QIPCO British Champions Day 2023

Hollie Doyle excited about another strong book of rides on QIPCO British Champions Day

Most of the talk around QIPCO British Champions Day has inevitably revolved around Frankie Dettori’s last day riding in Europe, but one weighing room colleague who will not mind spoiling his send-off is Hollie Doyle, who also has a great book of rides.

QIPCO British Champions Day holds a very special place among Doyle’s racing memories, and her record here could be about to get even better, with plum rides on her great favourites Trueshan (QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup) and Nashwa (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes – sponsored by QIPCO) backed up by live outside chances on Saint Lawrence (QIPCO British Champions Sprint) and Sweet Memories (QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares).

She said: “It was a crazy day three years ago when I won the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup on Trueshan and then had my first Group 1 win straight afterwards on Glen Shiel. It was one of the best days I’ve ever had, and then Tom (Marquand, now husband) had a double too, on Addeybb in the QIPCO Champion Stakes and Njord in the Balmoral Handicap, so that was really special.

“I’ve won again on Trueshan both years since, so it’s a day I obviously look forward to, and this year I’m lucky enough to have very good rides once again.”

Trueshan is aiming to extend his incredible record at QIPCO British Champions Day by becoming the first horse to win a race four times, having last year become the first to win a race on this day on three occasions.

On his final raceday in Europe and bidding for a farewell winner, QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame jockey Dettori will have live chances in the shape of favourites Kinross (QIPCO British Champions Sprint) and Free Wind (QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares), plus other strong contenders in Trawlerman (QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup), Chaldean (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes – sponsored by QIPCO) and King of Steel (QIPCO Champion Stakes).

Dettori said of Saturday: “It’s a premier raceday where we crown our Champions of the year and it will be my last day of riding in England. I don’t want to take the gloss of QIPCO British Champions Day, it coronates the best horses of the year – the best Fillies, Colts, Milers, Middle Distance and Long Distance horses.

“It will be very emotional, but I am set to have four or five decent rides on the day. So, I’ll try to keep my emotions in check until after my last ride, but obviously all my friends and family will be there. I’m sure I’ll shed a tear on the day, but at the moment I’m really trying to focus on the races and give my friends and family something to shout about on the day.”

Conditions at Ascot Racecourse are currently Soft on both the Straight Course and Round Course after 12.8mm rain overnight. Another 16-20mm is forecast between Thursday morning and Saturday which would likely prompt a switch to the Inner Flat Course. We are hoping to make a decision at some point on Friday. The Inner Flat Course is currently Good, Good to Soft in places.

QIPCO CHAMPION STAKES (£1.3 MILLION): GROUP 1

Defending champion Bay Bridge has “a great shout” of following in the footsteps of the race’s recent dual winner Cracksman according to Sir Michael Stoute’s assistant James Savage, who reports that he has come out of his sixth place in the Arc really well.

Nine runners have been declared for the afternoon’s premier event, including Betfred Derby runner-up King Of Steel, who will be fancied by many to give Frankie Dettori a perfect send off on his last European ride, and impressive Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and Juddmonte International winner Mostahdaf. There are ground concerns with the latter, but not with Bay Bridge.

Last year Bay Bridge came in under the radar somewhat, since the preliminaries all revolved around Baaeed, who was widely expected to extend his unbeaten run to 11 races. This year’s field arguably has greater depth, but  Savage believes that the Richard Kingscote-ridden five-year-old Bridge has plenty going for him.

He said: “We’ve been very pleased with how Bay Bridge came out of the Arc, which was a tough race on ground that dried out throughout the day. He’s been working well since and he’s in good order.

“He ran well at Longchamp and was only beaten about six lengths, having done a little bit too much in Richard’s hands in the early and middle parts of the race. We are pretty sure he stayed the mile and a half, as he did at Kempton, but you’d have to say that going back to Ascot in conditions we’ve been waiting for all year he’d have a great shout.”

