July 23, 2024

Baaeed aims to crown career in Champion Stakes; Modern Games in QEII

Baaeed wins the 2022 Juddmonte International (York Racecourse photo)

Superstar Baaeed looks to go a perfect 11-for-11 in his swan song in Saturday’s Champion (G1) at Ascot, the anchor of five major stakes on the eponymous Champions Day program.

Champion (G1) – Race 5 (11 a.m. ET)

A revelation of the 2021 season, Baaeed rapidly progressed to the top level at a mile, capturing both the Prix du Moulin (G1) at Longchamp and the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day. The Shadwell homebred continued his reign as a miler in his first three outings this campaign – the Lockinge (G1), Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot, and Sussex (G1) at Glorious Goodwood.

Yet his pedigree and running style strongly pointed to his capacity to go further. Trainer William Haggas gave him that opportunity in the about 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International (G1) at York, where Baaeed was even more dominant in a 6 1/2-length rout.

Connections thought about revising his agenda to include the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), but ultimately adhered to the original plan of bowing out in the 1 1/4-mile Champion. Shadwell’s retained rider, Jim Crowley, will guide the overwhelming odds-on favorite from the rail.

His most intriguing opponent is Godolphin’s Adayar, last year’s Derby (G1) and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) hero, who makes just the second start of his belated four-year-old season. The Charlie Appleby pupil tried this race unsuccessfully last fall, but his fifth-place effort came on the heels of a sapping fourth in the Arc.

Adayar arrives much fresher on Saturday, with an easy Sept. 8 comeback at Doncaster to set him up. Regular partner William Buick is back aboard the second choice, whose sire, Frankel, famously closed out his unbeaten career in the 2012 Champion. Since Baaeed has sparked plenty of discussion about how he compares to Frankel, it would be a quite a twist if a son of Frankel could somehow stun him here. If so, Adayar is likely to use the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” perk for the Turf (G1).

Sir Michael Stoute’s Bay Bridge has not been seen since his fifth as the favorite in the July 2 Eclipse (G1), but he had begun the year as a potential star. After romping in the May 26 Brigadier Gerard (G3), Bay Bridge was all the rage for the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at this course and distance during Royal Ascot. The race shape on good-to-firm didn’t suit him, though, and he settled for second to front-running globetrotter State of Rest. Back on ground with a bit of ease, Bay Bridge could revert to his old dynamism. Richard Kingscote picks up the mount.

Haggas has two other entrants who, in normal circumstances, might attract more attention. Dubai Honour was a hard-charging runner-up here a year ago, ending a three-race winning spree including the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2) and Prix Dollar (G2). Although winless since, he often runs well, as evidenced by his late-running second in the September (G3) at Kempton. The addition of cheekpieces could sharpen him up. Sophomore stablemate My Prospero, a near-miss third in the St James’s Palace (G1) at the Royal meeting, stepped up to this trip and landed the July 16 Prix Eugene Adam (G2) at Saint-Cloud. Interestingly, My Prospero keeps jockey Tom Marquand, who hands Dubai Honour over to James Doyle.

Roger Varian sends out the improving Royal Champion. A different animal since being gelded, the well-bred four-year-old put it all together when drawing off in the Doonside Cup at Ayr. The remaining three hopefuls are Irish shippers – Jim Bolger’s Mac Swiney, winless since the 2021 Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) but third at 40-1 here last fall; Aidan O’Brien’s Stone Age, most recently fifth as the pacemaker in the Irish Champion (G1); and Noel Meade’s Helvic Dream, unraced since trailing in his May 22 Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) title defense.

Queen Elizabeth II (G1) – Race 4 (10:20 a.m. ET)

In this poignant first renewal since the passing of the Queen, three-year-old filly Inspiral is heavily favored to beat older males down the straight mile. The Cheveley Park homebred proved that she could handle this demographic in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) last out at Deauville. Inspiral also has experience at Ascot, albeit on the round mile course, when starring in the Coronation (G1) during the Royal meeting. Nearly flawless with a 6-for-7 mark, the John and Thady Gosden trainee reunites with Frankie Dettori. She also gets a six-pound weight concession from her elders and three pounds from the sophomore colts.

Modern Games could try to scoop up a superfluous second ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) in this “Win and You’re In” – ground-permitting. Appleby has left the Godolphin homebred in the field only because conditions look no worse than good-to-soft as of Thursday’s final declarations. If the favorable forecast doesn’t hold, and the going turns soft, he’ll be scratched to await Keeneland. Modern Games has booked his spot courtesy of the Woodbine Mile (G1), his third top-level victory at the distance after the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and the May 15 Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) (G1). His only loss at a mile came at the hands of Baaeed in the Sussex.

French warrior The Revenant, who makes his annual trip across the Channel for this race, hopes to regain the QEII title he won in 2020. Runner-up in the 2019 edition, he was fourth to Baaeed as the defending champ in 2021. The Francis-Henri Graffard veteran exits a second in his familiar stepping stone, the Prix Daniel Wildenstein (G2) on Arc weekend and would love soft ground.

