LORD Glitters is still on course for the QIPCO Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Champions Day. That’s despite a below-par run in the Woodbine Mile at Canada last month. David O’Meara’s grey was a leading fancy for the Grade One pot but got played up before the start and never got into the race, finishing sixth of the eight runners.
But O’Meara says there were genuine excuses: “The whole trip went wrong from the day we left England. He didn’t get to Canada until late on the Thursday night what with delays, planes breaking down and all that carry on. The week before we were in limbo and he was in Amsterdam for four days doing nothing.”
Asked if the experience may have left a mark, he added: “Time will tell but he seems OK and we’ve got a bit of time between now and QIPCO British Champions Day. Last year when he won the Balmoral Handicap on the card was really good – at the furlong pole I think he had something like 17 horses still in front of him. Obviously, he is a very smart horse and we are looking forward to taking him there again for the QEII. We know he loves Ascot and goes on any ground, which is a great help.”
Before his trip to Canada, Lord Glitters had won the Group 3 Sky Bet And Symphony Group Strensall Stakes at York plus been placed in two Group One QIPCO British Champions Series races – the Queen Anne Stakes and Qatar Sussex Stakes.
Meanwhile, this year’s £250,000 Balmoral Handicap, sponsored by QIPCO, the race that brings down the curtain on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on October 20, has attracted a bumper 74 entries. A maximum field of 20 will be allowed to run in the mile contest, which is Europe’s richest mile handicap. Last year all bar three of the runners had an official rating of at least 100.
O’Meara, trainer of the 2018 winner Lord Glitters, is hopeful of having multiple runners in his quest to hit the jackpot for the second successive year. He has indicated that all five of his entries – Escobar, Waarif, Firmament, Markazi and Bravery – could run if they make the cut.
The present ratings of Waarif, who has been prolific this year, Firmament, eighth and third in the past two runnings of the Balmoral Handicap, and Escobar, give them solid prospects of featuring in the final field.
“There’s huge money on offer and I’d hope to have as many runners as possible,” O’Meara said. “Waarif’s won four times this year, including at Ayr the other day and that will help get him into the race. He’s been very tough this year and I suppose he’s taken us by surprise. How much more he’s got in him is anybody’s guess. He seems versatile regards the ground but, if anything, he seemed to enjoy that heavy ground at Ayr.
“Firmament likes Ascot and he’s been running very well, including at Chelmsford last time when he might have bumped into a decent horse of Godolphin’s. He’s not won for a while but the handicapper’s given him a bit of a chance [at the moment he is 9lb lower than in the Balmoral last year] and he can be competitive off that mark if everything drops right for him.”
Of Escobar, he added: “He won really nicely at Haydock during the year and didn’t get much luck in Ireland [last time] as he was drawn very wide. He will most likely run if the ground is anywhere near decent. I don’t think he wants it too soft.”
Lord Glitters was having only his second start for O’Meara when winning the Balmoral Handicap last year, having formerly been trained in France. Markazi has a similar profile, having won six of his 16 starts for Jean-Claude Rouget in France before finishing a staying-on fourth in a Haydock handicap on his British debut on 11th August.
Numerically, nobody has more entries than Mark Johnston, who has eight engaged. His squad includes Poet’s Society, the horse who provided his with his record-breaking 4,194th winner in Britain when scoring at York last month.
Remarkably, John Gosden has saddled the Balmoral Handicap runner-up in each of the past four years. His quartet of entries this time consists of Laugh Aloud, a runaway Group 3 winner at Epsom last summer; Tricorn, third in the Britannia at Royal Ascot in 2017 and an eye-catching second at Chelmsford last time; plus two progressive three-year-olds in the shape of Stylehunter, an easy winner at Goodwood last time after finishing sixth in the Britannia, and Argentello, who has won three of his past four races.
Tickets for QIPCO British Champions Day on Saturday 20th October have completely sold out in the King Edward VII enclosure, with the only availability being in Queen Anne, and fewer than 100 tickets in Winning Post. For tickets to QIPCO British Champions Day go to britishchampionsday.com