Almanzor and Christophe Soumillon winning the Irish Champion Stakes
PICTURE: Alain Barr (racingpost.com/photos)
By Keith Melrose 6:00PM 11 OCT 2016
TRAINER Jean-Claude Rouget has few concerns about Almanzor’s mission in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, claiming that preparations have gone perfectly for the winner of the Irish Champion Stakes.
“He’s been in really good form since the Irish Champion Stakes, and I’m extremely happy with him,” Rouget said. “He’s been based in Deauville for a while now, and he did his final piece of work on Monday morning over a mile on the grass with Christophe Soumillon, which really pleased us.”
Almanzor was something of a controversial absentee from the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and racing fans will be looking forward to him once again taking on Found, who led home Aidan O’Brien’s famous one-two-three at Chantilly.
Rouget, however, remains focused on the 7-4 favourite. “The other runners in the race don’t interest me,” he said. “I like to concentrate on my own horse being at the top of his game, which is the most important.
“He’s a very laid back individual, who is a lovely looking horse with a fantastic turn of foot, which should serve us very well. He’ll also like the forecast good ground conditions.”
Almanzor is evidently a good traveller given his Leopardstown success, but his handler is still taking few chances when it comes to making the relatively short trip from Deauville to Berkshire.
“The plan is that he’ll come over on his own in the lorry on Thursday to give him a little time to acclimatise to Ascot,” Rouget said. “I believe he will like Ascot, which resembles our French racecourses more than Newmarket does with its undulations.
“As far as tactics go, I’ll wait to see what we will employ when I know more about the draw,” he added. “It’s something that will be decided at the last minute with his connections.”
Almanzor, who has won two of a fairly remarkable eight Group 1s for his trainer in 2016, is the headline act in a hotly-contested renewal of the Champion Stakes. As well as Arc winner Found, defending champion Fascinating Rock, Jack Hobbs and My Dream Boat are also likely opponents.
Hayes thrilled with Awtaad
Elsewhere on Saturday, Awtaad will be out to turn the tables with Galileo Gold as the pair of Guineas winners clash for the fourth time in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Awtaad lowered the colours of 2,000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold when the pair met in the Irish equivalent but the latter gained revenge in subsequent meetings in the St James’s Palace Stakes and Sussex Stakes.
However, the son of Cape Cross returned to winning ways most recently in the Group 2 Boomerang Stakes at Leopardstown and jockey Chris Hayes has warned Awtaad has been trained specifically for Saturday’s contest.
“In our eyes he hasn’t done anything wrong,” said Hayes. “He was a little bit below par at Goodwood but he came back in great fashion at Leopardstown and he’s been trained with this specifically in mind.
“He was on a retrieval mission at Leopardstown and it was just nice to prove that he was the horse that we think he is – and prove to all the doubters that he still had [what he showed] in May.”
The race looks set to be a tremendous clash of top performers, with Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Jet Setting having been supplemented and the likes of Ribchester and Minding also in contention.
“I think it will be the race of the season at this distance,” Hayes said. “Awtaad is going to have to be at the top of his form and it’s a proper Group 1 but he owes us nothing and provided he gives a good show and we get conditions in our favour I think he will be there or thereabouts.
“Galileo Gold and Ribchester are the main dangers but our guy has beaten Galileo Gold already. It’s 2-1 to him in the three times they’ve met so hopefully Awtaad can make it 2-2.”