French champion Sealiway upstaged the principals in Saturday’s Champion S. (G1) at Ascot, a newly minted “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). The hotly anticipated Queen Elizabeth II (G1) showdown went more according to script, as Baaeed toppled Palace Pier on an epic Champions Day for Shadwell. In a sign for the future, three-year-olds swept all four Group 1s.
Also on Champions Day, Godolphin was honored as Britain’s top owner for the 14th time; Oisin Murphy clinched his third straight champion jockey title, holding off William Buick by a two-win margin; and Marco Ghiani was celebrated as champion apprentice rider.
Champion S. (G1)
The expected clash between 13-8 favorite Mishriff and 5-2 second choice Adayar fizzled as they were both unplaced behind Le Haras de la Gousserie’s Sealiway.
Only three-quarters of a length adrift of Adayar when they were fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) last out, Sealiway went off at a generous 12-1 in their rematch here. Under Mickael Barzalona, the Cedric Rossi pupil drafted in the slipstream of Adayar, who pressed defending champion Addeybb early.
When a keen Adayar took over and set sail for home, Sealiway was on the premises to tackle him, then rebuffed a bid from Mishriff. Dubai Honour threw down a final challenge in hopes of keeping the trophy on British soil, but Sealiway fended him off by three-quarters of a length. The son of the Galileo stallion Galiway covered 1 1/4 miles in 2:08.31.
Mac Swiney rounded out the all-sophomore trifecta. Mishriff wilted to fourth, with co-trainer John Gosden citing the good-to-soft going as a factor. Adayar retreated to fifth, and trainer Charlie Appleby mentioned stepping back up to 1 1/2 miles next season. Addeybb was a ring-rusty sixth, leaving trainer William Haggas wishing he’d been able to get a prep run. Foxes Tales, Al Aasy, and Euchen Glen rounded out the order of finish after Bolshoi Ballet was scratched due to the ground.
Sealiway was runner-up to the now-retired St Mark’s Basilica in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1) two back, in his only other try at around this distance. The Arc was his first start back from a four-month break, and he moved forward reverting in trip at Ascot.
“I didn’t sit on him on Arc day,” Barzalona said, “but the team were very confident. They said he was in good form and that he had improved a lot since the Arc run, so although it was a tough race, they were pretty confident.
“We had a good draw, he broke well, settled well and we had a good position – it was good. Sealiway showed plenty of stamina in the Arc, but today he showed plenty of speed. He is an excellent horse.”
Connections previously indicated that he was going for the Champion rather than the Breeders’ Cup, so unless plans change, he probably won’t use his Turf spot. The hero of last fall’s Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) tried the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Keeneland, where he met some trouble in fifth.
Queen Elizabeth II (G1)
Shadwell’s homebred Baaeed extended his record to a perfect 6-for-6 when overcoming 6-4 favorite Palace Pier in the marquee mile event. The highlight of a three-win day for Shadwell and retained rider Jim Crowley, the 2-1 second choice was perched on Palace Pier’s tail in the early going. As Frankie Dettori waited to make his move on the favorite, he stole backward glances at Baaeed, and by the time he did go on with Palace Pier, Baaeed was ominously covering his move. The Haggas sophomore bested Palace Pier by a neck in 1:42.57.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) “Win and You’re In” provision is moot, though, since connections confirmed that Baaeed was done for the season. Indeed, he’s risen the ladder swiftly since his June debut, with a sequence of victories including the Sir Henry Cecil S. at Newmarket, Thoroughbred S. (G3) at Glorious Goodwood, and Prix du Moulin (G1) in his latest.
“I think Baaeed could be a world champion,” Crowley said. “He’s just a beast, he keeps getting better.
“I’m pretty sure he would stay further if he had to,” he added of the Sea the Stars colt whose full brother, Hukum, is a multiple Group 3 winner at 1 1/2 miles and beyond. “He’s got a great mind. There doesn’t seem to be any chinks in his armor. He travels so well – the stronger they go in a race the better for him. He’s got a very good turn of foot as well.”
Gosden was left second-guessing Dettori’s ride on Palace Pier, who is now slated for stud.
“Frankie said it was a slowly run race, and I think if he rode it again, he would have committed sooner rather than spending his time looking round. I think he should have committed earlier. This horse stays a mile well.
“The winner is a nice horse but ridden again I think we would have been a little bolder.”
Lady Bowthorpe rattled home for third in her swan song, a length up on defending champion The Revenant who was prominent throughout. Breeders’ Cup candidate Mother Earth rallied from the rear to take fifth, while fellow Del Mar possible Master of the Seas was a non-threatening seventh. Benbatl set the pace before giving way to ninth of 10 on ground that wouldn’t have helped.
