Oisin Murphy: 'exceptional' Roaring Lion will have no problem dropping in trip
Roaring Lion will head to the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Saturday in preference to the longer Qipco Champion Stakes with Oisin Murphy brimful of confidence his partner is ready to shine back at a mile.
Both punters and bookmakers seemingly share Murphy's faith in Roaring Lion, who began the day a 3-1 chance but, with doubts about running plans now removed, was a general 9-4 clear favourite on Thursday evening.
Qatar Racing's son of Kitten's Joy will bid to win his fourth Group 1 in succession after claiming the Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International and Qipco Irish Champion Stakes, all at around a mile and a quarter.
But with ground conditions guaranteed to be softer than for any of his previous 11 career starts, John Gosden and part-owner Sheikh Fahad elected on Thursday morning to take the shorter route on the part of the Ascot track that has stood up best to the 40mm of rain that fell last weekend.
Clerk of the course Chris Stickels announced a slight improvement in conditions on Thursday afternoon and such is Murphy's unshakable confidence in Roaring Lion that he believes he could show himself better than ever on his first start at a mile since finishing fifth in the 2,000 Guineas at the start of May.
He told British Champions Day: "He’s an exceptional horse and every time I ride him I need to keep that in mind. Horses like him are so hard to get your hands on and he will have no trouble coming back in trip.
"If you roll back the clock to the 2,000 Guineas, clearly he's proved now that he's a much better horse than Saxon Warrior. If you could run the Guineas again tomorrow morning, at the stage he is now, I think he would win. He’s a different horse now to what he was in May."
Gosden has made no secret of the fact Roaring Lion was something of a playboy in the spring and has required plenty of work to curb his sometimes wayward tendencies on track, the fruits of which could be seen when he ran straight and true at both York and Leopardstown on his two most recent starts.
Picking up on the theme, Murphy said: "At the races he's brilliant and very relaxed about the whole thing, but going to post you need to switch him on by giving him a proper canter, otherwise he's not focused and he would think he’s just there for a day out."
Gosden has always maintained that, although the Champion Stakes was his preferred choice for Saturday, he would have no hesitation in dropping back in trip for the QEII should ground conditions threaten to turn Ascot's round course too attritional for Roaring Lion.
Gosden said on Thursday morning: "I've spoken to the owner, and the decision has been taken to run Roaring Lion in the QEII. I didn't walk the track this morning but got updates from the clerk of the course and Roaring Lion will go the mile route on Saturday."
Stickels announced a slight improvement in conditions on Thursday afternoon, although the track is expected to remain testing for Saturday.
"We've had a better day with no rain and some sunny spells," said Stickels at just after 4pm. "I've changed the ground on the straight course to soft and on the round course to soft, heavy in places.
"We're still forecast to be largely dry, but we could have misty mornings and I don't anticipate significant drying, but things might improve a little bit more, given that forecast."
Read all the latest developments in the build-up to Ascot's big day at racingpost.com/news/champions day