Simon and Ed Crisford’s Jadoomi has won all three starts as a gelding, notably the Celebration Mile (G2) and the Boomerang (G2) on Irish Champions Weekend. Multiple Group 1-placed Bayside Boy responded to blinkers to take the Fortune S. at Sandown, his first score since toppling Reach for the Moon in the 2021 Champagne (G2). El Drama was runner-up off a 13-month layoff in the Joel (G2), where Tempus was a troubled third as the favorite. Checkandchallenge was third in the Daniel Wildenstein, with longshot Raadobarg fifth.

British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) – Race 3 (9:40 a.m. ET)

Australian celebrity Verry Elleegant tries to retrieve something from her European sojourn in this 1 1/2-mile contest. Excluded from an overflow Arc after losses in her two French starts, she was rerouted to the Prix de Royallieu (G1), overraced early, and wound up seventh behind Sea La Rosa. Graffard knew that she wouldn’t deliver her best as he watched the race unfold. Connections hope that different circumstances – among them an outside draw (post 8) and new rider Mickael Barzalona – will create a different result.

But aside from having to turn the tables on Haggas’s streaking Sea La Rosa, who previously garnered the Lillie Langtry (G2) and Prix de Pomone (G2), Verry Elleegant will have to deal with a few other high-profile rivals. One is her own stablemate, Sweet Lady, fresh off her career high in the Prix Vermeille (G1) over Lilac Road.

On a rebound mission for the Gosdens is Emily Upjohn. Narrowly denied in the Oaks (G1) before flopping in the King George, she adds a hood this time. Stablemate Mimikyu just rolled in the Park Hill (G2) at Doncaster over Eshaada, the 2021 Fillies & Mares heroine who’s back to defend her title.

Stay Alert just beat older males in the Legacy Cup (formerly known as the Arc Trial) (G3) at Newbury, while Eternal Pearl sports a four-race winning skein for Appleby. The Godolphin runner has risen through the ranks to land the Prix Minerve (G3) and Princess Royal (G3).

Others in the deep field are Paddy Twomey’s progressive Rosscarbery, who shortens up after a fourth to Kyprios in the Irish St Leger (G1); Thunder Kiss, just mugged on the line in the Kilternan (G3), also during Irish Champions Weekend; Ballydoyle’s consistent Emily Dickinson, fifth in the St Leger (G1) and fourth in the Royallieu in her last pair; Albaflora, runner-up here a year ago; and Insinuendo, a close second to both Luxembourg and Above the Curve at the Curragh before disappointing in the Prix de l’Opera (G1).

British Champions Sprint (G1) – Race 2 (9 a.m. ET)

Defending champion Creative Force faces 17 rivals in his bid for a repeat, including his Appleby stablemate Naval Crown, who edged him in the course-and-distance Platinum Jubilee (G1) at Royal Ascot. Rohaan also brings course form to bear as the two-time Wokingham H. winner who added the Bengough (G3) in his latest. Perfect Power relies on a return to Ascot to bring out his best; the Commonwealth Cup (G1) victor has been below form in both tries versus elders.

Prix de la Foret (G1) hero Kinross, bound for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, shortens up here if the ground is suitable. Trainer Ralph Beckett prefers a softer course to bring out his stamina over six furlongs, but it’s not required over further. Prix Jean Prat (G1) star Tenebrism, fifth on very soft going in the Foret, is fascinating on the cutback for O’Brien. In her only prior attempt at this trip, Tenebrism stormed home impressively in the 2021 Cheveley Park (G1).

Art Power warmed up by winning the Curragh’s Renaissance (G3) for the second straight year, while Brad the Brief was last seen raiding Ireland in the May 21 Greenlands (G2). Castle Star and Go Bears Go, familiar foes during their productive juvenile campaign, renew acquaintance for the first time at three.

Garrus has had his Group 3 successes at Deauville, where he was most recently third in the Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1). King’s Lynn would be a landmark Group 1 winner for King Charles III, although his signature win came over five furlongs earlier this year in the Temple (G2). Rounding out the field are longshots Fresh, Double or Bubble, Vadream, Run to Freedom, Ventura Diamond, and Gulliver.

British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) – Race 1 (8:25 a.m. ET)

Trueshan is favored to turn a three-peat in the two-mile affair, but a couple of sophomores are also well-fancied to dethrone him. Eldar Eldarov commands respect as the hero of the St Leger at Doncaster and the Queen’s Vase (G2) during the Royal meeting. The Varian pupil steps up to this distance for the first time. In contrast, Ballydoyle’s up-and-comer Waterville is proven at the trip but not at this level. Once talked up as a Derby candidate, he took time to figure out the game, and got up in time in the Irish Cesarewitch.

Quickthorn had run up a hat trick in the Henry II (G3), Prix Maurice de Neuil (G2), and Lonsdale Cup (G2) (by an astounding 14 lengths), only to come undone in the Prix du Cadran (G1) on very soft going. Cutting back a half-mile on better ground should set the stage for a much more characteristic display. Coltrane just upset Trueshan in the Doncaster Cup (G2), although trainer Andrew Balding has noted the possibility that he could be over the top in the aftermath.

Ebor H. winner Trawlerman represents the Gosdens and Godolphin. Wordsworth was a close fourth in the course-and-distance Sagaro (G3) back in April for O’Brien, and Stratum has won the past two runnings of the Queen Alexandra here for Willie Mullins.