Dubai: Chris Stickles, Ascot’s clerk of the course, is not the only one keeping an eye on the skies on the eve of Saturday’s Champion Day, the highly anticipated finale to the British flat-racing season.
The eccentricities of the British autumn have left the historic racetrack close to being out of commission for the extravaganza that features six high-quality races worth a purse in excess of £4 million.
Stickles has been forced to do what has never been done before and move three round-course races, the Long Distance Cup, Fillies & Mares and Champion Stakes to the inner course, the traditional home of the hurdlers during the jumps season.
Although the weather has held up the last two days, the conditions at Ascot remain at best good to soft and soft and heavy in other parts.
This has not come as sweet music to the ears of Godolphin’s veteran handler, Saeed Bin Surour, who has warned that his gallant globetrotter Benbatl will only run in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes provided the conditions improve.
“We know that he doesn’t like heavy ground — he ran on it once at Haydock and didn’t enjoy it at all,” Bin Surour told the Godolphin website.
“We have declared him and will check the ground at Ascot on Saturday (before we commit).”
Should he run Benbatl will bid for a fourth Group 1 victory following success in the Caulfield Stakes in Australia, the Grosser Dallmayr Preis at Munich, Germany, and the Dubai Turf Meydan, UAE, in March.
Unlike Benbatl, the connections of French raider The Revenant are singing in the rain as the Dubawi gelding relished the soft and heavy ground on which he has posted his last four wins.
“We know he can swim! The softer the better,” said trainer Francis-Henri Graffard as his horse bids to emulate past French winners of the QEII, Charm Spirit (2014) and Solow (2015).
Another horse in the race with a Dubai connection is the Simon Crisford-trained Group 3 scorer Century Dream, who represents Abdulla Belhabb.
The feature race of the day is the Group 1 Champion Stakes where Dubai-owned Addeybb holds strong claims.
Trained by William Haggas for Shaikh Ahmad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Chief of Dubai Police and Public Security, and owner of Jebel Ali Racecourse, the five-year-old son of Pivotal will doubtless appreciate ground conditions.
Irish-trained Magical is the obvious threat.