The 2018 racing season in Great Britain will reach its climax this Saturday with the eighth-annual British Champions Day at Ascot, a top-class afternoon of racing featuring five prestigious stakes races across a variety of distances and divisions.
The day could be especially memorable for trainer John Gosden, who conditions the favorite in four of the five races. Here’s a quick rundown of what to watch for on Saturday….
Race 1: QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup (Eng-II)
John Gosden’s Stradivarius has been nothing short of sensational this season, compiling a perfect 4-for-4 record while winning such prestigious prizes as the Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-I) and Goodwood Cup Stakes (Eng-I). If he can maintain that level of form, he shouldn’t have any trouble winning this two-mile race, though Aidan O’Brien’s up-and-coming three-year-old Flag of Honour was a decisive winner of the Irish St. Leger (Ire-I) last month and is clearly on the rise, while Thomas Hobson handled 2 ¼ miles without issue in the Doncaster Cup Stakes (Eng-II), so it won’t be a walkover for Stradivarius.
Race 2: QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes (Eng-I)
The best British sprinters have pretty much taken turns beating each other this season, and seemingly anything could happen on Saturday. The Tin Man won the Haydock Sprint Cup (Eng-I) last month and boasts the best recent form, while Harry Angel won that same race last year and Librisa Breeze was victorious in the 2017 British Champions Sprint Stakes. Brando and Limato have likewise prevailed at the Group 1 level in the past and have the class to be competitive here; the question is, who will bring their best when it counts?
Race 3: QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (Eng-I)
Aidan O’Brien trains six of the eleven entrants in this 1 ½-mile event—Magical, Hydrangea, Bye Bye Baby, Broadway, Sizzling, and Flattering—but while five of them are group stakes winners (and Hydrangea won this race last year), the status of favorite goes to John Gosden’s Lah Ti Dar, a rapidly-improving three-year-old who finished second behind the talented colt Kew Gardens in the St. Leger Stakes (Eng-I) last time out. The daughter of Dubawi should be tough to beat if she brings her A-game, though Kitesurf (winner of the Group 1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp) and Coronet (who placed in a couple of Group 1 events against males this summer) could provide challenges.
Race 4: Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) Sponsored by QIPCO
The rising star Roaring Lion figures to start as a clear favorite in the Queen Elizabeth based off his wins in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I), Juddmonte International (Eng-I), and Irish Champion Stakes (Eng-I) this summer, though this one-mile distance could be a little short of his best and the condition of the straight course—labeled “soft” following heavy rains—is a question mark for a colt who’s been exceptional on good-to-firm going this year.
If the ground does trip him up, then Recoletos (a two-time Group 1 winner at Longchamp this year) or Laurens (a three-year-old filly with five Group 1 wins under her belt) could be poised to take advantage. Throw in the 2,000 Guineas (Eng-I) winner Romanised, the Sussex Stakes (Eng-I) winner Lightning Spear, and the capable Group 1 competitors Lord Glitters, Stormy Antarctic, and Happily, and you have a race that could well be the highlight of the day.
Race 5: QIPCO Champion Stakes (Eng-I)
With the condition of the round course at Ascot currently listed as “heavy,” we should finally get to see Cracksman in action. Trained by John Gosden, the brilliant son of Frankel has not run since finishing second in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-I) over good-to-firm going at Royal Ascot in June, but his form on softer courses is terrific, including a seven-length romp in last year’s Champion Stakes. Cracksman wear blinkers for the first time on Saturday in an effort to keep him focused as he takes on a classy field that includes Crystal Ocean (narrow runner-up in the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes), Capri (winner of the 2017 Group 1 St. Leger Stakes), and the filly Rhododendron (victorious in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes in May, but off the board in five starts since then).
Post time for the first race of the day at Ascot is 8:25 a.m. ET, with the Champion Stakes scheduled for 10:50 a.m. ET.