4.00: Ascot: Group 1 Champions Stakes, 1m 2f
It’s all about Baaeed. Unbeaten in ten career starts, he comes here after that massive performance in the Juddmonte International Stakes. He’s very much expected to win in style this afternoon.
Retirement beckons afterwards, and surely the smartest fillies are waiting for him in the breeding shed next year. That’s for then. It’s a bid for racing greatness here and now.
In truth, though, I have been somewhat reserved in getting overly excited about what Baaeed had done until he demolished a strong field at York in August.
The reason a simple one: I hold topspeed close to my heart as a KPI if it comes to judging race horses. Prior to the Juddmonte, Baaeed’s career-best of 106 was quite good, but far from brilliant – especially given the comparisons to the true greats of the recent past, like his sire Sea The Stars, or Frankel.
Even my beloved Paco Boy achieved much better; yet, I as the most enthusiastic Paco Boy fan in the world, have to admit, he was not one of the greatest the sport had ever seen.
Roll on the 17th August 2022: Juddomonte International Stakes – Baaeed eases into the lead, effortless, floating over the ground, majestically; he quickens in impressive style and slaughters a labouring Mishriff by 6½ lengths.
Nearly as important as the margin of victory: Baaeed achieved a topspeed rating of 124. Finally a superb performance on this measure as well.
Any concerns over the trip were convincingly put to bed. Connections decided against moving up to the Arc distance subsequently, though. Probably a wise decision in hindsight.
Baaeed – a perfect 10 out of 10 – is impossible to oppose today….. or is he? Most likely, I am clearly in the minority: I still question whether he deserves to be called a “true great”. In my view: not yet.
It’s possibly harsh to say he has to prove himself today. Yet, in my eyes he’s got to prove his greatness: a performance similar to York, and I am going to be fully on board.
That says, he faces two real dangers today: the ground and a fresh Adayar.
Softish ground isn’t a big deal, given Baaeed has won in these conditions in the past. However, he never faced a rival as classy as Adayar in these conditions. I firmly believe Baaeed can’t quite produce the same change of gear on this type of ground.
Baaeed is vulnerable: he produced a 94 best topspeed rating on ground when the word soft appeared in the going description. It’s likely he’s a better horse today than the last time he encountered softish ground; nonetheless, it’s a question mark.
That brings me to Adayar. The only serious opposition today. We haven’t seen much of last years Derby and King George hero. You have to worry about his disrupted year.
On the other hand, it gives him the opportunity to arrive fresh, without a hard season in his legs, after a solid, if unspectacular comeback run at Doncaster last month.
If – and it’s a proper if – Adayar is anywhere near as good as he was last season, then he’ll be a formidable danger to Baaeed. Because let’s remember, he produced his two best performances with cut in the ground in the Derby, and subsequently here at Ascot in the King George, then on fast ground. This versatility could be key.
He ran a huge race in the Arc toward the end of last season; one can forgive a subsequent poor run in the Champions Stakes. The drop to 10 furlongs is another question mark I have. On the other hand, given the softish ground, it could prove ideal, especially if William Buick is bold enough to kick on once the field turns for home. Adayar isn’t slow, and one thing is for sure: he will stay all the way to the line.
Tactically it’s going to be intriguing: what’s Crowley’s game plan? From the #1 draw, he may get boxed in, if he doesn’t move forward right away. I doubt he wants to be too aggressive early on, though. That’s a clear danger, especially if the ground takes something out of Baaeed’s turn of foot.
At the given prices, I simply can’t ignore Adayar. I have question marks. But I have them over Baaeed as well. He’ still by far the likeliest winner, mind. And the fan in me wants him to bow out in style. Yet, the punter in me says a fit and happy Adayar has a better than 10% chance to win a third career Group 1 this afternoon.
A shoutout for Royal Champion: a huge price, one who I feel could outrun this price tag (can be backed at 160s on Exchanges). I was hugely impressed with his recent Ayr run. One to keep an eye on for the future, in any case.
10pts win – Adayar @ 9/1
3.50 Catterick: Class 4 Handicap, 6f
Perhaps it’s the end of the road for veteran Dark Shot after a number of recent below par performances; however, he was earlier this season still running to low 70 ratings, with a really strong run only back in July at Goodwood, when a neck beaten runner-up.
He was rated 69 and ran to topspeed 67 that day – a seasonal best on that measure, although it was especially his Doncaster 4th place finish a few weeks earlier that caught my eye.
He couldn’t back up those runs the last three times, but two came at Southwell on the All-Weather. He weakened badly in all three races, though. A worry.
But: Dark Shot won this very same race 12 months ago. He’s on a lower mark, will enjoy the return to soft ground and has a solid draw to attack the race from.
10pts win – Dark Shot @ 15.5