British Champions Day: Stellar line-up for racing's richest day
|Qipco British Champions Day|
|Date: Saturday 17 October Venue: Ascot racecourse Race times: 12:45-15:45 BST BBC coverage: Updates on BBC Radio 5 live including commentary on the Champion Stakes (15:05 BST)|
British Champions Day: a day to crown champions? Yes and no.
Invented in its current form at Ascot in 2011 and boasting more than £4m in prize money, it's the richest single race-day of the year - intended to be mentioned in the same breath as France's 'Arc weekend' a fortnight earlier, and the Breeders' Cup fixture staged in the United States at the end of October.
Organisers have made it the climax of the new-look Flat season, which also has a new beginning at the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May. It means the champion jockey, the top apprentice rider and the leading owner will all be crowned at Ascot - although, confusingly, not the winner of the trainers' title race, which instead runs for 12 months from November.
Let's be honest, it's not possible to have legends like Frankel - who lit up the first two stagings - every single year, and star three-year-old Golden Horn is taking the US route after his Arc triumph but, even so, some of Europe's outstanding equine talent is due to line up on the six-race card.
And, crucially, the autumn weather has been kinder than usual so the going is unlikely to be as soft and examining as it has been in recent years. Theoretically, that means the races are fairer.
The boy from Brazil is crowned champion
Barzilian Silvestre De Sousa, 34, who learned to ride rounding up cattle on horseback at his father's farm near Sao Paulo, but didn't sit on a racehorse until he was 17, has run away with the jockeys' title, beating William Buick, Paul Hanagan and James Doyle.
The injury-enforced absence of Ryan Moore for more than two months didn't necessarily do De Sousa's prospects any harm.
But, that said, he's positively blasted his way through the campaign, clocking up by far the most winners even though he's had no specific job - he was dumped by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation in 2014 despite winning the stable that year's Dubai World Cup.
During the season, De Sousa, previously runner-up in the championship, sprung what is seen by most as the surprise of the year when he and Arabian Queen - a contender for Champions Day's Fillies and Mares feature - inflicted the only defeat to date on Golden Horn, in the International Stakes at York in August.
Those days at home in Brazil and working in Ireland, on first arriving in Europe, when he had to scratch around for a living are but a distant memory now.
He said: "It's been a very long story and it's absolutely great, a thrill, to have done it."
Lester Piggott, the 11-time champion who turns 80 in November, will make the presentation to De Sousa.
What about the other championships?
In contrast to De Sousa's victory, the battle to be top apprentice has taken numerous twists and turns.
A succession of young riders, including Tom Marquand, Jack Garritty, Cam Hardie, Sammy-Jo Bell and Eddie Greatrex, have all looked set for the honour, before Marquand and Garritty pulled clear of their rivals.
Marquand, 17, from a non-horsey background but benefiting from the backing of prolific trainer Richard Hannon, looked like asserting his dominance in the final week of the campaign.
However, terrier-like and with the support of the northern powerhouse of trainer Richard Fahey, 19-year-old Garritty, whose father Russ was a lynchpin, Yorkshire-based jump jockey of yesteryear, has ensured the battle goes down to the wire.
Marquand, 17, who comes from a non-horsey background but has the backing of prolific trainer Richard Hannon, looked like asserting his supremacy in the final week of the campaign.
However, 19-year-old Garritty - terrier-like and backed by the northern powerhouse of trainer Richard Fahey - has ensured the battle goes down to the wire.
|British Champions Day & leading candidates|
|12:45 BST Long Distance Cup (Agent Murphy, Forgotten Rules); 13:20 Sprint Stakes (Muhaarar, Twilight Son)|
|13:55 Fillies and Mares Stakes (Covert Love, Candarliya); 14:30 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Solow, Kodi Bear)|
|15:05 Champion Stakes (Jack Hobbs, Found); 15:45 Balmoral Handicap (Sacrificial, Buckstay)|
The season's champion owner is set to be Sheikh Mohammed's vast Godolphin stable. Traditional thinking has it that Godolphin - whose main trainers are Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby - tends to underachieve, but the problem is more a limited number of top-notchers than a lack of winners.
Now the doping scandal of 2013 is behind it, it will be a significant boost for Flat racing as a whole if Godolphin is able to regain its position as one of the sport's two great superpowers, alongside Irish-based Coolmore.
So mark our cards…
Trained in France by Freddy Head, and already a winner at this year's Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood festivals, Solow will be the meeting's highest-rated runner globally when the five-year-old gelding lines up in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (14:30 BST).
Hopefully, the brilliant, grey-coloured miler, beaten in only one of the 12 races he has contested since June 2013, will get the chance to take on Newmarket and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Gleneagles, representing Coolmore and trained by Aidan O'Brien.
Gleneagles, a son of prolific stallion Galileo, last raced when adding to his Classic tally with a commanding success in the St James' Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The three-year-old, winner of the Newmarket and the Irish 2000 Guineas, has been a late scratching from three big races this summer because the going has been considered too soft.
O'Brien says he will make a decision on whether or not the star colt races at Ascot after assessing ground conditions following the early races.
Trained at Newmarket by John Gosden, for an ownership combo made up of Godolphin, Gosden's wife Rachel and two family friends, Jack Hobbs is the second highest rated contender taking part, and lines up in the Champion Stakes (15:05).
The Irish Derby winner, a stablemate of Golden Horn, behind whom he was runner-up in the Epsom Derby as well as the Dante Stakes at York, is favourite to take a starring role - especially in the absence of his illustrious stablemate.
France's Vadamos and Ireland's Found have been well touted, though Jack Hobbs - named after the England and Surrey cricketer - ought to be able to hit his rivals to the boundary despite having to overcome a wide draw in the stalls - just as Golden Horn did, successfully, in the Arc.
Muhaarar looks to continue a fabulous year in the Sprint (13:20).
Already in line to be named top sprinter after following up a win in Royal Ascot's brand-new Commonwealth Cup with more Group One success in the July Cup and Prix Maurice De Gheest in France, the three-year-old trained by Charlie Hills for Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, is reported in fine fettle.
Fancied against him is the unbeaten Twilight Son whose new part-owners at Cheveley Park Stud have prompted a chorus of disapproval regarding loyalty by replacing regular jockey Fergus Sweeney with the higher-profile Ryan Moore.
The Fillies' and Mares' Stakes
Two of this year's European Classic winners - Covert Love (Irish Oaks) and Simple Verse (St Leger) - are due to line up against a string of up-and-comers as well as Group One victors Tapestry, Arabian Queen and last year's winner Madame Chiang, in the Fillies' and Mares' Stakes at 13:55.
Success for Covert Love, also successful in the Prix de l'Opera at Longchamp on Arc day, would cap a highly lucrative breakthrough season for Newmarket-based trainer Hugo Palmer, who has only held a licence since 2011.
Jumps season just around the corner?
Well, technically the jumps campaign is an all-year-round affair, running for 12 months from late April.
However, the recognised 'core' National Hunt season, culminating in the festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree, is nearly upon us, and the first fixture at Cheltenham is only a week away, having been moved from its previous position to avoid clashing with Champions Day.
There will be updates from British Champions Day on BBC Radio 5 live including commentary on the Champion Stakes (15:05 BST)