This year’s renewal of the £1.3million Group 1 Champions Stakes, run over 1m2f at Ascot has attracted a typically high-class field of nine runners (4.05pm, Saturday).
This includes a previous Champion Stakes winner in the prolific French-trained gelding Cirrus Des Aigles (11/8). He has finished second in the race for the last two years, following his win in 2011.
Trainer Corine Barande-Barbe’s (pictured) eight-year-old was disqualified after beating Fractional by a head in the Prix Dollar over 1m2f at Longchamp two weeks ago on his first run since June, but that race should have put him spot on for this. The going at Ascot is currently heavy, soft in places, so confirmed mudlark Cirrus Des Aigles will be suited by underfoot conditions and looks a worthy favourite to win his second Champion Stakes.
Free Eagle (4/1) was trounced by subsequent dual Derby winner Australia on his second start as a two-year-old, over a mile, at Leopardstown last September, but was always likely to come into his own over middle distances as a three-year-old. The son of High Chaparral suffered a training setback in April, which ruled him out of the Derby, but he looked better than ever when hacking up by seven lengths in the Enterprise Stakes over 1m2f on his belated reappearance at Leopardstown five weeks ago.
Free Eagle is officially rated just 3lb inferior to Cirrus Des Aigles but, while he probably has significant improvement left in him after only three career starts, he has yet to race on ground slower than good.
Trainer Dermot Weld has said that he won’t make a final decision about his participation until he has walked the course on Saturday morning, so Free Eagle can’t be recommended with any confidence at this stage.
Frankel’s half-brother Noble Mission (9/2) has proved popular in the ante-post betting market but, given that seven of his eight career wins have come with ‘soft’ in the going description, that shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.
Trainer Lady Cecil’s four-year-old became a Group 1 winner at the first time of asking when beating Magician by 1¼ lengths in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh in May, but has been narrowly beaten on both subsequent starts. Noble Mission is officially rated 6lb inferior to Cirrus Des Aigles, so he will require a significant career-best performance to win this after an absence of 83 days.
Last year’s Derby winner Ruler Of The World (8/1) was only beaten three-quarters of a length in this race on soft ground last year, despite being trapped on the wide outside throughout, so clearly merits respect. However, the son of Galileo is 5lb worse off for the neck he finished behind Cirrus Des Aigles on that occasion and may struggle to reverse the form. He was enterprisingly ridden when beating Flintshire by 1½ lengths in the Prix Foy at Longchamp in December, but finished 3¾ lengths behind the same rival when ninth of 20 behind Treve in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe earlier this month.
Western Hymn (14/1) acts on the ground but does not have the level of form to match the main protagonists.
Al Kazeem (28/1) was just a nose behind Ruler Of The World, when 10th beaten less than six lengths in the Arc last time. This two furlong shorter trip suits him far better. The question mark is the going. Surprisingly for a horse with a long and illustrious career, he has never run on ground this deep and that suggests his trainer Roger Charlton has been avoiding it. Yet he has run acceptably on the one occasion he encountered soft going. If you want an each-way bet on a live outsider then Al Kazeem could be overpriced.
- However we won’t win any prizes for originality, but our Champion Stakes betting tips advice is to back the class horse in the race on ground he loves. Take CIRRUS DES AIGLES to win at best currently available betting odds of 11/8 with Bet365, Betfred or Coral. His record in this race alone speaks for itself and potential dangers appear few and far between.