ASCOT, ENGLAND // British Champions Day takes centre stage in Europe tonight, but the title of the £3.5 million (Dh20.8m) event could again be laced with irony as most of the six group races look primed for export.
Last season, Frankel’s win in the Champion Stakes was the only success across the card for a horse trained in England and the 10-furlong Group 1 feature looks stamped and packaged, ready to be sent to France.
Corine Barande-Barbe, the trainer, felt no disgrace when Cirrus Des Aigles was outpointed by Frankel 12 months ago and she is determined to wrest back the title her evergreen gelding won in 2011.
When Cirrus Des Aigles took the Champion Stakes in 2011 he was the 12th French horse to have won the race since 1977. He spearheads a trio of French horses in the contest, with Morandi hailing from Jean-Claude Rouget’s yard, and the aptly named Triple Threat of Andre Fabre’s also lurking in the 10-runner line-up.
Cirrus Des Aigles arrived for his showdown with Frankel rated as the second-best horse in the world after a nine-length demolition of the subsequent Dubai World Cup favourite Hunters’ Light, in the Prix Dollar at Longchamp. Cirrus Des Aigles lines up having taken the same race for the third time, two weeks ago.
Although the winning margin of just under two lengths illustrates he may no longer be the force of old, Barande-Barbe believes nothing has changed: “He is as good as last year. The way he looks and the way he acts is the same now and I think he may even be better.”
Cirrus Des Aigles was one of 13 horses trained in France to win at the two-day Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe meeting, with Maarek, the Irish sprinter, and Altano, the German stayer, the only two to make an impact for the visitors.
Horses trained in Britain had a difficult time; of the 39 British runners that shipped to Paris, only seven had a podium placing.
British horses have generally done well overseas, but it seems in their own backyard they are struggling to hold off the foreign threat.
Makfi won the English 2,000 Guineas for France in 2010, and since then, only Frankel has prevented the first English Classic of the season from venturing abroad.
O’Brien won the 2012 running of the mile race with Camelot and Jim Bolger followed up this year for Ireland with Dawn Approach, which is favourite ahead of Mike de Kock’s Soft Falling Rain in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Estimate, who runs in the Long Distance Cup, is the only runner trained in England who is clear favourite for any race tonight.
The filly is owned by Queen Elizabeth and trained in Newmarket. England has had to go all the way to the top to try to prevent racing’s crown jewels from all but leaving the country.
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