When the idea of a British Champions Day was first mooted there were plenty of naysayers ready to cast doubt on the project. "Too close to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe," they said. "It'll never compete." "Heavy ground at Ascot is no place to hold a championship meeting."
The inaugural meeting in 2011, generously sponsored, as now by Qipco, could not have failed thanks to the presence of the brilliant Frankel, but the concept has thrived to such an extent that in 2016 the best middle-distance three-year-old colt in France has eschewed the chance to run in the Arc for a crack at the Qipco Champion Stakes.
It's true that stamina worries may have influenced the decision, but Jean-Claude Rouget's Almanzor left subsequent Arc winner Found for dead in the final 50 yards of the Irish Champion Stakes last month and his presence is a massive thumbs-up for Ascot. Even the weather looks likely to play ball, with the big race, originally slated for the faster ground of the inner track, likely to be moved back to the outer course given our remarkably balmy early autumn.
Almanzor would probably be odds-on for any other Group 1 in Europe following that conquest, but the fact he can be backed at 7-4 gives an indication of the quality running through the race. Indeed, the winners of two of the biggest Group 1s in Britain, My Dreamboat (Prince of Wales's Stakes) and Hawkbill (Eclipse) can both be backed at 20-1.
The biggest dangers to Almanzor probably come from Ireland, though, with a decision yet to be made as to whether Found will bid for revenge or stablemate Minding, third behind that pair at Leopardstown, will take her place. Arguably the best three-year-old in Britain or Ireland, the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks winner could yet be dropped back to a mile for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
She found plenty of trouble in running at Leopardstown, and when finally in the clear made her challenge on the inside, which did not seem the place to be, so can be marked up for that run. My advice would be to back her for whichever race is chosen, particularly the mile, as the contenders over that distance are not a vintage bunch.
Fascinating Rock will be back to defend his Champion Stakes crown, but he's at his best when the ground is soft, and conditions do not look like being in his favour this time. His trainer Dermot Weld might have better luck in the opening Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup courtesy of Forgotten Rules, the winner in 2014.
The defence of his crown could not have gone more wrong 12 months ago as he was knocked sideways three times in the straight, but with just one hugely eye-catching run since then, last month at the Curragh, he looks to have been primed for another crack. He might well run into Order Of St George, who is the king of the stayers, having won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot easily. However, he has since been beaten in the Irish St Leger and then run his lungs out to be third in the Arc and, while Aidan O'Brien's horses are renowned for being teak tough, he'll need to be beyond his best.
The Qipco British Champions Sprint looks a cracker, too, with Commonwealth and Sprint Cup winner Quiet Reflection and Limato heading the market, but keep an eye out for Librisa Breeze, who has been taken out of the closing 1m handicap to target this. The turn of foot he produced off near top weight in a big 7f handicap – the second he has won at the course this year – last time had to be seen to be believed.