The British Champions Series has proven to be an important addition to flat racing since it was introduced in 2011. Many of the best horses across a number of different distances do battle in highly anticipated races throughout the season and it all comes to a head on British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday.
This is the highlight of the end of the flat racing season. Action over the jumps has already begun but we have one more chance to see the stars of the flat on British turf with five Group 1 or 2 races. It’s also a cracking day for punters which is why we’ve picked out the best of the betting below.
British Champions Day: Saturday
|1:20||Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup||Group 2||2m|
|1:55||Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes||Group 1||6f|
|2:30||Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes||Group 1||1m4f|
|3:05||Queen Elizabeth II Stakes||Group 1||1m|
|3:40||Qipco Champion Stakes||Group 1||1m2f|
|4:15||Balmoral Handicap||Class 2||1m|
The six races on the card for British Champions Day are, for some, the best collection of races of the Flat racing season. They are certainly among the most lucrative and we have a huge number of top class horses on display. This is an excellent way to bid farewell to the flat with several of the stars of the spring and summer looking to bow out with a big win in the autumn. There are hugely competitive contests from the first race to the last so we’ve gone through the card to pick out the best bets from each.
1:20 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup
Ascot, Group 2, 2m
Stradivarius started this season as the best stayer in the world on the flat. His billing as such was not damaged by his failure to win last year’s edition of the British Champions Long Distance Cup. Indeed, it was about as good a performance as you could get from a horse who finished second and it was only a small tactical element of the race and a phenomenal performance from Kew Gardens that denied him.
Stradivarius returns to Ascot having been beaten more times than he has won over the course of this season but again his reputation remains intact. That’s because his defeats did not come over staying trips as connections took the game decision to run him in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. There doesn’t look to be a horse in the field who can replicate the quality of Kew Gardens’ run 12 months ago but the big worry for Stradivarius fans is whether or not his rivals will need to be that good to beat him.
It’s not so much that Stradivarius’ levels have dropped and it’s certainly not because he has any issues with soft ground at Ascot but the Arc took place just 13 days before the Long Distance Cup and nobody quite knows how much it took out of him. This is a race that has produced its fair share of shocks over the years and so backing a short-priced favourite just will not appeal to some punters. If you are happy to support Stradivarius at 8/13 then he does have every chance of winning. If you’re not convinced about the price though, then a bet on the dangerous Spanish Mission is the value play at the tasty double-digit price of 10/1.
Spanish Mission each way at 10/1
1:55 Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes
Ascot, Group 1, 6f
There is a growing trend in breeding for the flat to favour speed. Part of the reason for this is that the sprint division is highly competitive and gives a real chance to less powerful owners to have a top level winner. We’ve seen several surprises this season over the sprint trips and there is every chance of something similar in the British Champions Sprint Stakes.
The last three winners of this 6f contest went in at 33/1, 28/1 and 10/1 respectively and there are a couple of tempting options worth considering against the field on Saturday. The first is Lope Y Fernandez at 14/1. Ballydoyle could not be further removed from the description of ‘less powerful owners’ and they have been able to book Ryan Moore for the run on this Aidan O’Brien-trained three-year-old. He has flattered to deceive at times this season but there is a very good horse in there somewhere and 6f on autumnal ground at Ascot might just bring the best out of him.
With just one horse in their joint ownership, Triermore Stud and The Hon P Stanley are the sort of owners who have decided that a sprinter is their best chance of a Group 1 winner (albeit their horse cost 200,000 guineas). Onassis has not reached those heights just yet but her win in a Listed race at Goodwood last time out was a taking performance. Charlie Fellowes has changed her sights from 1m earlier in the season and is now trying to get the most out of her impressive pace, which she can use to its maximum on Saturday.
Lope Y Fernandez each way at 14/1, Onassis each way at 33/1
2:30 Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes
Ascot, Group 1, 1m4f
This year’s edition of the British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes is shaping up to be a tough race for punters to unpack. The bookies are finding it difficult enough to separate the top two horses in the betting - Wonderful Tonight and Dame Malliot. Of those two, narrow preference goes to Dame Malliot but the front-running style of Ed Vaughan’s much improved four-year-old may just open the door for Even So, who is available at a more tempting price of 6/1.
2020 has been a year to forget for many people but it is one that Ger Lyons will never forget. He finally trained his first winner of a Classic with Siskin’s success in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and then doubled up alongside jockey Coline Keane as Even So won the Irish Oaks. It wasn’t the strongest renewal of that 1m4f Classic at the Curragh but you couldn’t help but be impressed by how well she stayed that day.
She wasn’t at that level when last seen over 1m6f in a Group 1 at Longchamp but that was her first appearance in 57 days. She’ll be fitter and better prepared at Ascot, whilst the presence of some strong pace courtesy of Dame Malliot and perhaps Manuela De Vega could play to Even So’s strengths.
