Horse Racing
Slow ground at Ascot should help Cracksman's attempt at Champion Stakes repeat

18/10/2018 17:29

Saturday’s (20 October) British Champions Day at Ascot will be the richest race meeting ever held in the UK and, though very late in the European season, it is likely to again deliver the mesmerising moments for which it has become renowned.

One of those moments came last year when Cracksman and Frankie Dettori accelerated further and further clear to gain a seven-length victory in the day’s feature, the G1 Champion Stakes (1993m). And the four-year-old colt and his famous 47-year-old rider will attempt to repeat that achievement in the fourth and final G1 on Saturday’s stellar six-race simulcast programme.

Cracksman has competed just three times in 2018 as this son of Frankel – who relishes slow ground – has been continually thwarted by what became the hottest and driest summer for over 40 years.

Trainer John Gosden said: “Because of the ground he just hasn’t been able to shine this year. We prepared him for races like the Arc that we then couldn’t run in because of the surface but his attributes are all still there.”

Predicted slow ground – after Ascot was hit with a deluge last weekend – will certainly play to his strengths. But not everyone is convinced that Cracksman is quite the same colt as last year, some critics pointing to his narrow and laborious victory over outsider Salouen in the G1 Coronation Cup (2405m) – on suitably soft ground – at Epsom in June.

And the trainer – whose fantastic season was enhanced by Enable’s Arc victory at ParisLongchamp earlier this month – said: “No decision right now but I’m certainly not opposed to running him in headgear. Maybe it will add just a touch of focus to what will be his final race.”

Although Cracksman was free from headgear in a gallop under Dettori at Newmarket on Wednesday (17 October) Gosden’s comment suggests that all angles need covering. Especially true as Cracksman will this time be giving weight to three-year-olds including – quite possibly – his brilliant stablemate Roaring Lion.

The American-bred grey took time to get into the zone earlier in the year but consecutive G1 victories in the Eclipse Stakes (1990m) at Sandown, the Juddmonte  International Stakes (2051m) at York and the Irish Champion Stakes (2000m) at Leopardstown have elevated Roaring Lion to middle distance champion three-year-old status.

Despite a contrastingly demanding season compared to Cracksman, Gosden said: “Roaring Lion has a fantastic constitution and doesn’t strike me as a horse who has had enough and gone over the top. I hope those aren’t famously silly words!”

Roaring Lion could be switched from the turning 1993m of the Champion Stakes to the straight 1600m of the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, with his hugely accomplished trainer explaining the rationale.

“The thing about this horse is his lightening turn of foot and that could be blunted in soft ground on parts of the round track at Ascot so the QEII must be an option.”

Either way, Roaring Lion will be ridden as usual by Oisin Murphy, a jockey whose big and small race triumphs have really caught the UK racing public’s imagination throughout 2018.

If Roaring Lion does take the shorter option his opponents will include the remarkable Laurens, a five-time G1-winning three-year-old filly and such a fighter that six of her seven career wins have been gained in photo finishes. She will be ridden by Patrick McDonald, who has spoken at length of his determination to recover speedily from an injury incurred last month so that he could be re-united with this super filly. 

Other likely Gosden-trained, Dettori-ridden favourites on Saturday are the small but formidable Stradivarius – unbeaten in four starts this season including Europe’s top stayers’ race – the G1 Gold Cup (3991m) at Ascot – and the hugely progressive filly Lah Ti Dar. They are competing respectively in the opening British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2 – 3190m) – and the British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes, a G1 over 2392m.