British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1)
Crowley earlier guided Shadwell’s homebred Eshaada to a 16-1 upset in a thrilling British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1). The Roger Varian filly outdueled the older Albaflora, in a battle between daughters of Shadwell’s Muhaarar, in 2:34.05 for 1 1/2 miles. Odds-on Snowfall wound up a well-beaten third, suffering her third straight loss, and likely ending her chances of prolonging her campaign at the Breeders’ Cup.
Eshaada was engineering a comprehensive form reversal, having finished a tailed-off last behind Snowfall in the Aug. 19 Yorkshire Oaks (G1). Two back, though, she was a hard-charging runner-up in the Ribblesdale (G2) at this course and distance.
“I had a very willing partner,” Crowley said. “She tried very hard and loves that ground.
“She was unlucky here at Royal Ascot. I just got a bit far back on her, but we had the perfect trip round today and she toughed it out.”
“Eshaada loves cut in the ground and she’s got track form,” Varian noted. “She is a class filly and I thought she looked a touch overpriced coming into the race.
“I think a discussion will be had with Shadwell (regarding plans). She is a great, big scopey filly, and I think her best days are ahead of her. I would like to keep her in training.”
Aidan O’Brien was forthright about Snowfall’s performance:
“She ran an OK race, obviously you would be disappointed she didn’t win.
“She’s had plenty of racing and it was a steadily enough run race. They quickened and she followed them, but she just didn’t get to them.
“(Jockey) Ryan (Moore) said he would have preferred the pace to be a bit stronger early. Snowfall was slow away and didn’t want to come out and around them. There you go – that’s the way it is.
“We haven’t said anything really (about next year). We’ll see how she is, but that is probably it this year.”
Shadwell and Crowley’s third winner, the Haggas-trained Aldaary, captured the Balmoral H. nightcap. Crowley commented on the poignant nature of the stable’s success, in light of Sheikh Hamdan’s passing in March.
“I’m sure Sheikh Hamdan is looking down. It’s so sad that he can’t be here because he would absolutely have been buzzing today. He loves Ascot. Hopefully his daughter, Sheikha Hissa, is watching and she will be over the moon.”
British Champions Sprint (G1)
Appleby had not participated in the first 10 editions of Champions Day, but the Godolphin trainer struck with his very first runner Saturday, Creative Force, in the British Champions Sprint (G1). Bet down to 11-2 by post time, the Jersey (G3) winner collared 22-1 defending champion Glen Shiel and edged one length clear. Minzaal made an eye-catching run on the far rail to snatch third from wide-drawn favorite Art Power, who never made the lead on the outside wing of the field.
Creative Force negotiated six furlongs in 1:13.79 with Buick aboard and enhanced his status on the sprint scene. Although the gelding had won three in a row at this trip early in the season, he was subsequently unplaced versus elders in the July Cup (G1) and Haydock Sprint Cup (G1). Creative Force had gone closest back over seven furlongs in the Lennox (G2), where he missed by a head. But the softish going at Ascot played to his strengths.
“Creative Force is a typical Dubawi who should get better with age,” Appleby said. “The sprint division is there for someone to take the mantle next year, and we’ve been looking for a new star sprinter since Blue Point was retired, so hopefully this horse can be a fun horse for the next year or two. There’s a hole there to be filled, and I think he is a young enough horse to do that.”
British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2)
Even-money favorite Trueshan opened Champions Day by successfully defending his title in the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2). Despite scrimmaging with 50-1 longshot Tashkhan out wide in a messy race, the Alan King charge turned on the power in the stretch and prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths. Staying legend Stradivarius, who had an even worse passage from farther back, couldn’t sustain his bid and tired to third in what might have been his finale.
Winning rider Hollie Doyle recapped Trueshan’s trip through the two-mile test.
“It was a bit of a nightmare really. He jumped nicely, I got a nice position early on and he switched off. At halfway he came to life, put the brakes on and raced rather keenly, but that’s just the way he is.
“I could feel Frankie (Dettori on Stradivarius) breathing down my neck five down and I was wider than I wanted to be turning in, but I had to make my move.”
Dettori did not mince words about his checkered run, as Stradivarius was buffeted by Baron Samedi who kept him wide and forced him to pull back again at a key point.
“It was a disgrace. The kid (Baron Samedi’s rider Dylan Browne McMonagle) in front of me did everything possible to get me beat.”
“It was a horrible trip,” Gosden commented. “It all went wrong, but that is life, and I don’t want to go into any detail on it, but they rode to beat him a little bit.
“They do go finding him in a race. One day they box him in and the next day they push him out. You look at the Ascot Gold Cup (G1) and today and other guys are riding him. I don’t want to go any further than that.”
Gosden added that Stradivarius’ future was up to owner/breeder Bjorn Nielsen, but that no decision would be made regarding the seven-year-old until next week.
“That is Bjorn’s decision, but I will tell him how the horse is. Funnily enough the horse is a very expressive character. He will tell us.”
The baton has been passed to five-year-old Trueshan, now the winner of three straight including the Goodwood Cup (G1) and Prix du Cadran (G1) over Stradivarius.