Even So each to win at 6/1
3:05 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
Ascot, Group 1, 1m
One of the joys of British Champions Day is the chance for rivalries which have simmered over the season to be settled. Unfortunately, racing fans won’t get the chance to see Palace Pier and Kameko battle it out to see which is the best three-year-old miler in training (although fans of Love would have something to say about that). They may well meet in the Breeders’ Cup Turf next month but Kameko’s withdrawal from the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes due to the ground has opened the door for Palace Pier to justify his 4/6 favouritism by completing a hat-trick of Group 1 wins.
Of course, this will not be easy for Palace Pier. He will be made to earn this win thanks to the presence of some hardened, high class rivals. John Gosden’s colt finished almost six lengths clear of Circus Maximus when they met at Deauville in August but that rival loves a scrap and could be a real danger at 8/1. Then there’s Century Dream (16/1) who couldn’t sustain his effort in a cracking Group 2 at Leopardstown on his last outing but is a different animal on the soft ground we will see here and certainly has each way claims.
Palace Pier to win at 4/6
3:40 Qipco Champion Stakes
Newmarket, Group 1, 1m2f
The calibre of horses on show throughout the card on British Champions Day is such that there is lots of very good value to be found. That is very much the case in the Champion Stakes. Before getting into the tempting options from further down the betting, it is important to point out that Magical is the right favourite for the middle distance championship. She turned in an incredible performance to win the Irish Champion Stakes a month ago and has every chance of winning the Ascot equivalent for the second year in a row. She ticks all the form, rating and performance trends for this contest since it moved to Ascot and will clearly take a lot of stopping.
The only issue with Magical is her price at 7/4. Many will believe that French Derby winner, Mishriff, is a better value option at 11/4. He confirmed that Prix du Jockey Club win with another commanding victory in France in a Group 2 run on heavy ground so the underfoot conditions at Ascot will be no issue.
For all that the top two in the betting could battle it out for the win, perhaps the best betting option is to consider an each way shot against the field. Addeybb (9/1) and Pyledriver (11/1) both fit that bill nicely and also meet all of the same trends criteria as the favourite.
Addeybb started his season with two Group 1 wins in Australia and comes into the race on the back of a very good win against a decent field in a strong Listed race at Ayr. Pyledriver failed the stamina test of the St Leger but is a genuinely top class horse over this trip and may just serve up a Champion Stakes surprise.
Addeybb each way at 9/1, Pyledriver each way at 11/1
4:15 Balmoral Handicap
Ascot, Class 2, 1m
After a slew of Group level races, British Champions Day ends with a cracking handicap, albeit one that is far from an easy puzzle to solve. The 20-strong field for the Balmoral Handicap looks to be as talented as ever with a nice combination of hardened handicap performers and those who have only recently dropped into the division from pattern company. As it makes sense for punters to have more than one string to their bow for this, let’s look at one from each of those groups.
When it comes to experienced handicappers, the chances of Solid Stone are tempting at the tasty price of 16/1. It has been a busy but fairly successful season for the four-year-old so far. The second of his two wins so far came last time out when Hollie Doyle guided him to success in a handicap over 1m2f and the two can combine for another strong showing dropped down to 1m.
From the second group, Ropey Guest has the quality to make a good fist of life as a handicapper. After 13 races without victory, connections grew tired of having a very smart maiden on their hands so gave him an outing over 7f at Chelmsford last time out. He did what was required of him to win that day and can build on that success to lay down a serious challenge at the even longer odds of 20/1.
Solid Stone each way at 16/1, Ropey Guest each way at 20/1
About the Meeting
British Champions Day marks the climactic end of the flat racing season and in terms of top quality racing action, this Ascot meeting in October is hard to beat. With upwards of £4 million in prize money on offer over the course of the day, Champions Day is the most rewarding race day on the calendar and it is little wonder it attracts the very best runners, riders and trainers in the business.
Champions Day serves as the denouement to the British Champions Series of races that takes place throughout the flat racing season. The five races we feature here are the finals of the five divisions. There is also a one mile handicap on the card, just to mix things up a little.
Long Distance Cup
As the name suggests, the Long Distance Cup is the test for the top stayers in the flat racing game. Run over a distance of around two miles, this Group 2 race is open to runners aged three or over and though the field can vary in number (six ran in 2018, 13 in 2017, 10 in 2016) it is always highly competitive, as indeed are all the races on the card. In 2018 the race had a purse of £500,000 with a cool £300,000 awarded to the victors.
The race was given a new name and transferred to Ascot in 2011, previously having been run as the Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket, where it was inaugurated way back in 1873. In the pre-Ascot era, Irish-bred gelding Further Flight won this race five years in succession (1991-95), while the great Sir Gordon Richards rode to victory seven times between 1930 and 1949.
