Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
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The finish to last year’s Balmoral, won by Aldaary
Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Saturday: 4.40 Ascot
Balmoral Handicap (sponsored by Qipco) | 1m | 3yo+ | ITV/Sky
In a year when many big handicaps have struggled to provide a full field, the Balmoral Handicap bucks the trend.
The last in at declarations time was the 100-rated Orbaan, who was also in at the foot of the weights when winning July’s Golden Mile, but is 13lb higher now.
First reserve is Mums Tipple and that this race can attract him, as well as established 1m2f performer Migration, drops a hint to why it has remained so popular.
In terms of distance, the field comprises a mix from borderline sprinters to those who can cut it at middle distances.
Ascot is a stiff track and it is expected that dubious stayers will come up short. As a horse with form over a mile but strong credentials over further, Migration is the right sort, but he is far from alone in this field.
The race also contains plenty of course-and-distance specialists. Accidental Agent and Escobar will make their 18th and 16th appearances at Ascot respectively and, although each has just one course-and-distance success, given they were the Queen Anne and this race in 2019, then they are arguably still pertinent.
Astro King has run twice over the straight mile here, finishing second and fourth in the last two runnings of the Hunt Cup.
Although this will be his first run since July, it would be wrong to say he has been laid out for the race as he was twice declared last month, only to be pulled out both times owing to the soft ground. On both occasions he was declared in a visor, which he now belatedly wears for the first time.
Astro King is in stall 22 and plenty of those mentioned above are in the same neighbourhood. It is worth noting that the Balmoral has tended to be kinder to those drawn high than the other straight-course races on British Champions Day.
This may be partly due to its position as the last race on the card, when jockeys are more likely to go in search of fresh ground.
Race analysis by Keith Melrose
What they say
David O’Meara, trainer of Escobar, Shelir, Rhoscolyn, Blue For You and Orbaan
We’ve a nice team. Blue For You was a shade unlucky at Ascot last time – short of room at a crucial stage. He’d previously won well at York. Escobar was brilliant last time out. A penalty makes life difficult for him under a big weight, but he likes Ascot and is a former winner of the race. Orbaan has enjoyed a great season. He handles Ascot well. Rhoscolyn was strong at the finish in the seven-furlong Buckingham Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. The stiff mile is the doubt this time. Shelir didn’t settle last time, and will appreciate getting more cover.
David Menuisier, trainer of Migration
He’s drawn on the stands’ side where the favourites are, so hopefully that is the place to be. He picked up an injury after his run at Newbury in the spring but is now back to full fitness and he goes well fresh.
Roger Varian, trainer of Tyrrhenian Sea
He has a decent draw in stall ten, which should help him get a good position, and he’s training really well. It’s hard to win these big handicaps but he’s at the top of his game.
John Gosden, joint-trainer of Magical Morning.
He’s off to the horses-in-training sales after this but looks a nice ride for Benoit de la Sayette claiming 3lb on the day he gets his apprentice title trophy.
Tom Marquand, rider of Bashkirova
Time will tell how her draw in 18 will pan out, but she’ll enjoy the cut in the ground and the stiff mile should suit. If she brought the form of her Epsom win to the party she should run a decent race.
Ed Walker, trainer of Stormy Antarctic
He’s making his handicap debut at the grand old age of nine and this will be his last career start as we are looking to find him an ROR job. He likes soft ground but it may not be soft enough for him.
Richard Hills, assistant racing manager to Shadwell Estates, owner of Montatham
He leads Baaeed every day, so will be fit enough all right, and I know William Haggas has had this race in mind for him for sometime.
Philip Robinson, racing manager to Sheikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum, owner of Sweet Believer
I like her chances but I’m a bit unsure about her draw in stall 20. Some days it’s good, others bad.
Philip Robinson, racing manager to Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum, owner of Symbolize
It depends which Symbolize turns up on the day, to be honest. On his best form he would have a chance as he likes the track and the ground.
Philip Robinson, racing manager to Saeed Suhail, owner of Astro King
He’s wearing a visor for the first time, which hopefully should bring about some improvement, but how his draw in 22 pans out is anyone’s guess.
Marcus Tregoning, trainer of Perotto
He likes to be dropped in, so being drawn one shouldn’t be a problem, and I’m sure he’ll be doing all his best work at the end as usual. He runs well in better races generally.
Reporting by David Milnes
Champions Day previews:
1.25 Ascot: Can Trueshan recapture his best in a stellar running of the Long Distance Cup?
2.00 Ascot: ‘He’s the one they’ve got to beat’ – Appleby confident as top sprinters clash
2.40 Ascot: Can Oaks runner-up Emily Upjohn bounce back from King George flop?
3.20 Ascot: ‘The small field makes it trappier’ – John Gosden on hot QEII favourite Inspiral
4.00 Ascot: Will it be 11 and out or can anyone spoil ‘incredible’ Baaeed’s retirement party?
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