Found set for Champion rematch with Almanzor; Minding shortens up for QEII

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

October 14th, 2016

Since my early look at Saturday’s Champions Day card at Ascot, the final fields have been declared, and the storylines are now crystallized.

The eponymous highlight, the Champion S. (G1) (10:45 a.m. EDT), can be billed as a rematch between Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) queen Found and Almanzor, who collared her late in the Irish Champion (G1) at this 10-furlong trip. Will the French Derby (G1) star turn the Champion double, last accomplished by New Approach in 2008?

Found, who just missed to Fascinating Rock here last October, must overcome the far outside post 11. That’s a tough starting spot going 1 1/4 miles on this course. If Found can brush that aside, she’d make history by becoming the first Arc winner to take the Champion in the same year. Only one other horse has won both races, and you’ve got to go back in the archives to find *Migoli (the 1947 Champion winner who added the Arc in 1948).

Although Found is indisputably Aidan O’Brien’s number one, the master of Ballydoyle has a potential upsetter in US Army Ranger. The son of Galileo and Moonstone has yet to deliver fully on his august reputation, but he was a green second in the Epsom Derby (G1), and stands to peak in his third start off a break here. And for the first time in his life, US Army Ranger is a double-digit price.

Jack Hobbs, third as the favorite from the ghastly post 12 in the 2015 Champion, is a little better off in post 9. Can John Gosden have him ready to roll at this level off an injury-induced layoff? Can his Godolphin confrere Racing History, off since his fourth in last year’s running, hope to replicate that after such a long absence? The Saeed bin Suroor trainee is a full brother to 2013 Champion winner Farhh. Will Juddmonte’s onetime Derby fancy Midterm jump up and run the race of his life? Will the removal of cheekpieces help revive The Grey Gatsby? Will My Dream Boat, who denied Found in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) over this track and trip during the Royal meeting, somehow dispel the idea it was a fluke?

As expected, Highland Reel was taken out of the Champion, with an eye toward the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Regardless of the Champion outcome, Found is still in the discussion for a possible title defense at Santa Anita.

Two other Champions Day events promise to have Breeders’ Cup repercussions.

O’Brien removed his obvious Mile (G1) contender, Alice Springs, from the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) (10:10 a.m. EDT), which became the preferred spot for his six-time Group 1 heroine Minding. Dropping back to a mile for the first time since late spring, she’s favored in the antepost market against the evenly matched sophomore males – Ribchester, Awtaad, and Galileo Gold. And it would be no surprise if Minding emerges as a BC candidate.

But O’Brien also has Hit It a Bomb, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner who’s rounding into form after missing most of the season. As mentioned in Monday’s preview, Lightning Spear gives the older brigade their best shot down the straight mile – where he finished third to Tepin in the Queen Anne (G1).

The British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) (9:35 a.m. EDT) features another O’Brien hotpot in Seventh Heaven, who’s likely to advance to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). The Irish Oaks (G1) winner beat Found in the “Win & You’re In” Yorkshire Oaks (G1), and remains at the 1 1/2-mile trip here. Unfortunately, she’s drawn widest of all in post 13.

Nearly all of the principals have stood their ground since Monday, with the lone exception of Endless Time. Dermot Weld sends out the biggest threat to Seventh Heaven, Zhukova. The lightly raced daughter of Fastnet Rock and Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) winner Nightime defeated US Army Ranger last out in the Enterprise (G3) on Irish Champions Day. The better Zhukova does here, the more appealing she makes US Army Ranger in the Champion. Last year’s runner-up Journey enters in great form, while the progressive Queen’s Trust offers perhaps the best value. Triple classic-placed Architecture, who’s likewise placed to Minding and Seventh Heaven, is another who can be involved at a price.

The first two races on Champions Day have less Breeders’ Cup relevance. Yet both are very much worth watching on their own merit.

The two-mile Long Distance Cup (G2) (8:25 a.m. EDT) poses the burning question: can O’Brien’s Gold Cup (G1) winner Order of St George wheel back successfully 13 days after his third to stablemate Found in the Arc? Last year’s St Leger (G1) vixen Simple Verse, and the in-form Sheikhzayedroad and Quest for More, will provide a proper test.

The British Champions Sprint (G1) (9 a.m. EDT) lost its key Breeders’ Cup contender, Limato, with trainer Henry Candy swerving in case the ground goes against him. At last report, the going is still good, but I’m just relieved that the Limato decision means it’s all systems go for Santa Anita. Similarly, O’Brien removed his BC Turf Sprint (G1) hopeful, Washington DC.

The other prime contenders are all still in the six-furlong dash, including last year’s stellar juvenile Shalaa making up for lost time, top filly Quiet Reflection, Limato’s stablemate Twilight Son – all with course-and-distance wins – as well as five-furlong specialist Mecca’s Angel trying to go out in a blaze of glory.

Found photo courtesy/copyright Breeders' Cup Ltd.

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