Champions Day with Cornelius Lysaght

Champions Day with Cornelius Lysaght

Just over a decade on from the fixture’s Ascot debut, the countdown to the 2022 QIPCO British Champions Day has such a different feel. 

Back then, there was all sorts of scepticism about moving the event from its established position at Newmarket to take advantage, for profile and marketing purposes, of the universally known Ascot brand, not least because of concerns about the potential rain-softened mid-October ground conditions at the Royal racecourse. 

Although an all-singing, all-dancing grand finale to the flat season was designed, with at its Group One heart the Champion Stakes, which was moved from Newmarket, and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, delayed a month from its previous Ascot date, there was a chorus of oohing and aahing.  

Now, with a contingency plan in place in case of extreme going (not needed this year) and the removed two-year-old races comfortably ensconced within their own separate fixtures, the sceptics can barely recall what they didn’t like.

And just like 2011 when the peerless Frankel and Sir Henry Cecil held top-billing and were duly successful in the QEII – before the colt finished his blemish-free career with victory in the Champion Stakes twelve months later – the 12th staging of Champions Day at Ascot, worth a total of £4.15m, finds itself promoted even before the marketing geniuses roll up their sleeves by the presence of another unbeaten star, Baaeed. 

The idea of the concept was to crown champions on a grand stage in the glow of thousands of adoring fans. 

And that is what Baaeed, officially the world’s best racehorse, bred and owned by the Shadwell racing and breeding operation and deftly handled by trainer William Haggas and team, will get if he can overcome Adayar and make it eleven wins from eleven career starts in the £1.3m QIPCO Champion Stakes, his swansong. 

Adayar’s presence is a particular plus. Saved for the line-up by missing the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the 2021 Epsom Derby and King George winner, part of the Godolphin empire, clearly brings opposition stern enough to ensure no tepid cakewalk for Baaeed.  

And it doesn’t end there: even though the year’s champion trainer is not crowned on Champions Day alongside other titleholders there is so much prizemoney up for grabs that there is every chance that the Baaeed versus Adayar encounter will still be decisive. 

Haggas set the pace for much of the season, but considering the might of the Godolphin resources at his disposal it was probably inevitable that Adayar’s trainer Charlie Appleby, the reigning champ, would eventually take the lead, and that’s what has happened though crucially not decisively so. And the Gosdens are still in with a shout. 

So the £740,000 or so Champion Stakes first prize is sure to be crucial, as are all the goodies on offer over the day. 

The Champion Stakes is the richest horserace staged over a mile-and-a-quarter in Europe, just as the £1.15m Queen Elizabeth II Stakes – won by Baaeed in 2021, so more echoes of Frankel – boasts the biggest purse for any mile-long prize in the region. 

In fact, having helped this event to establish itself, the name of Frankel – enjoying even more super-daddy status after the Arc triumph by Alpinista and Chaldean’s win in the Dewhurst Stakes – will echo around the whole day with Adayar and the Gosden-trained QEII headliner Inspiral amongst those representing their sire.  

Frankie Dettori – fresh from partnering Chaldean to that success – will be aboard Inspiral, riding yet again at a track where he’s excelled over many years on a string of star names, none starrier than Stradivarius, winner of three Gold Cups at Ascot’s Royal meeting and of the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day in 2018.  

Sadly ‘Strad’, whose form figures in a total of five attempts at the longest race on the Champions Day programme read 3-1-2-0-3, has been retired but organisers have arranged for him to be there to parade so the crowd will get a chance to say a fond farewell. 

Although clearly laden with stamina himself, Stradivarius also has many other attributes to pass on at stud, and hopefully we’ll see little Strads on Champions Days in the future. And for that matter little Baaeeds and little Adayars, though having the colts themselves in 2022 is, dare I say, just champion.