He added: “I think Mostahdaf is a very, very good horse, and so is Horizon Dore, so in my opinion it’s just as strong a race as last year, when conditions favoured us massively. But conditions will hopefully be very much in our favour once again and he’s training very well.”

John Gosden has made no secret of his ground concerns with Mostahdaf, saying that he hated bottomless ground in the Arc last year, but those concerns would be alleviated if the race were to be switched to the Inner Track.

“On better ground Mostahdaf has a great turn of foot,” Gosden said. “I’m very happy with him. He hasn’t run since York obviously but he’s in great nick. He’s had a great year, because he started off in the Middle East, winning the Neon Cup, and then we freshened him up for Royal Ascot, where he won in good style. Then there was another nice break before the Juddmonte, so his races have been nicely spaced. 

“He’s a great character, and he’s always up for it every morning. He’s very playful. If horses had a sense of humour he’d have a very good one. He’s a very buoyant personality and a very positive fellow.” 

French challenger Horizon Dore will be having his first run in a Group 1, but he has gone from strength to strength in Group 2 and Group 3 races at home and has been aimed here for some time, since the domestic calendar in France lacks an equivalent race over a mile and a quarter.

Tremendously impressive in coming from last to first in the Prix Dollar at Longchamp on Arc weekend, he will be ridden again by Mickael Barzalona, who wore the same Gousserie Racing silks when winning this race on Sealiway two years ago.

Pauline Chehboub is racing manager to her family’s Gousserie operation, which is also part owner of Arc winner Ace Impact, and she has spoken of the similarities between the pair, and also of Horizon Dore’s “huge acceleration”. She has no worries regarding the ground.

The gelding will be a first runner in England for former jump jockey and now trainer Patrice Cottier, who has seen a major upturn in his operation since he took over a number of horses formerly handled by Sealiway’s trainer Cedric Rossi, and who gained a first Group 1 success in Longchamp’s Prix Du Moulin the same afternoon that Horizon Dore won the Prix du Prince D’Orange.

In the absence of regular partner Jamie Spencer, who is in Australia at the weekend, three-time champion jockey Oisin Murphy has come in for the plum ride on Via Sistina, who also had the option of the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares.

The George Boughey-trained mare gained a first Group 1 win in the Pretty Polly Stakes over Saturday’s distance at the Curragh in July and was only just touched off by Mqse De Sevigne in a similar race on very soft ground at Deauville last time. With her sex allowance she looks sure to be competitive in what will be her last race before she heads to Tattersalls.

Boughey could not be happier with her and said: “Although she was in both races this has been the plan for her for a long time. I think ten furlongs is her optimum, and we know that she’s ground-versatile as she won the Pretty Polly on arguably the fastest ground she has ever run on, having previously impressed on soft ground in the Dahlia.

“She looks amazing for this time of year, and her best performances come after a break, which she’s had since Deauville two months ago. Oisin already knows her well, having ridden her work when she was with Joe (Tuite). She’s a very high level performer and Oisin is a very good replacement for Jamie, who has other commitments.”

William Haggas has declared both Dubai Honour (James Doyle) and My Prospero (Tom Marquand), both of whom have been placed in the QIPCO Champion Stakes before. My Prospero, as expected, has blinkers for the first time. Aidan O’Brien relies upon Point Lonsdale and Karl Burke runs the fast-improving soft-ground specialist Royal Rhyme.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II STAKES (SPONSORED BY QIPCO) (£1,156,250): GROUP 1

Star filly Nashwa is set to meet three fellow Classic winners from the younger generation when she drops back to a mile for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) against Chaldean, Paddington and Tahiyra rather than taking on last year’s winner Bay Bridge and a strong supporting cast in the QIPCO Champion Stakes.

Picking the better option for her was particularly important for John and Thady Gosden, whose prospects of holding off Aidan O’Brien in the battle for the trainers’ title could depend upon it, but the filly’s inseparable partner Hollie Doyle was  totally relaxed about it throughout discussions.

