Champions Day, carefully and expensively contrived as a celebration of the best in Flat racing, will have to do without its appreciative crowd today as the season nears its end under the appalling threat of Covid-19. Six excellent races, featuring several big-name horses who might be vulnerable in today’s conditions, will entertain us and provide a useful focus for fretful professionals but the difficult reality will be there any time someone looks into the grandstand or returns to a near-silent winner’s enclosure.
This is the sport’s last hurrah in Britain before the turf season drains away over the next three weeks. Those present must hope the situation is somehow sunnier by the time of the Lincoln in spring, so that the next Champions Day will have an audience worth performing for.
Frankie Dettori will be 50 by then but there seems no chance, barring serious injury, that he will decide to hang up his saddle in the intervening time. More than anyone else in the weighing room, the exuberant Italian must be craving the return of spectators. When you’ve done something amazing on the sport’s most hallowed turf, the dependable applause of nearby ITV pundits is clearly not enough as you perform your flying dismount onto pre-arthritic knees.
Thanks to the wisdom of his decision to sign up with John Gosden some years back, Dettori has a fine book of rides today, featuring the card’s most exciting talent, Palace Pier, odds-on to land the QEII. He has another favourite in Stradivarius for the opening Long Distance Cup and also Mishriff, the obvious alternative to last year’s heroine, Magical, in the Champion Stakes.
The sport’s PR workers will have their fingers crossed that Hollie Doyle can get at least a share of the riding honours, her five rides including the fancied Dame Malliot in the Fillies & Mares. A year ago, just two runners on this card were ridden by female jockeys, which is one of several possible rebukes to anyone who says racing has achieved gender equality in the saddle. But Doyle is methodically dismantling barriers, having recently broken her own record for winners in a year by a female jockey. She rides for five different trainers here, including Roger Charlton and Sir Michael Stoute, testament to the fine year’s work already done.
The going is soft, heavy in places, which now seems established as the norm for Champions Day. The good ground that Frankel bounced off to win the QEII seems a lot more than nine years in the past. But at least it’s been a fairly dry week, it’ll be a dry day and the most resilient of these horses will be able to show something recognisable as speed in these conditions. Best of all, if you love jump racing, there has been no need to switch the round-course races on to the hurdle track, which will remain pristine for next month’s action.
Times are hard but there are good horses to saddle, six-figure prize funds to be won and intriguing puzzles to unscramble. Let’s make the most of it.
at 5.14am EDT