05:53PM, Monday 30 September 2019
The £250,000 Balmoral Handicap, the race that brings down the curtain on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday 19th October, has attracted a bumper 82 entries.
A maximum field of 20 will be allowed to run in Europe’s richest mile handicap, which is sponsored by QIPCO. In the past three renewals no more than three of the runners had an official rating of less than 100 and the 2017 edition featured three subsequent Group 1 winners in Lord Glitters, Accidental Agent and Zabeel Prince.
Roger Varian, the trainer of Zabeel Prince, scooped last year’s Balmoral with the Sheikh Mohammed Obaid-owned Sharja Bridge and will have three possible runners in next month’s contest in Fifth Position, Mutamaasik and Ibraz.
“It’s a great handicap and it was tremendous to win it last year,” he said. “We’d run it well before with the likes of Zabeel Prince and Morando and those two, plus Sharja Bridge, all went on to be pattern performers.
“It takes a bit of winning, as you’d expect for such a valuable prize, and you generally need a progressive horse with the right profile who likes plenty of cut in the ground. Each of our entries this year are going to run beforehand, so we will see where we are with them nearer the time.”
The lightly raced three-year-old Fifth Position, also owned by Sheikh Obaid, is among the market leaders for the bet365 Cambridgeshire at Newmarket on Saturday. He has lived up to his name in his past two races, finishing fifth in the Listed Davies Insurance Services Gala Stakes at Sandown, won by Elarqam, and then the Group 3 Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes at Goodwood, won by Duke Of Hazzard.
He will be running in his first handicap at Headquarters, off a mark of 100, and could seek to emulate Bronze Angel, who pulled off the Cambridgeshire and Balmoral Handicap double for Marcus Tregoning, in 2014.
Varian said: “I don’t know if he’s well handicapped or not, but he’s in good form and any ease in the ground will not inconvenience him. I think the Cambridgeshire will suit him and we are looking forward to running him.”
Mutamaasik, a three-year-old son of Dubawi, did not make his debut until early June but has quickly made up for lost time. He was winning his fourth race in succession when scoring in game style at Doncaster’s William Hill St Leger meeting on his latest start.
He has raced exclusively over seven furlongs and has been pencilled in for the Challenge Cup, also run over that trip, at Ascot on Saturday week, a race set to feature many Balmoral entries.
“He’s an admirable horse who is on the upgrade and Jim [Crowley, his jockey] said last time out he will be better when he goes over a mile,” Varian said. “He may well have a bit more improvement in him over that trip but might not want testing ground.”
Varian’s Newmarket neighbour, John Gosden, has saddled the Balmoral Handicap runner-up four times in the past five years. The champion trainer’s six entries this time include Turgenev, who gave bookmakers palpitations when runner-up in the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot (he would have been Frankie Dettori’s fifth successive winner on the day), plus Kick On, who landed the Group 3 Tattersalls Sovereign Stakes at Salisbury on his latest start.
Numerically, nobody has more entries than David O’Meara, who has eight engaged. His squad includes last year’s runner-up, Escobar, who has since continued to run well in top handicaps, and So Beloved, runner-up in the Group 1 Qatar Prix de la Foret in 2017.
The first three home in the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot in June - Afaak, Clon Coulis and Raising Sand – are on course to meet again, while Richard Hannon’s six entries include Tabarrak, who landed the Listed Dubai Duty Free Cup for a second time at Newbury last week, and 13-time winner Oh This Us.
Seven Irish possibles are headed by the Dermot Weld-trained Jassaar, who had Turnberry Isle (fifth) and Saltonstall (sixth) behind when landing the Tote Irish Cambridgeshire at the Curragh last month. Turnberry Isle is one of four in the mix for Aidan O’Brien; his others being Antilles, Amedeo Modigliani and Dunkirk Harbour.
Another notable entry is course specialist in Ripp Orf, trained by David Elsworth. He has run in seven handicaps at Ascot featuring 15 runners or more and has finished 1312542. He finished with a rattle when dead-heating for second in the seven-furlong Cunard Handicap at the Berkshire venue last time and is another entered in the Challenge Cup on Saturday week.
Earlier on the card of QIPCO British Champions Day, the final five races in this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series will be run. There are four Group 1 contests – the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes, the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) and the QIPCO Champion Stakes – plus the Group 2 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup.
For tickets to QIPCO British Champions Day on Saturday 19th October go to britishchampionsday.co.uk
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