For such is Nashwa’s versatility, trip-wise, that it made little or no difference to her which race she ran in, although there is no question that last year’s Prix de Diane and Nassau Stakes winner has never looked better than she did back at a mile in rain-softened ground in Newmarket’s Falmouth Stakes.

“It really hasn’t mattered to me which race they chose,” Doyle said. “Nashwa seems just as good at a mile as a mile and a quarter, so the trip doesn’t seem to be an issue, and she goes on any ground. She’d have had a right shout in either of them.

“She’s been great lately when placed against the colts in the Juddmonte International and the Irish Champion Stakes, and those two runs have been close to her career best. Physically she does well year in, year out, and she’s really stepped forward again this year. The figures say she’s improved significantly again, which is mad, so I’m delighted she’s staying in training.”

The market for Saturday’s race has been dominated by Paddington and Tahiyra, but while testing ground ought to hold no terrors for the Aidan O’Brien-trained Irish 2000 Guineas winner Paddington, who has made enormous strides since the start of the year and whose Sussex Stakes win came on soft ground, it’s a concern for the Tahiyra camp.

Tahiyra’s trainer Dermot Weld is a big fan of QIPCO British Champions Day, where he has had four winners, and he gave a positive bulletin at the start of the week regarding his brilliant Irish 1000 Guineas winner. Weld has confirmed that he intends Tahiyra to travel over, but underlined that he would be concerned about running her if the going became very heavy.

Chaldean’s win from outsider Hi Royal in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas has not worked out well, and he was soundly beaten into second by Paddington at Royal Ascot afterwards, but he’s a top-class colt all the same, and the Guineas confirmed he handles soft ground. 

He impressed in a recent racecourse gallop at Kempton and he’s a live substitute for his QIPCO 2000 Guineas-winning rider Frankie Dettori, who switched here in the absence of Inspiral on account of the ground.

One trainer who will welcome every drop of rain is Ralph Beckett, who on Monday paid £70,000 to supplement Angel Bleu, a dual Group 1 winner at two who has looked as good as ever this year. 

Beckett said: “It’s going to be tough, but he’s in very good form and when the ground became soft we made the decision to supplement. The ground will even everything up as he is a proven soft ground performer, unlike some of the others. 

“This will be his last race as he is off to stud at the French operation of his new part owner Nurlan Bizakov.”

Big Rock and Facteur Cheval are both live chances for France, which has supplied the QEII winner three times since QIPCO British Champions Day was inaugurated in 2011, most recently with The Revenant in 2020.

Both are still awaiting a first win at Group 1 level, but they have strong form at this level nevertheless, Big Rock having finished second three times, including to the brilliant Arc winner Ace Impact in the Prix du Jockey Club, and Facteur Cheval having chased home Paddington in the Sussex Stakes.

Christopher Head, whose father Freddy won this with Charm Spirit and Solow, believes that soft ground is “a big plus” for Big Rock, who he points out has “only been beaten by very good horses” in his Group 1s.

Checkandchallenge, Epictetus and Rogue Millennium complete a field of 11.

QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS FILLIES & MARES STAKES (£531,250): GROUP 1

Time Lock has a chance to add a poignant last major win to Roger Charlton’s long and distinguished training career in the Group 1 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes on Saturday.

Charlton, who was joined by his son Harry on the Beckhampton stable’s licence last year, is stepping back after 34 years which started with a Derby double in Time Lock’s colours and brought continuing success for the Juddmonte team. Next year it will be just Harry’s name on the licence.

Beckhampton was Juddmonte’s late founder Prince Khalid Abdullah’s choice for his arrival into British racing with Jeremy Tree and he supported Charlton for the rest of his life. Charlton, Tree’s assistant, took over the reins in 1990 and immediately sent out Quest For Fame to win the Derby at Epsom and Sanglamore to win the French Derby. He almost added the Irish Derby the same year with Deploy.

