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Thursday, 15 November, 2018

QEII for Churchill but Ulysses is a shock absentee from Champion

Churchill: a dual Classic winner over a mile
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Dual Classic winner Churchill will drop back to a mile for Saturday's Qipco-sponsored Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot – but Sir Michael Stoute dropped a bombshell by not declaring leading Qipco Champion Stakes contender Ulysses.

Churchill, who won the 2,000 Guineas and Irish 2,000 Guineas over a mile, will be joined in the QEII by stablemates Lancaster Bomber and Sir John Lavery, with prolific Group 1 winner Ribchester heading the opposition.

The Champion Stakes had also been an option for Churchill, but O'Brien, who needs two Group/Grade 1 wins to set a new record for a calendar year, runs Highland Reel and Cliffs Of Moher in that race.

O'Brien said: "We discussed which race Churchill would go for and came down in favour of going back to one mile in the QEII. The ground was a factor in the decision and we do have Highland Reel and Cliffs Of Moher to run in the Champion Stakes.

"We don't know how soft the ground might get and, hopefully, it won't get very soft as that wouldn't be to Churchill's advantage."
 
Discussing the possibility of the horses travelling on Friday instead of Saturday morning because of the forecast winds, O'Brien said: "That's being discussed but we haven't decided yet when they will travel."

Ulysses, who has won the Coral-Eclipse and Juddmonte International this term, had been a general 100-30 chance for the 1m2f contest, but did not feature in the final declarations, which include Cracksman and Barney Roy.

Instead, he will head straight to Del Mar for the Breeders' Cup Turf on November 4. "Ulysses is not running at Ascot," Stoute said. "He's perfectly fine but we've just decided to take him straight to California."

Alan Cooper, racing manager to the Niarchos family, said two races in a fortnight would have been too much for Ulysses, who finished third in the Arc on his last start.

He said: "California has been the long-term plan and we've decided to maintain it. It's two weeks between Champions Day and the Breeders' Cup and we've decided to go for Del Mar.

"I don't think the ground at Ascot was really a factor. We've always felt Ulysses was best on a good or faster surface, but it wasn't a factor. It was more maintaining the long-term plan. It would have been difficult to do both races and we've opted for Del Mar.

"It should be good and we also plan to run Senga, who won the Prix de Diane, in the Filly & Mare Turf there. She should enjoy the trip and the surface."

Cracksman was on Thursday a top-priced 9-4 for the Champion Stakes ahead of the 4-1 chance Barney Roy in a maximum field of ten.

Three of the six winners of the Champion Stakes since it moved to Ascot have emerged from stall three or lower, a fact not lost on James Doyle, the rider of St James's Palace winner Barney Roy, who is tucked on the inside in stall two in a race where the first bend comes soon after the start.

He said: "I'm delighted by the draw in stall two which means we should be able to get a decent position early rather than being stuck out wide."
 
With Frankie Dettori on Stradivarius, Doyle is delighted to be reunited with Big Orange for the first time since their victory in the Ascot Gold Cup. The pair renew rivalry with Order Of St George in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup, which has drawn a field of 13.
 
Doyle said: "I'm pleased to have got the call again for Big O having won the Gold Cup on him. I just hope these thunderstorms that are around stay away. I hear he's in good shape and I'm looking forward to it."
 
There are also 13 in the Qipco British Champions Sprint, featuring Caravaggio and Harry Angel. Ten – including Bateel, Journey and Hydrangea – go to post for the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.

Champions Day card

He's perfectly fine but we've just decided to take him straight to California
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