TRAINER Corine Barande-Barbe is taking nothing for granted as her French superstar Cirrus Des Aigles bids to regain his crown in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot.
It is three years since the popular gelding caused a minor upset in the prestigious mile-and-a-quarter event, beating a strong field that included So You Think, Snow Fairy and Midday to clinch his first success at the top level.
Any notion that surprise triumph may have been a flash in the pan has been blown out of the water since, however, with Cirrus Des Aigles adding a further five Group One victories to his CV, as well as filling the runner-up spot in the last two renewals of the Champion Stakes behind Frankel and Farhh.
Despite his advancing years, this has arguably been the veteran’s finest campaign yet, passing the post in front on each of his four starts in Europe, albeit losing out on a fourth win in last month’s Prix Dollar at Longchamp after being demoted by the stewards.
That fine display showed the injury he suffered when winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom in June has caused no lasting damage and he will surely bring the house down in Berkshire if he can come up with the goods.
Barande-Barbe said: “Everything is perfect. The horse is looking very good and we are looking forward to the race. He is the favourite but the race is never won until after it is run. The ground will be soft, but that should not be a problem – he knows how to swim! It is very exciting to be going back to Ascot.”
As a full brother of Frankel, a horse widely regarded as one of the greatest Flat performers of all time, Noble Mission has had plenty to live up to from the start and, for a couple of years, he appeared intent on playing the role of the naughty younger brother.
While his talent has never been questioned, he often failed to display the same application as his esteemed former stable companion, but that has changed in 2014. This year he has proved beyond doubt he belongs at the top level, claiming a couple of Group One successes to secure a place alongside Frankel at owner Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms. He has not been seen since, being narrowly denied in a top-level assignment in Germany in July, but has conditions to suit this weekend and trainer Lady Cecil is excited to find out whether he can emulate his brother with victory on Saturday. Lady Cecil said: “He’s been a real flag bearer since we decided to use more forcing tactics. It’s turned him around and he’s just enjoying it.
“Prince Khalid has been marvellous. They could have retired Noble Mission last year. We had faith in him, but it was very good of them to let us go on. He is Frankel’s full brother after all.”