksman favourite?

He certainly should not have been when Ulysses was in the race and he probably still doesn't deserve to head the market.

That's not meant to knock him. However, the 1m2f trip has to be a concern. He isn't the quickest horse in the race and is unlikely to win with a turn of foot. Frankie kicked on early in the Prix Niel and you would imagine he will have to be ridden in a similar way. That will be the dream scenario for those jockeys such as James Doyle who are riding hold-up performers.

James's mount, Barney Roy, already has one massive Ascot win to his name having landed the St James's Palace Stakes, after which he was touched off in the Eclipse by Ulysses, who would have been my selection here had he run.

I believe Barney Roy's more comprehensive Juddmonte International defeat is easily forgiven.

The Hannon horses are always fresh. He doesn't overdo them, so they're never stale. They always have zip and they quicken.

That's why I rode Richard's horses in the way I did. I would sit, wait and then have one go at winning the race. For that reason, York never really suited us. It's a track that encourages you to kick on at the three-pole and make a long run for home. That's also how Barney Roy was ridden at York. I don't think he'll be ridden like that on this occasion.

With both Frankie and Ryan on Highland Reel likely to be up there, forcing the pace, Barney Roy could find the race developing exactly as he would want.

4.30 Balmoral Handicap

The Grape Escape won very easily at Pontefract last time. He has been relatively lightly-raced this year, which means the handicapper may not yet have seen enough to get hold of him. He is well in with a penalty and I think he'll improve again.

When a gust almost blew me off my horse

If what the weather forecasters are saying is right about Storm Brian, it could well be very windy at Ascot for Qipco British Champions Day. This will be bad news for people wearing hats but it could also make the afternoon interesting for jockeys.

Wind can be a very important factor in races.

I remember once being nearly blown off the horse I was riding. A gust came across me, hit me side on and almost caused me to be unseated.

I can't now remember where that was but I do have memories of an afternoon at Redcar when we were racing with a tailwind coming straight down the track behind us that was stronger than any I have ever known. We were flying! I have never gone so quickly in my life, yet we were all riding bad horses.

Tailwinds make horses go faster. Headwinds quite obviously do not but they also aren't too bad. As a jockey you basically just try to make sure you're not exposed to the elements out in front and instead have the protection of some cover.

The truth is that every day you ride you're travelling into wind, against wind or with wind behind you. People may not realise it, but that's why so many races pan out with the runners in a diamond formation. Everyone is trying to get cover.

It's the same principle as the one that explains why cyclists go through a road race in a peloton. A further advantage of that is psychologically you can almost fall asleep and just follow the wheel - or horse - in front of you, while you yourself go through the motions.

Strong winds shouldn't stop the best horses winning at Ascot, but it might make life very difficult for those horses making the running - and if the wind is really bad the jockeys will certainly be sitting tight!

The loss of Ken Dooley hit us all hard

What happened to Ken Dooley was so very unfair.

I did not know Ken but I know countless people like him. The stable staff who ensure yards can operate and racing can take place do an incredibly hard job incredibly well.

They also do a job that brings with it significant dangers. The death of Ken, a man who boasted a wealth of experience working with horses, has been a horrible reminder of that.

When we work with horses we take so much granted. We really should not.

We do not yet know what happened to Ken. However, when you are in close proximity to a horse there is always a risk of being hurt.

You often hear people ask: 'Does that horse kick?' The answer is that every horse kicks. There is no such thing as a horse who does not kick.

That said, I genuinely do not believe there is ever real intent on the horse's part.

Normally when kicking out they are simply startled. You could be grooming a perfectly placid horse who gets surprised when someone suddenly walks by. A filly might turn her backside towards you as a warning, while a big colt might start bucking when you're about to feed him, but only because he is full of beans and cannot wait for his grub.

My daughter Phoebe was recently kicked by her pony. She was in the stable, stood on a plastic box she uses to mount when the box fell over and landed underneath the pony's feet. The pony became frightened and tried to lash out at the box but missed it and ended up kicking Phoebe.

This sounds a strange thing to say but I was actually delighted it happened. Phoebe suffered no broken bones, just bruises to an arm and leg, but was sufficiently hurt and upset to have learned a lesson. Horses can be dangerous animals.

Since news of Ken's death emerged all my staff members at Wearthercock House have been left very upset. I can't imagine how badly they feel at Amanda Perrett's Coombelands Stables.

Whenever I rode for Amanda I always noticed she had familiar faces on duty. That is a great indication it must be a lovely environment in which to work.

Amanda and her team members have suffered a terrible loss. Those of us who work with horses have received a valuable warning.

Hughesie's Hottie

I believe Ribchester is still somewhat underrated and, for that reason, he could be overpriced for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.