Could Ascot be set for an afternoon of firsts on Champions Day?

The richest raceday on these shores is upon us as British Champions Day prepares to crown the crème de la crème at Ascot on Saturday.

Whereas in previous years extremely soft ground has put paid to the hopes of many of the top horses taking part, conditions in 2015 look perfect.

There is £4m in prize money on offer and plenty of previous Group race form coming into the day’s action.

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But while the equine stars lining up at the Berkshire track will, on the whole, be very familiar to us all, there could just be a few things that are unheard of at this particular fixture.

A non-Irish winner of the Long Distance Cup

Since Champions Day was created four years ago, the opening contest on the card has been the bread and butter of raiders from the Emerald Isle.

Dermot Weld has twice taken the Long Distance Cup with Forgotten Rules last year and Rite of Passage in 2012, while Johnny Murtagh and Aidan O’Brien have also saddled the champion stayer.

This time round though, five of the top six horses in the betting are trained in the UK.

In a division that has few, if any, stand-out candidates one that looks the most interesting at the prices is John Gosden’s Flying Officer.

He’s won two from two since running the only bad race of his life in this race last year on bottomless ground.

The surface will suit him far better this time round and with his trainer supplementing him for the race, must be doing something right at home.

He’s very lightly raced, only lining up eight times and could take advantage of a number of his rivals have long seasons.

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A three-year-old winning sprinter

The British Champion Sprint Stakes has often been suited more to the older horses but with Muhaarar, the best three-year-old over the shorter trips this term, in the line-up that could change.

A triple Group 1 winner this term, Charlie Hills’ horse is clearly the one they need to beat at Ascot, but he does have some solid opposition from his fellow Classic generation.

The unbeaten Twilight Son has stepped up with every run in his career holding on well to land the Haydock Sprint Cup on his last start.

This is a whole different ball game, but he is more than entitled to improve again.

The Tin Man was an eye-catching victor over course and distance, so impressive that connections decided to supplement him for this, but does need more improvement.

Instead the each-way value could come from the horse that chased home Twilight Son last time out, Strath Burn.

The Qatar Racing-owned colt only has a neck to make up with his conqueror last time out but is nearly twice the price. He’s got a nice draw near some potential pace angles in the race and should go well.

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Balty Boys breaking his Ascot duck

Twice this season has Brian Ellison’s Balty Boys run an absolute cracker at Ascot only to find something (or a few horses) too good for him.

He was only two lengths behind GM Hopkins in the Royal Hunt Cup over course and distance at Royal Ascot, when racing on the stands side – the only horse in the first nine home to do so.

He’s since gone down a short head in the International Handicap here over a furlong shorter in which with 100 yards further would have seen him grasp victory.

The six-year-old has since won a Group 3 at Haydock and being beaten by all-weather superstar Tryster at Chelmsford.

A 4lb rise in the weights since his last outing at the track doesn’t offset the fact that he is improving with age, gets ideal conditions and looks a big price to end Champions Day in style in the Balmoral Handicap. 

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.