British Champions Series
Royal Ascot gets under way a week today, when there will be eight races that fall under the Champions Series umbrella over the five days. We look ahead to some of the great clashes in store.
RHODODENDRON v LIGHTNING SPEAR
This pair have already illuminated the Champions Series this year with their fabulous clash in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month.
Rhododendron, trained by Aidan O’Brien, prevailed by a short head under Ryan Moore – consigning the luckless Lightning Spear to another Group 1 near-miss in the process.
The rematch should be a belter, with Rhododendron the general 3-1 favourite to win again.
However, nobody will begrudge Lightning Spear, quoted at 8-1, turning the tables and winning at the highest level for the first time. David Simcock’s seven-year-old, owned by Qatar Racing Limited, has been placed in four races at the highest level – all Champions Series contests – without winning one.
LADY AURELIA v BATTAASH
Something is going to have to give when these two rockets, who dominate the ante-post betting, clash on the opening day of the meeting.
Lady Aurelia, available at 7-2, has been a star at the Royal Meeting for the past two years – breezing home in the King’s Stand last year, almost in a course record time, having been a runaway winner of the Queen Mary Stakes 12 months earlier.
Meanwhile, Battaash, 5-2 favourite with most bookmakers, looked electric when thrashing Marsha four lengths in the Prix de l’Abbaye on his final start last season and he will be spot on after kicking off this campaign with victory in the Temple Stakes at Haydock.
If the ground is good or faster it will be over in less than a minute. Make sure you spare the time.
ORDER OF ST GEORGE v STRADIVARIUS
When: Gold Cup on Thursday
Few would dispute that last year’s Gold Cup, in which Big Orange denied Order Of St George back-to-back wins by a short head, was one of the races of the season.
Big Orange is unable to defend his crown because of injury but we could be in for another epic with Order Of St George, the 2-1 favourite, clashing with Stradivarius, who is chalked up at half a point bigger.
Stradivarius beat Big Orange in the Qatar Goodwood Cup last summer and easily won the Yorkshire Cup on his return. But in between he found Order Of St George and Torcedor, who also in line to run, a bit too strong in the QIPCO-sponsored Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Champions Day. Roll on round two.
BILLESDON BROOK v ALPHA CENTAURI
Billesdon Brook caused the biggest shock in QIPCO 1000 Guineas history when winning the fillies’ Classic at 66-1 last month.
It was no fluke, though, with Richard Hannon’s filly having Group 1 winners behind her in second, third and fourth. The form has been franked, too, with Laurens, the runner-up, going one better at the highest level, while Wild Illusion, who was fourth, has subsequently finished runner-up in the Investec Oaks.
Alpha Centauri caused a surprise of her own when landing the Tattersalls Irish 1000 Guineas three weeks later.
Collateral form suggests there is little between them, although the bookmakers marginally prefer Alpha Centauri (5-1) to Billesdon Brook (7-1).
HARRY ANGEL v MERCHANT NAVY
Harry Angel established himself as one of the best sprinters in the world – if not the best – with his triumphs in the Darley July Cup and 32Red Sprint Cup last year.
And he showed he had lost none of his spark when giving weight and a decisive beating to his rivals in the Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes on his return at York.
He sets the bar high for his rivals and is the general 5-2 favourite but four previous visits to Ascot have yielded four narrow defeats – including behind the Aidan O’Brien-trained Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal Meeting last year.
Caravaggio has been retired to stud but O’Brien has since taken charge of Merchant Navy, established as one of the best sprinters in Australia before making a successful start for the champion trainer in Group 2 company at the Curragh last month.
He is no bigger than 4-1 and with Redkirk Warrior, another ace from Australia in the field, the showpiece on the final day promises to be a cracker.