The Champion Stakes is the climax of the UK flat season with £1.3 million on offer. A trio of French challengers line up at 4.05pm at Ascot on Saturday with live hopes of carrying the spoils across the Channel.
Cirrus Des Aigles is the clear favourite at 11/10, bidding to regain the Champion Stakes crown that he lost to Frankel last year. But the jury is out on whether he retains the ability that enabled him to finish within two lengths of Sir Henry Cecil’s superstar.
Corine Barande-Barbe’s seven-year-old stable star has been disappointing this season. He started as the favourite in his first four runs and failed to deliver. He has appeared to improve, finally scoring at his fifth attempt in a Group 3 at Maisons-Laffitte with just five runners in September.
He also won his most recent start in the Group 2 Prix Dollar at Longchamp on October 5, beating Alain De Royer-Dupre’s Mandour by just under two lengths on his preferred soft ground. He looked impressive but the value of the form looks questionable. The potential challenges of the two other runners starting at a single figure price were diminished by going too fast early on. The first five horses home were all kept off the pace.
He will benefit from the cut in the ground and has usually put in his best efforts at the end of the season but he still seems too short-priced to appeal here.
Another French raider is Andre Fabre’s Triple Threat (16/1). Fabre has won this race twice before, with Tel Quel in 1991 and Dernier Empereur in 1994. This three-year-old son of Monsun can be forgiven for disappointing last time out. He faded in the final two furlongs over a possibly too long mile and a half in the Group 2 Prix Niel at Longchamp in September on soft ground. He finished eighth of the ten runners but was less than four lengths behind the winner, Shozo Sasaki’s thoroughly useful Kizuna.
In his previous run in July he won the Group 2 Grand Prix De Maisons-Laffitte over a mile and a quarter, beating his stablemate Pilote by two lengths. He also scored in a Group 3 over the same distance in his seasonal debut at Longchamp in April. He beat the favourite, Jean-Claude Rouget’s Sefri, comfortably by almost a length, even after losing several lengths at the start.
As a two year old Triple Threat triumphed on ground described as ‘very soft’ over a mile at Saint-Cloud, suggesting that he should cope with cut in the ground. He has to be worth considering as an each-way prospect.
Completing the Gallic contingent is Jean-Claude Rouget’s Morandi (16/1). Rouget also has form in this race, sending out Literato to win in 2007. This three-year-old son of Holy Roman Emperor is an out and out soft ground specialist. He has never been out of the first two when raced on a surface slower than good.
Most recently he came second by three quarters of a length to Andre Fabre’s Intello in the Group 3 Prix Du Prince D’Orange at Longchamp on 21 September. That was run over a mile and a quarter on soft ground. He also finished second in the French Derby in June, two lengths behind Intello on good to soft. That form looks particularly solid after Intello’s third place in the Arc.
Morandi has not posted a win this season but he is exceptionally consistent when racing on his preferred slow surface. His last victory was as a two year old when he trounced all-comers on heavy ground in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud in November. He beat Ann Duffield’s Willie The Whipper imperiously by seven lengths. He has to be one for the shortlist.
The Irish challenge is led by Aidan O’Brien’s Epsom Derby winner, Ruler Of The World (9/1). He has not won since but lost out to Kizuna by the shortest of margins in the Group 2 Prix Niel at Longchamp on 15 September, proving that he can perform on soft ground.
Most recently he finished a slightly disappointing seventh in the Arc, more than eleven lengths behind the winner, Treve. That was less than two weeks ago and it seems a bit too soon to expect this three-year-old son of Galileo to produce his best. O’Brien has never won this race and his horses cannot be relied upon at this stage of the season. On the positive side, Ryan Moore has chosen to partner him in favour of Sir Michael Stoute’s Hillstar (10/1).
Hillstar has not been seen since finishing fourth in the Juddmonte on 21 August, five lengths behind O’Brien’s winner, Declaration Of War. He previously came third in the King George and Queen Elizabeth stakes in July, nearly six lengths behind Andreas Wohler’s Novellist. His only win this season was in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. He beat O’Brien’s Battle Of Marengo who has done absolutely nothing since, by a length. All three races were on good to firm.
This three-year-old son of Danehill Dancer won his maiden on soft ground last year but has not been tried in better company with give in the ground. Sir Michael has won this race twice, most recently with Kalanisi in 2000. Hillstar is not without a chance of providing him with his third winner but, with the defection of Moore, others seem to have stronger claims.
The super-fragile Farhh (4/1) is one of them, for Godolphin. He won his only start this season, in the Lockinge at Newbury in May, beating Michael Bell’s Sovereign Debt easily by four lengths. He went lame in June and has been absent since.
This five-year-old son of Pivotal was second in three Group 1 races last year. He finished just a head behind Freddie Head’s superstar filly Moonlight Cloud in the Prix Du Moulin De Longchamp over a mile on good to soft in September. In his previous two starts he was second only to Frankel.
Farhh is rated a pound higher than the favourite and is unquestionably a class act. Trainer Saaed bin Suroor has won with him every time after he has had a break. He has to have a major chance if he handles the ground.
Farhh’s well travelled stablemate Hunter’s Light is in with more of a chance than his price of 40/1 suggests. He won a Group 1 over a mile and a quarter in Meydan in March but has been disappointing in his four runs since. Most recently he finished tenth of thirteen in the Grade 1 Arlington Million Stakes in the US in August. He will be wearing both a visor and a hood for the first time. If either helps him rekindle his best form he is not a forlorn hope.
Mukhadram (8/1) comes into the race on the back of a win in the Group 2 York Stakes over a mile and a quarter in July. He is rated just a pound lower than Farhh but trainer William Haggas believes that this four-year-old son of Shamardal is at his best on faster ground.
He has been campaigned exclusively in Group company this season and has achieved two wins and never been out of the first three. As the ground conditions are against him he is difficult to fancy here.
Champion Stakes Betting Tips Advice
There are too many question marks surrounding Cirrus Des Aigles for him to have any appeal at his current price. Farhh, 4/1 with Bet365, looks to provide much better value although this will be his first run on soft ground.
In contrast MORANDI is a proven Group performer on soft ground and has to be our pick each-way at best odds of 16/1 with Coral, William Hill, Skybet and Bet365.
LATEST UPDATE: Since we published this advice, Morandi’s odds have contracted to biggest odds of 10/1, which can be secured with: Coral, Bet365 or William Hill.