Alex Hammond Blog: Champions Day preview

Alex Hammond fancies a French raider in the Champion Stakes – check out her strongest fancies for Ascot on Saturday.

This Saturday I’m back at Ascot for my second QIPCO British Champions Day with Sky Sports Racing and can’t wait to bring you a world-class card.

One of the highlights on the six-race card is the Champion Stakes where Magical is bidding to become the second successive horse to win the Group 1 back-to-back following Cracksman in 2017/2018.

Aidan O’Brien’s five-year-old mare looks as good as ever this year and her trainer has confirmed that. She has an outstanding record at this meeting. Not only did she win this in 2019, but she was also victorious in the 2018 Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes. Her latest run is working out well with fourth placed Sottsass subsequently winning the Arc. She has plenty to recommend her, clearly.

Of her rivals Mishriff is progressive and also gets the three-year-old weight for age allowance (4lbs). Taking into account Magical’s mares’ allowance, he will carry one pound less than the favourite.


His wins in the French Derby and last time at Deauville show his love for the prevailing underfoot conditions and it looks like Frankie is set to ride. His trainer John Gosden also saddles Lord North in the race and things should drop more kindly for him without relentless galloper Ghaiyyath in the field.

He beat Addeybb in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in the summer for his first win at the highest level.

Viewers of Sky Sports Racing will know I backed Skalleti almost before he’d pulled up at ParisLongchamp having won back to back Prix Dollars at the Arc meeting.

He’s now 7/1 with Sky Bet, so I’m happy I did. His jockey Maxime Guyon wasn’t at his best that day and the horse won despite meeting trouble a couple of times. He will enjoy conditions, his trainer Jerome Reynier has his team in top form and he deserves his first crack at a Group 1.

Lovely Addeybb was runner up in this race last year and I fear he may have to settle for minor honours again. He had a superb winter, winning two prestigious Group 1 races in Australia, and had a little confidence booster at Ayr in Listed company last month.

Pyledriver is a wonderful horse who has given his connections loads of fun this year, but I worry that the drop back to a mile and a quarter may be a bridge too far. He was too keen over a mile and three quarters in the Leger and I’m looking forward to seeing him in the top mile and a half races next season.

There are two brothers amongst the entries too with Japan and his younger sibling Mogul.

They were denied the chance to run in the Arc due to the contaminated feed scandal and that’s a real shame as that race would have suited both better.

Mogul has performed better of the two this season, but has other options. Both may struggle to beat their stablemate Magical if they all turn up. Serpentine also hails from Ballydoyle and the runaway Derby winner still has plenty up his sleeve I’m sure. We don’t know everything about him yet and it remains to be seen if he’s one dimensional.

Magical is a worthy favourite at 15/8 with Sky Bet, but I’m happy with my ante post voucher on SKALLETI.

Away from the feature I’m looking forward to seeing ART POWER in the British Champions Sprint. He’s a 10/1 shot behind 6/4 favourite Dream Of Dreams, but I’ve been waiting for Tim Easterby’s grey to do something special this season and I hope it comes on Saturday. He still offers value each-way and there should be more to come from the three-year-old.

I definitely think it’s worth taking Stradivarius on at the prices in the Long Distance Cup and I’m keen on second favourite SEARCH FOR A SONG who is an unexposed stayer. She beat Kew Gardens in the Irish St Leger last year and he is of course the horse who denied Stradivarius his second win in this race last year. Dermot Weld’s filly is 5/1 with Sky Bet as opposed to 8/13 for Stradivarius.

The horse I’m most looking forward to seeing on Saturday is PALACE PIER in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. This imposing horse has blown me away from the word go and his victory in the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville in August showed he can cope with softer conditions, even if that isn’t his preferred ground.

His copybook hasn’t been blotted yet and he comes into Ascot with a perfect five from five record to date. He’s 4/6 with Sky Bet, but deservedly so.

The closing race is the Balmoral Handicap over a mile and understandably it looks uber competitive. I was looking forward to seeing RAISING SAND at Ascot two weeks ago until the meeting was abandoned.

Hopefully, the ground will still be suitable for Jamie Osborne’s soft ground loving performer who actually ran in the QEII last season and he has obvious claims in this handicap. He’s 14/1 with Sky Bet.

I’m also a fan of TEMPUS who won over this course and distance in September. I thought he had a great chance of following up in the Cambridgeshire, he was sent off favourite at Newmarket and ran well in sixth, but has been raised a couple of pounds for his trouble. That doesn’t put me off though and at 7/1 I’d rather be for than against back at Ascot.

So, it will be a very different Champions Day to normal, when we would normally be celebrating these champions in person. Instead, sit back and relax and enjoy the racing on the box and hopefully we can celebrate a few winners together on a top quality day of sport.

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