The roll of honour for the QEII reads like a who’s who of top class milers with the likes of Frankel, Solow, Minding and George Washington having their names etched into history. Ribchester, apart from the Sussex Stakes, a strange race on bad ground and one he really should have won, would be unbeaten on European soil this season and though not as pleasing on the eye as some past winners, he deserves to take his place alongside them. It is no easy feat winning this race as an older horse though, with only three winners in the last ten years aged over three taking this race and he will have to fend off the younger generation who represent the main challengers bar Taareef, a late blossoming four year old trained by Jean-Claude Rouget. Well held by Ribchester in the Moulin, Taareef seems to be progressing at four and could yet worry the favourite if finding a few more pounds improvement.
The male Classic generation have not lived up to expectations, yes they are of group one ability, but in terms of a real superstar, it is safe to say we have been left a little underwhelmed. Churchill promised so much and after winning both the English and Irish Guineas in good style almost becoming the champion we annually crave for. Things did not go to plan at Ascot, where he produced a lacklustre performance before a fair second in the Juddmonte, which gave the impression his St James Palace run was a minor blip while at the same time proving that he was mortal and not unbeatable. The fact Churchill was not quite the superstar he promised to be was confounded in the Irish Champion stakes where he travelled well but never really picked up finishing a slightly sorry seventh. A drop back to a mile could suit though he will prefer better ground, which is unlikely at the end of October and he now cuts a figure of a once precocious type that has not really gone on through his three year old season.
Churchill’s regular adversary, Barney Roy has proved himself a true group one horse but unless he learns to settle, will not fulfil his ample potential. Dropping back to this trip should see this free going sort in a better light but at current odds the likelihood is he will attempt ten furlongs once again and go for the Champion Stakes. With Winter also heading towards the Champion Stakes the classic generation’s best chance of taking this looks to be in the form of the progressive Beat The Bank and Andre Fabre’s Al Wukair.
Boasting a fantastic record, winning every one of his starts bar one, a below par effort in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, Beat The Bank has improved with every run culminating in a recent five length victory in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket. That performance was of group one standard and his upward curve potentially puts him on a par with Ribchester and not without a chance of deposing him as Europe’s top miler. A word of caution though, trainer Andrew Balding is wisely being very careful with his charge and sees 2018 as a big year for this son of Paco Boy so he is no certainty to run.
Al Wukair, third to Churchill in the English 2000 Guineas has had a light campaign having suffered from a twisted ankle earlier in the season. He made heavy weather when winning the Jacques Le Marois, just getting up form Inns Court and does not look the easiest of rides. That said he is talented and it would be no surprise to see master trainer Andre Fabre tease out a little more improvement from this three year old.
All in all an exciting spectacle, one that will be all the more mouth-watering if Winter and Barney Roy line up, but this is not a one horse race by any means and Ribchester will have to be at his very best to win his fifth group one.