Notable races in the Long Distance category of the British Champions Series leading up to this race are the Yorkshire Cup, the Ascot Gold Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the St Leger.
The Sprint Stakes is for the speed demons of flat racing and this six furlong dash is fast, frenetic and very exciting. Generally with 10 or more in the field (there were 14 runners in 2018, 12 in 2017, 13 in 2016) there have been some cracking races over the years. Upgraded to Group 1 status in 2015, it is open to runners aged three years and older and had a purse of over £600,000 in 2018.
Previously known as the Diadem Stakes, the race was first run at Ascot in 1946, but its renaming and subsequent reclassification as a Group 1 race has really cemented its significance on the flat racing calendar. Lester Piggott was in the winning saddle seven times for this race between 1971 and 1983 (under its previous name).
The top races in the Sprint category of the series are the King’s Stand Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, both at Royal Ascot, and the Darley July Cup (Newmarket) and Sprint Cup (Haydock).
Fillies & Mares Stakes
This race gives the top females of flat racing the chance to show what they can do. Upgraded to Group 1 status in 2013, this middle distance race of a mile and half is open to fillies and mares aged three or older. The 2018 winner, Aidan O’Brien’s Magical, earned her connections the tidy sum of £340,000.
This race started life at Ascot in 1946 as the Princess Royal Stakes before moving to Newmarket and being renamed the Pride Stakes before being returned to Ascot in 2011 when it was given its current name. Once again Lester Piggott is the jockey with the most wins with a total of eight victories between 1959 and 1984.
Races in the Fillies and Mares category of the British Champions Series include two Classics, the 1,000 Guineas (Newmarket) and the Oaks (Epsom), as well as the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
One of two races on British Champions Day to have a purse of over £1 million (£1,100,000 in 2018), the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is one of the top mile events of the season. Open to runners aged three years and older, there have been some big name winners over the years, not least the inimitable Frankel in 2011.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was created in 1955 when the Knights’ Royal Stakes was renamed in honour of the Queen. It has held Group 1 status since 1987 and has long been considered one of the top mile events of the year.
The Mile category of the British Champions Series boasts some cracking races including the 2,000 Guineas (Newmarket), the St James’s Palace Stakes (Royal Ascot) and the Lockinge Stakes (Newbury).
The biggest race of the day in terms of purse (£1,300,000 in 2018) and many would say prestige, the Champion Stakes is the culmination of the Middle Distance category of the British Champions Series. Run over a distance of one mile and two furlongs, and open to runners aged three and older, this race is a true favourite with racing fans.
Originally held at Newmarket, the race was inaugurated all the way back in 1877 and has been classified as a Group 1 race ever since the grading system was introduced in 1971. The legendary Frankel won this race in 2012, the year after he had been victorious in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
The ‘Wizard of Manton’ Alec Taylor Jr trained eight winners of this race between 1903 and 1925, while – at the time of writing – Tristan is the only horse to have won it three times (1882-84), though interestingly two of those were classified as dead heats.
Some of the biggest flat races of the season take their place in the Middle Distance category of the British Champions Series, including the Derby (Epsom), the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Royal Ascot) and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Ascot).
The British Champions Series itself, and its climax British Champions Day, were conceived of as a way to increase interest among racing fans in some of the key races of the flat racing season. The idea was to link races to others in their category, the five categories being Sprint, Mile, Middle Distance, Long Distance and Fillies & Mares.
The series was first run in 2011 with the first British Champions Day meeting taking place at Ascot in October of that year. The meeting brings together some of the most historic season-closing races from Ascot and Newmarket.
While the Champion Stakes (formerly at Newmarket) and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Ascot) retained their names, others were given a change: the Diadem Stakes became the Sprint Stakes, the Pride Stakes became the Fillies & Mares Stakes and the Jockey Club Cup became the Long Distance Cup.
The five finals were brought together at Ascot with the Balmoral Handicap to add something a little different, and the meeting has proved extremely popular with racegoers, punters and those in the business.
A Complete History of British Champions Day
It’s hard to think of a more climactic way to mark an end to the flat season than with the hugely prestigious British Champions Day. Offering over £4m in prize money across six events, it is the most valuable day of horse racing to take place in Britain. Although created in 2011, the history of the races that make up the final day spans much further as you can see below.
1873 – Origins of Long Distance Cup
Newmarket adds a two-and-a-quarter mile contest called the Jockey Club Cup, a race we know today as the British Champions Long Distance Cup. It remained at its former home for over 170 years before being transferred to Ascot in order to form the new series.
1877 – Champions Stakes Emerges
Newmarket introduces another new race by the name of the Champion Stakes. Two-time July Cup winner, Springfield, won the inaugural running during a brilliant 14 race unbeaten streak.
