The ground at Ascot for QIPCO British Champions Day may have convinced many people that top-class jump racing cannot return soon enough, but it is worth reflecting on what was a memorable and exciting afternoon of Flat action.
Noble Mission and Al Kazeem served up a finish fit for such an occasion in the Champion Stakes, their duel down the Ascot straight set to go down in history as one of the most thrilling battles ever seen at the top level in this country.
It proved, unsurprisingly, an emotional victory for Lady Cecil, who took over the horses and licence from her husband, Sir Henry Cecil, when he passed away in June last year. For Noble Mission to replicate his brilliant brother Frankel and win the Group 1 prize is a truly remarkable achievement for all concerned with Khalid Abdullah’s homebred.
The sting in the tale for jockey James Doyle, rider of Noble Mission, was a seven-day ban and £10,000 fine for excessive use of the whip. The rules as they are do not discourage jockeys from keeping to a limited number of strikes in such high profile events, simply because they know the result will not be affected.
A crowd approaching 29,000 is testament to the pulling power that Champions Day, which received plenty of media coverage in the build-up and afterwards, has at its current home – for those unsure whether Ascot in October is the most suitable venue for the event, it is worth bearing in mind that less than half that number saw Twice Over record his second Champion Stakes victory at Newmarket in 2010.
French raider Cirrus Des Aigles, making his fourth appearance in the Champion Stakes having won the race in 2011 and been runner-up for the last two years, could only manage fifth this time, perhaps showing that age may finally have blunted his finishing kick.
The eight-year-old has been a familiar face in Berkshire, due to the fact that his status as a gelding rules him out of contesting the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. His trainer, Corine Barande-Barbe, will have noted that her stable star had beaten Treve and Flintshire, the first two home in this year’s Arc, in the Prix Ganay and Coronation Cup earlier this season.
Longchamp’s loss has certainly been Ascot’s gain, however if Europe’s top races are about establishing who the best horses are, it seems strange to bar runners on the basis that they cannot produce offspring later in their life.
The argument about protecting the breed and the European Pattern would be easier to understand if all (male) winners of the Arc or Derby, for example, had to stand their stallion careers in Europe, yet plenty have retired and been shipped off to Japan, which means their impact on bloodlines and races on this side of the world is minimal.
One operation that remains proudly British-based is Cheveley Park Stud, the racing and breeding business that featured in the first ever edition of this magazine back in September 2004.
Star filly Integral has been its leading performer on the track this year, bagging a brace of Group 1s, while its stallion ranks have been swelled by the recent addition of Garswood, who joins the roster to stand alongside his father, Dutch Art.
Patricia Thompson, who owns Cheveley Park Stud with husband David, tells Julian Muscat about their recipe for success and why she retains all her enthusiasm for the sport.
“It has become a tough business; it is even tougher for us because we don’t shuttle our stallions. But we are very happy,” she says.
“This is a challenging and seductive business and, above all, fun. You enjoy it more as you get older because you know more about it. It has been very satisfying – and it hasn’t ended yet.”