With the prospect of decent ground on Saturday and the forecast predicting only light rain, the participation of Sir Michael Stoute’s Ulysses in the Champion Stakes is looking increasingly likely. Ignoring both his efforts at twelve furlongs this season, which he stays but does not produce the same level of form he can at ten furlongs, Ulysses has done nothing but improve this summer culminating in an impressive performance in the Juddmonte International, convincingly defeating both Churchill and Barney Roy. A strong traveller, his win at York was done in a style very easy on the eye and considering he has stood his ground at the five day declaration stage, really should be favourite for this Ascot showpiece.
Sir Michael Stoute’s other possible runner is Poet’s Word who, in a similar vein to Ulysses, has done nothing but improve this season after coming a long way since winning a handicap at Chelmsford in April. Just run out of things by Decorated Knight in the Irish version of this race if more improvement is forthcoming then the 8/1 could be a bit of value about this four year old. Trends add more weight to both Ulysses and Poet’s Word’s claims with seven of the last ten winners of the Champion Stakes having being four or five years old.
Cracksman, currently is installed as the 3/1 favourite, based more on potential and what connections feel his is capable of rather than actual form. Placed in both the English and Irish Derbies Cracksman has not yet tasted victory at the top table but was visually impressive in his Great Voltigeur win at York. In contrast to the smooth travelling Ulysses, Cracksman does have a tendency to hit a flat spot in his races, something he can ill afford to do at ten furlongs and would probably be best suited by testing conditions, putting an emphasis on stamina rather than speed. Two questions hang over this son of Frankel: Does he have the class to win this? Is he effective at ten furlongs? The answer to the first question is increasingly, yes. There seems to have been improvement between his Irish Derby run and Voltiguer run at York and with John Gosden alluding to 2018 as to when we will see him at his best, there is clearly more to come. The doubt seeps in when attempting to answer the second question. On his only start at ten furlongs Cracksman only just got up to beat the ill-fated Permian at Epsom, so if conditions become soft he is a definite player, if not he may just find things happening too quickly, though there is no doubt he will be finishing the race strongly.
Barney Roy has already achieved a high level of form, second in a Guineas and an Eclipse before a third in the Juddmonte International but the frustration with this free-going sort is his reluctance to settle. Clearly he would improve a few pounds if relaxing on the bridle, saving that extra energy to utilise his ample ability at the end of races. If that scenario was to play out, where he settled in behind runners before being produced two furlongs out then we could see an explosive performance, but to take a chance on that occurring involves a fair leap of faith.
It seems strange that the all conquering Ballydoyle team do not have an obvious contender for this race. With Winter not in the five day entries and at current odds, Churchill looking likely to take on Ribchester in the QEII, Aiden O’Brien is left with Highland Reel, worthy of consideration if the ground is good or faster, the disappointing Cliffs Of Moher and Sir John Lavery, War Decree, an interesting entry, Rhododendron who is likely to contest the fillies and mares race or Hydrangea, a talented three year old filly but one that would need to find plenty more to be involved in this.
Finally French Guineas and Derby winner Brametot is worth a second look in the market. Forgiving his penultimate run where he missed the break at Deauville, Jean-Claude Rouget’s three year old travelled well in the Arc last time before not quite staying the mile and a half. Back to ten furlongs will see this son of Rajsaman in a much better light and he could be delivered as a late threat up the Ascot straight, though he does need to break on terms and find a little more improvement to worry the principals.
If current entries stand their ground and we have Cracksman, Ulysses, Poet’s Word, Barney Roy and Brametot all locking horns at this historic Berkshire venue, we could well be treated to a race to savour and one befitting of a British Champion Series finale.