Hanson: British Champions Day spot plays at Ascot
Saturday's British Champions Day at Ascot undoubtedly lives up to its moniker, with several outstanding match-ups and/or betting opportunities across the five group stakes.
Unlike recent years, when very soft or heavy ground has dampened participation, and sometimes the results, at the fixture, the prevailing good-to-soft conditions will provide a welcome respite.
Here are several horses of interest on the card.
British Champions Sprint (G1) -- Race 2 (9 a.m. ET)
The sprint division throughout Europe has been a muddle this season, especially in England when no standout ever emerged (the closest was the now-retired Starman). That's reflected in the fact 20 horses were entered for this straight six-furlong event.
You could probably make a case for half the field, and maybe more, but the inclination is to side with a horse who's been relatively less exposed this season. #11 MINZAAL (7-1) fits that bill perfectly, having only just got back into action following a year-long layoff.
A promising two-year-old last season when taking the Gimcrack (G2) at York, Minzaal was out for a year following his season-ending third in the Middle Park (G1). His comeback occurred in the Oct. 2 Rous S. at Ascot. Over a short five furlongs and on ground soft enough to produced noticeable divot kickback, Minzaal finished second by a length to course-and-distance specialist Tis Marvellous.
Minzaal does need to take a significant step forward, but the colt has a potentially bright future.
British Champions Fillies and Mares S. (G1) -- Race 3 (9:35 a.m. ET)
Likely odds-on favorite #8 Snowfall is the one to beat here, but back-to-back losses in the Prix Vermeille (G1) and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) suggest she's not the wonder horse she appeared to be just a couple of months ago.
Not that either of those defeats at Longchamp were bad. Far from it, in fact, and frankly there's not a lot of depth to the opposition.
Nonetheless, #3 ESHAADA (7-1) can hopefully do a good deal better against Snowfall this time than she did in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), when she caved early in the long stretch and trailed home last by 36 lengths.
It's better to judge Eshaada off her unlucky second in the Ribblesdale (G2) over this course and distance back in June, when she was late finding running room and ran out of ground against longshot Loving Dream. That rival proved no better against Snowfall in the Yorkshire Oaks, beaten by more than 10 lengths into fifth, but at least proved the Ribblesdale was no fluke by taking the Prix de Royallieu (G1) two weeks ago.
If there's a touch of vulnerability to Snowfall, perhaps a more in-form Eshaada will be the one to capitalize.
Queen Elizabeth II S. (G1) -- Race 4 (10:10 a.m. ET)
The once-beaten #4 Palace Pier and the three-year-old #6 Baaeed are the main attractions, but their respective recent wins in France weren't dazzling by any stretch. Baaeed's, in the Prix du Moulin (G1) against the exposed Order of Australia, was rather workmanlike from this view.
#5 The Revenant, second and first in the past two runnings of this race, has obvious merit, as does the three-year-old filly Alcohol Free, who found the distance of the Juddmonte International (G1) in late August a step too far.
However, we'll side with #8 MASTER OF THE SEAS (10-1), though we're running the risk of being a race early as trainer Charlie Appleby has hinted at this being a stepping stone to the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar in three weeks.
Enduring a very tough beat in the 2000 Guineas (G1) to the now-retired Poetic Flare, Master of the Seas was subsequently sidelined for the rest of the summer, and thus hasn't yet been able to show his relative worth. His return to action, in the Sept. 24 Joel (G2), produced a decent third-place finish to fellow Godolphin colorbearer (and returning rival) Benbatl off of a layoff dating to the first of May.
If you trust the 2000 Guineas form line, Master of the Seas perhaps isn't far off of the main players. Poetic Flare subsequently demolished his St James's Palace (G1) rivals, narrowly missed to Palace Pier in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1), and looked like he was going to upset the 1 1/4-mile Irish Champion (G1) over St Mark's Basilica and Tarnawa until very late.
Again, we might be tabbing Master of the Seas a race too soon, but a double-digit price is hard to pass up on a horse that figures to have gotten a lot out of his recent prep.