Friday, September 7, 2012

QIPCO Champions Day

QIPCO Champions Day

By Stephen Dwyer

Ascot racecourse has a slight problem. Too many people want to attend QIPCO Champions Day. Although the course is licensed for 80,000 spectators, officials there had expected 30,000 to attend Champion’s Day on October 20th. But now all Premier Enclosure tickets have sold out, with only Grandstand tickets remaining. Given that this is just the second year of the QIPCO Champions Day, the extra demand is firmly attributed to what may be the final race for the wonder horse, Frankel.

Nick Smith, Ascot's head of PR, stated recently “Ticket sales were ahead of last year anyway but people will now start thinking that not only is there a chance to see Frankel, it's pretty much definitively the last chance to see him." This would seem to be true, plans for the Arc have been scrapped in favour of a run in the QIPCO Champion Stakes. The race is the most valuable in Britain, richer than the Derby, with a total prize fund of £1.3m. For the race, Frankel is priced up with most bookmakers at 1-10 to bring the curtain down on what has been an astronomical career. He is unbeaten in 13 starts with nine of these at Group One level. Should Frankel win the QIPCO Champion Stakes he will set a European record of nine consecutive wins at Group One level.

If we rewind twelve months ago, there were a fair amount of layers willing to take on Frankel at this meeting when he faced Excelebration and Immortal Verse. Again the opposition mattered little as Frankel justified his odds of 4/11 when stretching the field to a clear cut victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Sir Henry Cecil jubilantly noted after the race “You're going to see a better horse next year, I'm really looking forward to having another winter over him next year and I think he will get a mile and a quarter very easily”. And so it came to pass, as a four year old Frankel dispatched the Lockinge, Queen Anne, Sussex Stakes and Juddmonte with such comparative ease he may as well have been having a leisurely morning canter around the gallops at Newmarket.

Should the QIPCO Champion Stakes prove any different ? Given that it is a middle distance showcase race over 1 mile 2 furlongs, a distance he is now proven over, Frankel is more than capable of destroying any type of field that he lines up in. The race itself has undergone a transformation in recent years. Worth €350,000 in 2010, QIPCO invested heavily in 2011 to completely change its status. The 2011 QIPCO Champion Stakes included world's highest-rated middle distance horses. Victory went to the France when the Corine Barande-Barbe -trained Cirrus Des Aigles (12/1), defeated the ex-Australian superstar, So You Think (7/4f). Frankel though is a different prospect and markedly Sir. Henry Cecil is the leading trainer in the race with no less than four wins (1988, 1996, 2009, 2010).

Twice Over completed a memorable double for Sir. Henry Cecil, Khalid Abdulla and Tom Queally when winning the race in 2009 and 2010 and connections will should have little trouble in winning the race this time around with Frankel. Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to Khalid Abdullah recently noted that the decision to run at Ascot had been taken in the best interests of the horse. "That was the overriding factor," Grimthorpe said. "All the possible options were discussed but Prince Khalid has always wanted to do what was right for Frankel.

With £737,230 to the winner, Frankel will naturally have his fair share of opposition. Cirrus Des Aigles swerved a tilt at the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown recently to attempt defend his title against Frankel. Trainer Corine Barande-Barbe remarked "The English Champion (Stakes) is the big plan." Another confirmed entry is Mario Hofer's three-year-old German star Pastorius. A surprise 25/1 winner of the German Derby at Hamburg in July, he followed up with an eight length win in a Group One at Munich over 10f. His trainer is very happy with the colts form but conceded "We know we can't beat Frankel, I don't think anybody can beat him, but it will be great just to be in the same race. If we can finish second, third or fourth we'll be very happy.” Nathaniel too may line up against Frankel on Champions Day, the possibility of soft ground wold work in the colts favour and jockey William Buick believes “If Ascot came up testing and stamina came into it, he will definitely give him a run for his money”. But all things being equal, QIPCO Champions Day will be a swan song for Frankel, deservedly so.

If Frankel was not enough to entice the crowd, QIPCO Champions Day features several other valuable races. Serving as the culmination of the QIPCO British Champions Series, there are Championship races in other distances including a Sprint, Mile, Long-Distance and Fillies & Mares. The Group Two QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes over 6f features £250,000 in prize money while the Fillies & Mares Stakes over 1mile 4 furlongs is also worth £250,000 . The Long Distance Cup over two miles is a Group Three won last year by Fame And Glory (3/1) in a memorable finish beating Opinion Poll (12/5f).

Champions Day, even though it is at the end of the flat season is a case of saving the best for last. Many runners, including Frankel will be retired to stud after it and the quality of equine talent on offer is truly astounding. QIPCO, a private investment company based in Qatar announced last month that they extending their support for the event by a further five years to 2017. Currently in the region of £3 million in prize money is offered on Champions Day, this could be increased to £4 million over the next couple of seasons. This will crystalize the day as a permanent conclusion to the British flat racing season.

Last year, QIPCO Champions Day generated £40 million in industry-wide betting turnover. All layers reported a massive increase in betting which is set to be surpassed this year as the meeting generates even more momentum. Kate Miller of William Hill noted after last year’s meeting: "Our betting shops were packed, and stakes mirrored those we would see on Royal Ascot Saturday - one of our busiest days of the year”. Adding to this, Matt Doyle of Sky Bet said: "At a time when the industry needs to make headlines for the rights reasons, Champions Day has been an overall success.”.

For Frankel, the 2012 Champions Day will be a crowning glory and for all in the industry Champions Day is the continuation of an event that is becoming that little bit special.

Copyright: Betview Magazine - October 2012.

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