Cracksman is on target to give Newmarket’s top trainer John Gosden his first victory in the QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot’s racing spectacular on Saturday.
The ultra consistent son of Frankel heads up a select assault force from the trainer’s Clarehaven yard which also includes the enigmatic filly Journey, St Leger runner-up Stradivarius, Persuasive and Coronet.
In what promises to be a scintillating renewal of the QIPCO Champion Stakes, Europe’s most valuable mile and a quarter race worth a mouth-watering £1.3 million, Cracksman will have the likes of Sir Michael Stoute’s warrior Ulysses and Godolphin’s Barney Roy to deal with.
Out on Newmarket Heath on Friday watching his team canter up Warren Hill, Gosden said of his Great Voltigeur and Prix Niel winner: “He has done nothing but improve throughout the year and is still maturing and strengthening — he’s bigger and stronger than he’s ever been and weighs 16 or 17 kilos more than he did in April and he ran huge races in both the Derby and the Irish Derby.
Asked how he would have fared had he run in The Arc against stable-mate Enable, Gosden replied: “He’d have been in the top three.”
But with the immediate focus on Saturday, Gosden said: “He had a nice holiday after the Irish Derby into York and another nice gap then to Chantilly for the Prix Niel, and he’s had another nice gap going into Ascot.
“He’s in good form and I’m very happy with him. Frankie Dettori was pleased with his work on Wednesday and I’m looking forward to running him in the Champion Stakes. He’s won over a mile and a quarter and is bred to be more of a miler. I think he’s got the pace for it.”
Gosden also has Jack Hobbs among the entries for the Group One contest, but the five-year-old, who finished third in the last two renewals of the Champion Stakes and registered his first victory at the highest level in the Sheema Classic at Meydan in March, is not certain to take his chance. He disappointed on fast ground when last in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, while he was virtually pulled up in the King George in July.
“We will see through the week if we run him or not,” said Gosden. “That race (Prince of Wales’s) didn’t do him any good and it was unwise to run him in those temperatures on that ground, whereas the Sheema Classic was a very smart move.
“We will see how he works in the week, but there’s no final decision.”
Journey will be bidding to repeat her success of 12 months ago in the Champion Fillies and Mares races.
“She seems to come to herself in the autumn,” said Gosden as the daughter of Dubawi scooted up the canter wearing her customary hood. “She is an imperious lady. This will probably be her last race and her owner and breeder George Strawbridge will be over to watch her.”
And if the ground is good on Saturday, Gosden is hoping Stradivarius can call the tune in the stayers’ race where he is likely to come up against Michael Bell’s Big Orange, who he beat in the Goodwood Cup before finishing a gallant second to Aidan O’Brien’s Capri in the St Leger.
“It was the best Leger run in a long time and it was run very hard,” said Gosden. “He is a grand horse and his 2018 target will be the Ascot Gold Cup.”
Cheveley Park-owned Persuasive, who found just one too good in the Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Headquarters earlier this month, will be bidding to end her career with a Group 1 success in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
That ‘one’ at Newmarket was Roly Poly, trained by the all-conquering O’Brien, who Gosden said he felt sure would break US training legend Bobby Frankel’s record for Group 1 wins in a season at the Ascot showpiece. “He will get the job done, and what an achievement,” said Gosden, who learned his training craft with O’Brien’s predecessor at Ballydoyle, the late Vincent O’Brien.
“I have enormous respect for Aidan. He is absolutely absorbed in what he is doing and his attention to detail is the gold standard.”