Time Lock earned her Group 1 ticket last month with an impressive wide-margin win of the Group 3 Princess Royal at Newmarket, where reopposing Sweet Memories and Running Lion filled the places.

Harry Charlton said: “She is in great form and is on the right path, growing in confidence with her success. It looks very competitive with a big field but she’s in as good form as any of the others at the moment.

“It’s hard to be too confident as the conditions aren’t ideal, but we assume it will be run on the inner track. We’d be going with more confidence if they weren’t looking at so much rain, as good ground would have been ideal, but she handles soft.”

John Gosden is hoping for a quick turnaround in performance from Free Wind after her Arc disappointment and takes heart from stablemate Inspiral, who won a second Prix Jacques Le Marois only 11 days after finishing last in a Sussex Stakes run on ground she didn’t enjoy.

Gosden senior said: “Free Wind found the ground a bit lively in the Arc. Frankie looked after her and that’s one of the great things about him. He’s very quick at knowing when they aren’t enjoying it. 

“He wrapped up on her with 400 metres or so to go, and it was the same with Inspiral in the Sussex Stakes. That’s why I can entertain running her again here – she seems in good form.”

Bluestocking, a second Juddmonte runner, brings Classic form into the race, having finished second in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh. She was also placed when unlucky in running in the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot.

The daughter of Camelot hasn’t finished out of the frame in five races this year but has not won since her debut success in a novice last September. She now wears cheekpieces for the first time.

Trainer Ralph Beckett said: “She’s a proven soft-ground performer. The form of her Chester defeat last time, which on the face of it was disappointing, has worked out better than it looked at the time.”

Poptronic is another filly looking to leave her Arc weekend form behind, with trainer Karl Burke feeling there was an excuse for her disappointing effort in the Prix de Royallieu, where she was behind the reopposing Rue Boissonade.

Burke said: “She has come out of the French race rally well. She was possibly going into season going into that race and didn’t behave well at the start.”

Aidan O’Brien is looking for a third win in the race after Hydrangea and Magical in 2017 and 2018. He left four in at the five-day stage and relies upon Jackie Oh, who ran the top French filly Blue Rose Cen close in the Prix de l’Opera, and Red Riding Hood, a Group 3 winner.

Term Of Endearment, who was supplemented at a cost of £37,500 after her Group 3 win in the Give Thanks Stakes at Cork, and Above The Curve, who had Nashwa and Blue Rose Cen behind her when second to Al Husn in the Qatar Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, add further strength to Ireland’s representation.

QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS SPRINT STAKES (£500,000): GROUP 1

Frankie Dettori has a major chance of at least one winner on his last day riding in Europe when Kinross bids to repeat last year’s win in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint, in which Shaquille was not declared. 

Dettori has won no fewer than seven Group races on Kinross, including last year’s Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, and the six-year-old is owned by a close pal in Hong Kong-based Marc Chan, so it is no wonder he has become such a favourite.

He was somewhat unlucky when narrowly beaten by Kelina when odds on for a second win in the Foret earlier this month, on unseasonably good ground, and the balance of his form this year suggests he is just as good as last year, when he won in great style from Run To Freedom

The expected testing ground plays to his strengths and trainer Ralph Beckett is upbeat about his prospects. 

Beckett said: “He is in good shape after coming back from France and is as good as ever. He is much better on softer ground and seven furlongs is his ultimate distance but the very stiff six at Ascot on soft ground suits him, as he showed last year.”

Sandrine, who beat Kinross on more favourable weight terms in last year’s Group  2 Lennox, got within a length of him in the City of York in August when wearing a visor for the first time.

Trainer Andrew Balding said: “Sandrine is right back to her best and she hasn’t had a hard season. The visor she’s worn at York and Doncaster the last twice has made a big difference, and six furlongs with a bit of give in the ground is ideal for her.”