1884 – Hat-trick for Tristan
Tristan, once described as a “very vile-tempered animal” completes a hat-trick of victories in the Champion Stakes. His stunning record has withstood the test of time with no other horse able to repeat the feat since. Perhaps even more incredible though is that two of his victories were dead heats!
1946 – Inaugural Princess Royal Stakes
As part of a post-war shake-up, Ascot introduces a new race, the Princess Royal Stakes in honour of Princess Mary. Fillies and mares aged three and above were eligible to compete in the one and a half mile contest.
1946 – Forerunner of Sprint Stakes Inaugurated
The Diadem Stakes is also founded at Ascot, a six furlong contest named after a prolific former winner at the racecourse. Winning the inaugural renewal was specialist sprinter The Bug, once branded the best British or Irish-trained horse of his generation. It’s this race which we now call the British Champions Sprint Stakes.
1955 – First Run of Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
As a way of honouring Queen Elizabeth II, organisers at Ascot renamed the Knights’ Royal Stakes to the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. September saw the first running of the one mile contest, available to all horses aged three and above.
1995 – Further Flight’s Five
Achieving what barely seemed possible, Further Flight made it five in a row in today’s Long Distance Cup. In doing so he became the first horse to win any European Group race on five occasions, an achievement no other horse has yet been able to match.
1995 – Carson Wins Number Eight
Willie Carson rides home Bahri in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, making it win number eight for the Scotsman. In no other race did he enjoy so much success with the Yorkshire Oaks (five wins) his next best major event.
1996 – Frankie’s Magnificent Seven
Frankie Dettori guides Mark of Esteem to victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes during what was the third win of the afternoon. The Italian famously went on to win the remaining four races on the card, completing a ‘Magnificent Seven’, much to the dismay of many a bookmaker.
2000 – Venue Change Due to Security Alert
A security alert at Ascot forces the cancellation of all but the first race on a Saturday meet. One of the abandoned events was the Princess Royal Stakes but Newmarket came to the rescue, hosting the race soon after. Adapting best to the change in venue was Sacred Song who was first past the post on the Rowley Mile.
2006 – Six Year Old Champions Stakes Winner
The Christophe Lemaire ridden Pride smashes the age trend in the Champion Stakes by becoming the first six year old old since Tristan (1884) to triumph in the race.
2008 – Farewell to Princess Royal Stakes
Ascot relinquishes control of the Princess Royal Stakes with the contest moving to its new home of Newmarket. The same year saw the race upped to Group 2 status and renamed to the Pride Stakes.
2008 – Breeders’ Cup Link-up
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is added to the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Challenge. As result, the champion of Ascot’s race would receive automatic entry to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The partnership with the Challenge series didn’t last long however with QEII removed in 2012.
2011 – Key Races Move to Ascot
In order to form part of the British Champions Day, the Diadem Stakes, the Jockey Club Cup and the Pride Stakes moved from Newmarket to Ascot. The trio immediately have their titles changed and form the opening three races of the inaugural meeting.
2012 – Frankel Stars Before Record Crowd
Ascot breaks the modern era attendance record for an autumn flat racing day. A crowd of 32,000 showed up to witness the action and what a memorable day it was too. Frankel, who had won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes a year earlier, marked the end of a fabulous career, bowing out with a Champion Stakes victory in spite of testing conditions.
2012 – Derby Purse Exceeds Champion Stakes
The Champion Stakes loses its briefly held title as the richest race in Britain with the Derby exceeding its huge purse of £1,300,000.
2013 – Fillies and Mares Stakes Gains Prestige
Shortly after being added to British Champions Day, the Fillies and Mares Stakes enjoys a large double boost. Not only is it reclassified to the highest level, Group 1, but its prize money doubles from £250,000 to £500,000.
2014 – Long Distance Cup Goes Group 2
After spending over four decades with Group 3 status, the Long Distance Cup is finally reclassified as a Group 2 event, helping it attract a higher calibre of horse.
2014 – High Value Handicap Added to Champions Day
Ten years after the Balmoral Handicap, part of Royal Ascot, was scrapped, the title returned as part of a new event after the Queen gave her consent. The new Balmoral Handicap became the curtain closer of British Champions Day, offering a prize fund of £250,000. A purse this size made it the richest one mile handicap taking place in the whole of Europe.
2015 – Champions Sprint Stakes Becomes a Group 1 Race
Major changes to the sprint programme across Europe sees the Champions Sprint Stakes upgraded to Group 1 for the first ever time. Alongside the enhanced prestige came a huge increase in the race’s value. Upped to £600,000, the six furlong contest became the continent’s joint most valuable event of such distance.
2015 – Fillies and Mares Stakes Purse Boost
Further increase to the prize money of the Fillies and Mares Stakes pushes the overall fund up to £600,000. A purse this large made the race the joint most valuable female-only race in the country.