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Champion Stakes Preview: Roy Can Land Barn-Storming Contest

Nic Doggett previews Saturday's Champion Stakes at Ascot and picks out his best bet.

Champion Stakes Preview: Roy Can Land Barn-Storming Contest

Nic Doggett previews Saturday's Champion Stakes at Ascot and picks out his best bet.

Back Barney
Back Barney Picture:RacingandSports

Whether it’s the fact that the Champion Stakes comes towards the back-end of a long season, especially for those three-year-olds trained with the classics in mind, or just circumstance (the best youngsters often contest the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe rather than this race which often comes around three weeks later), older horses have tended to dominate the race in recent seasons. Almanzor may have struck for the classic generation 12 months ago, but he was the first winner from that age group since New Approach’s 2008 six-length success over Twice Over, a horse who would go on to win the next two renewals.

Between the victories of New Approach and Almanzor, 21 three-year-olds contested the race, with only five finishing in the first three. Despite the absence of dual Guineas heroine Winter, three-year-olds fill two of the first three spots in the ante-post betting for this year's renewal; can they follow in Almanzor’s recent footprints?


Placed in both the Derby at Epsom and the Irish equivalent at the Curragh, Cracksman has really come of age since the second of those two defeats, winning the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York in emphatic fashion (despite hitting a flat-spot) in August, before producing an almost carbon copy in the Prix Niel at Chantilly the following month. Those efforts have fostered the general feeling of an awesome four-year-old campaign in the pipeline, but he could still be good enough to win this race a year earlier than his sire Frankel – who didn’t run in the race as a three-year-old - achieved.

Barney Roy Horseform followed his Greenham Stakes win with success in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot (by a length from Lancaster Bomber) in June, those efforts coming either side of a fine length-second to Churchill in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. He also filled the runner-up spot when beaten a nose by Ulysses in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in July and ran just as well – albeit coming out one place worse off – when two and a quarter lengths third to the same rival in the Juddmonte International at York last time. Jockey James Doyle made more use of Barney Roy there, much more so than the winner, who bided his time under Jim Crowley, and tactics will no doubt prove crucial once more.

The year-older Ulysses has lived up to his billing from last season, in which he, as Cracksman Horseform does now, looked the type to excel at four. In ideal hands, he has improved throughout the course of the season and, despite originally being unconsidered for the race, justified the decision to go to France with another top-class effort when three and three quarter lengths third in the Arc, tracking Enable early in the straight but unable to go with her when she burst clear. He sets the standard on form, whereas stablemate Poet’s Word needs to improve again if he is to play a hand in the finish here. Half a length second to Decorated Knight in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown last time, that is far from impossible given his current rate of progress.

With Churchill seemingly on track to drop back to a mile for the QEII and a strong possibility of Highland Reel being saved for the Breeders’ Cup as he was last year, Aidan O’Brien’s main hope of adding to his Group 1 haul could lie with Cliffs of Moher. He was fourth behind Ulysses Horseform in both the Eclipse and International, and wasn’t seen to best effect when three and three quarter lengths sixth in the Irish Champion last time. Highland Reel Horseform would command plenty of respect were he to take his chance here, the gutsy Coronation Cup and Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner having found soft conditions against him when a below-form fourth to Enable in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes here last time.

It is no deliberate sleight on Brametot that he is mentioned so late on in this preview, but it highlights the strength in depth of this year’s renewal. The Jean-Claude Rouget-trained three-year-old won the Poule d'Essai des Poulains at Deauville in May and Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly in June, before resuming his progress with a good six and a half lengths fifth in the Arc, ridden more prominently after breaking on terms. The drop in trip could be in his favour should he turn up after just a 20-day turnaround here.

In summary, Barney Roy may have a little to find in terms of Timeform weight-adjusted ratings, but he has been given a longer break since chasing home Ulysses at York, and that could swing things in his favour. Ulysses is a massive danger, but he had a tough race in France less than three weeks ago, while Cracksman is an exciting prospect, but has always struck as the type to produce his very best next season. Another cracking Group 1 awaits in any case.

Recommendation:

Back Barney Roy in Saturday's Champion Stakes at Ascot at 5/1
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