Hollie Doyle, who achieved her breakthrough at Group 1 level in the race on 25-1 winner Glen Shiel three years ago, partners another outsider in Wokingham winner Saint Lawrence.

Doyle said: “He’s been a bit of a revelation this year. He won the Wokingham convincingly over course and distance, and then he was only just touched off in a Group 1 in France. That was on soft ground, and while I’m not sure he loves it he certainly goes on it. He’s well capable on his day.”

Karl Burke is double-handed with Deauville Group 1 second Spycatcher and Betfair Sprint Cup fourth Swingalong, who was third at 66-1 behind Shaquille in the Commonwealth Cup. 

The Midddleham trainer said: “Swingalong’s best form is on faster ground, as he showed at Royal Ascot, but he has run well on softer. Spycatcher will relish all the rain around as the softer the better for him.” 

Sense of Duty, unbeaten in three races over six furlongs before injury ended her season at three, including in the Group 3 Chipchase at Newcastle, can be excused her defeat at Newbury on her belated return late last month.

Trainer William Haggas said: “That was over five furlongs, and she’d never run over five before. She’d been off a long time and we ran her there in preparation for Ascot. She’s come on for it.” 

Mill Stream, sixth in the Sprint Cup under regular rider Marco Ghiani, will be ridden for the first time by champion jockey William Buick. 

Trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam said: “William had a sit on Mill Stream him on Monday morning and it’s all systems go. He is versatile as far as the ground goes and fingers crossed he has a good draw.”

Rohaan, fourth in 2022 and five times a course winner, and Art Power, fourth, fourth and eighth in the last three runnings, are among those returning for another crack, along with soft-ground specialist Vadream, who was fifth two years ago and sixth last year.

QIPCO BRITISH CHAMPIONS LONG DISTANCE CUP (£500,000): GROUP 2

Trueshan already stands alone as the only horse to win three times on QIPCO British Champions Day, and his unique position may well remain forever unassailable if he can win the race for a fourth time on Saturday.

His regular partner Hollie Doyle enjoyed her first QIPCO British Champions Day win on Alan King’s extraordinary seven-year-old when he scored by seven and a half lengths three years ago, and they have been almost inseparable since, forming the closest of bonds.

Doyle said: “He’s been such a great horse for everyone – for me, for Alan, for the owners, and for the whole team at home. He never lets anyone down.

“He’s staged quite a comeback this year [following minor wind surgery] and proved a lot of people wrong by winning the Doncaster Cup and the Prix Du Cadran again. A fourth win here would be incredible, but it could definitely happen, as he feels as good as ever.”

Trueshan has met Kyprios only once before, when beaten a length and a half into third in the Goodwood Cup last year, but while nobody connected with him would dream of underestimating Aidan O’Brien’s brilliant stayer it’s worth pointing out that the ground that day was ‘good’, and so nowhere near as soft as Trueshan would have liked.

Doyle said: “It looks a strong renewal, as it is most years, but Trueshan is in great form, and the ground should be much more to his liking than it was at Goodwood.”

Horses with Trueshan’s longevity are not unusual in stables with a jumps history like King’s, but it’s hard to believe that any have given the trainer quite so much pleasure.

King said: “Not many horses get to come back for the same race three years running, let alone four, and getting him back to form to win at Doncaster and Longchamp has been very satisfying.

“It looks a cracking renewal, which it deserves to be. I haven’t done a lot with Trueshan since the Cadran but he’s in very good form.”

Kyprios was off the track 11 months before being beaten by Eldar Eldarov in the Irish St Leger and he has reportedly come on significantly for the run. His 20-length win in last year’s Cadran had to be seen to be believed, and if he is back in that sort of form he’ll be a formidable rival. 

Aidan O’Brien, who also saddles Dubai Gold Cup winner Broome,  said: “We are very happy with Kyprios and soft ground wouldn’t be a worry as he’s got soft ground form.”

