The latest slice of poor PR that attached itself to Oisin Murphy overnight was not the best way to herald the 11th British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday afternoon, when Murphy is highly likely to be crowned champion jockey for the third year running. And if there is a patron saint of headline writers, he or she can expect to be overwhelmed with fervent prayers over the next few hours, asking them to intercede on behalf of Alcohol Free in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Once the action starts, however, a “fracas” in a Newmarket pub last week is likely to be the last thing on most punters’ minds, as the stars have aligned impeccably for the latest renewal of Britain’s richest day at the races. “Good” appears in the official going description for the first time since 2016, and the appearance of Adayar and Snowfall, the Derby and Oaks winners respectively, less than two weeks after running in the Arc in Paris, is another unexpected bonus.
The going has even managed to end up in the “Goldilocks” zone for Trueshan and Stradivarius, the best stayers around, and there will be no room for excuses from either side after the Long Distance Cup at the top of the card. After that, it is Group One action all the way until the Balmoral Handicap at 3.50pm (all times today BST), when Sunray Major, a Frankie Dettori-ridden hotpot at a frankly ridiculous price, will be around 2-1 to beat 19 rivals and send the punters home in buoyant mood.
And while the jockeys’ title race may be as good as over, the race for the trainers’ title is very much alive and kicking, with Charlie Appleby around £300,000 in front of Andrew Balding and £575,000 ahead of John Gosden.
Gosden trains Mishriff and Palace Pier, the favourites for the Champion Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, which are respectively worth £714,546 and £623,810 to the winner. Appleby’s big hopes include Adayar and Master Of The Seas in the same two races, while Balding may well need to win the QEII with Alcohol Free to keep his title hopes alive.
Tips for all six of today’s races are here and the action is under way at 1.25pm.