There was a feeling in some quarters on social media that QIPCO Champions Day was a bit of a let-down.
From an equine point of view that may very well be the case – we certainly didn’t see many horses that can be accurately described as champions, although results dictated that.
If the likes of Stradivarius, Palace Pier, Mishriff and Magical had all won then it would have been a different story. Of course, when so many star names are housed in the same yard - in this instance the Clarehaven Stables of John Gosden, the variable of 'stable form' increases in significance.
We all know the issues surrounding this meeting, we’ve heard them time and time again over the years. The positioning of Champions Day, in between Arc weekend and the Breeders’ Cup, quite obviously means it is vulnerable to tempting overseas alternatives for connections of high-profile horses, while ground conditions can often be an issue for many at this time of the year. That’s just the rub.
But this great sport isn’t all about the equine stars – indeed it is often the human-interest stories that transcend horse racing to a higher plane. So, thank heavens for the Tom and Hollie show, or is it the Hollie and Tom show?
Either way, BBC and Sky Sports News didn’t lead their sports bulletins on Addeybb winning the QIPCO Champion Stakes or Trueshan running away with the Long Distance Cup – there was only one story in town.
Purists will always focus on the quality of the equine participants on big days, but Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand did more on Saturday to take the sport of horse racing to people that would never normally have any interaction with it than any individual champion equine athlete could have done.
And that is why days like Saturday are hugely important to the sport.
What Champions Day Needs
One other point about Champions Day. The day feels incomplete, partly because it is only six races, which fly by whether we are able to be on the track or not, but also because it is crying out for a quality two-year-old race.
Of course, putting your finger on which one is another thing entirely. It’s going to take some serious negation for Ascot to get their hands on any of the three colt’s Group 1 races run in the autumn, the Middle Park, the Dewhurst and the Vertem Futurity Trophy, so the most likely option, from this range at least, is the Royal Lodge Stakes, a race that Ascot gave up as part of the deal to get the Champion Stakes away from Newmarket.
Ascot undoubtedly got the best end of that particular deal, but it has left them short of a quality two-year-old race and Champions Day can’t really be Champions Day unless the juvenile division is represented.
Jockeys’ Title Race
Fair play to William Buick for doing his bit to keep the title race alive but I can’t help thinking that he’s left it a bit late to start charging around the country to ride any short price favourite he can get his leg over.
Oisin Murphy holds a big lead because he rides a steady stream of winners throughout the season, barring the odd blip, and I can’t help but think it cheapens the brand of the jockeys’ championship when someone like Buick can seemingly show no interest in competing until the last couple of months of the season.
Murphy has been going to the small tracks all season, unlike Buick whose recent visit to Southwell was his first in over five years (it may even be longer than that) and although his job with Godolphin has meant that he often hasn’t had the freedom to pick and choose the meetings he attends, there is no doubt in my mind that the most deserved winner is that man Murphy.
Vertem Futurity Trophy
Jumps fans will be salivating at the prospect of Cheltenham’s first meeting of the new jumps season this weekend and there is no doubt that we’ll see some top class action over the sticks on Friday and Saturday, but there is still some unfinished business on the level to deal with, and if you like an ante-post Guineas bet then you will not want to miss the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster on Saturday.
The last three winners of this race have gone on to win the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket the following season, so it’s a very strong pointer to the first Classic of next season. No juvenile has really stamped their authority this season, certainly not in the same way Pinatubo did last season, so it’s all up for grabs.
Aidan O’Brien has a ridiculously good record in the race but by leaving seven in at the five-day stage punters are very much in the dark over what will be his main dart or darts. Dewhurst runner-up Wembley looks the obvious one but he looks a top of the ground horse while it’s only a couple of weeks since his brilliant Rowley Mile run.
The one in here that excites me the most is the unbeaten Godolphin-owned colt La Barrosa who wasn’t seen to best effect in the Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket but still got the job done.
A colt with a huge engine, he looks for all the world like he’ll be seen to better effect in a bigger field where he gets a stronger pace to aim at, and I would expect him to put up a big performance if Charlie Appleby gives him the green light to take his chance. Could La Barrosa be the next Pinatubo?