Coltrane ran Trueshan to just a head 12 months ago, with Trawlerman third and Stratum fourth. He looked better than ever when beaten only three-quarters of a length by Courage Mon Ami in the Gold Cup this year and trainer Andrew Balding is inclined to forgive a poor run last time in the Doncaster Cup.

He said: “Coltrane ran a hell of a race in last year’s Long Distance Cup. It was a rare poor race last  time, and nothing came to light afterwards, but he’s entitled to run a poor one once in a while.”

Stratum, a dual winner of the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot, tries again, and his trainer Willie Mullins said: “He runs his heart out every time and owes us nothing and I hope some of his owner Tony Bloom’s success with Brighton (football club’s chairman) rubs off on him. Another finish in the first four would be good.”

The Gosden stable would ideally have run their Gold Cup winner Courage Mon Ami, but they have two solid substitutes in Trawlerman, who is the mount of Frankie Dettori, and Sweet William, who was second in the Ebor and the Doncaster Cup.

John Gosden said: “It looks like a good edition of the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup, in which Trawlerman and Sweet William are our runners, as Courage Mon Ami had a little niggle.

“Trawlerman ran in the Long Distance Cup last year, finishing third, and he’s been an easy winner of both his races since he came back, at Salisbury and Newmarket. He’s in good form.”

A field of eight is completed by the 79-rated Maxident, whose rider Owen Lewis has never ridden at Ascot before and would normally be claiming 7lb.

BALMORAL HANDICAP (SPONSORED BY QIPCO) (£200,000)

The Lincoln winner Migration will have to overcome a record weight if he is to land the biggest pot of his career in the Balmoral Handicap (sponsored by QIPCO), but he won in such good style under top weight at Doncaster that few would put it past him.

On that occasion the seven-year-old had to weave his way through from an unpromising position, but once he had the leaders in his sights he quickened in great style and won going away from Awaal and Baradar, with Al Mubhir, Bopedro and Helm Rock among those further back. 

On Saturday he will race from a 6lb higher mark of 113, on top of which jockey Benoit de la Sayette is no longer able to claim his 3lb, but trainer David Menuisier has had this race in mind all season and wouldn’t put  anyone off backing him.

Menuisier said: “After he ran against Adayar in the Gordon Richards I gave him a break in the summer with this race in mind, because he finds black type races difficult – not so much because he’s not good enough, but because of the way those races are run.

“He wants it fast and furious, and he wants soft ground, so hopefully he’ll have a shot. The old boy owes us nothing, but he’s always competitive when he has his conditions, so who knows what might happen.” 

Bopedro features in a typically strong team being saddled by three-time Balmoral winner David O’Meara, along with Blue For You, Bennetot and Rhoscolyn. His 2019 winner Escobar is the first of three reserves in a race with a maximum field of 20.

Dual course-and-distance winner Docklands looks a worthy favourite and Harry Eustace is very happy with him. Eustace, who will be saddling his first Champions Day runner, said: “He seems in very good form and I don’t have to worry about the ground as he’s won on both extremes. 

“I hope he’ll be a Group horse one day, so he should have every chance off his mark if things go his way. I’ve always felt he’ll stay a mile and a quarter, which I’m sure is why he’s so well suited by Ascot’s stiff mile, and he handled the hurly burly of a big field when he won the Britannia. He’s had a fairly long season, but the second half of it hasn’t been busy so he ticks a lot of boxes.”

Ralph Beckett’s Hunt Cup runner-up Sonny Liston is due a change of luck after finishing second again in another good handicap at Doncaster last time. Beckett said: “He’s in good form and Ascot’s straight mile brings out the best in him. Soft ground isn’t an issue either. 

“Things haven’t gone his way this year. He won his side of the race in the Hunt Cup and then last time at Doncaster Ryan [Moore] got his reins tangled up and couldn’t use his whip. He was beaten only a nose.”