Remember Brian and Ben? They were the mythical racegoers dreamed up by a team of marketing executives back in 2009, when the sport was in the throes of a relaunch which ultimately led to the creation of Champions Day at Ascot to cater for a new breed of fan. Brian was described as “traditional”, “British” and someone who “thinks in quite an old-minded way”. Ben was “younger-minded than Brian, more wordly, in touch with a new generation but the nice bit about him is that he can talk to your grandmother”.
There will be plenty of Bens in attendance at Ascot this afternoon, but the bad news for the organisers is that this year, Brian is coming too. The going was already soft when rain arrived at the track just before 10.30, and while the latest forecasts suggest that it will ease off into occasional showers well before the opening race at 1.25, many racegoers could be spending almost as much time looking at the sky as they are at the horses.
Whatever happens, this year’s Champions Day is going to be another muddy one, like three of the first six, and a sharp contrast to the Royal meeting here in June, when the meeting opened on quick ground in sweltering heat. This will be the fifth time that there has been “soft” in the going description somewhere, and is potentially the first when the ground will be heavy, at least in places. The idea that the “champions” of a summer sport can regularly be anointed on testing ground when both horse and rider are covered in mud still seems very odd to me, but the mid-October date is apparently now set in stone, so we will have to get used to it.
So will the cast that has assembled for today’s card, which has as much strength in depth as any Champions Day meeting to date. It is a real pity that the opening stayers’ race, which includes a rematch of a brilliant Gold Cup in June when Big Orange edged out Order Of St George, will not be run on the good ground or better that would give Big Orange a real chance to show his best form, while Highland Reel, another winner at the Royal meeting, would also be a lot shorter than 14-1 for the Champion Stakes on good-to-firm going. Other big names, though, including Ribchester, the favourite for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and Cracksman, the market leader for the Champion, do have form on soft going and should run to form if the conditions do not deteriorate dramatically.
Britain’s champion trainer and jockey will also be awarded their trophies today, though both title races were effectively over months ago. Aidan O’Brien, who missed out in the Caulfield Cup in Australia this morning and still needs two more Group One wins to beat Bobby Frankel’s world record of 25, will feature a lot more prominently on the card than Silvestre de Sousa, the champion jockey for the second time in three years, who has just a single ride, in the opening Group Two race.
There is still just one non-runner – Tupi, in the 2.00 – and an update on the going is expected shortly after Chris Stickels, the clerk of the course, walked the entire track at 10.30.
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