CORINE Barande-Barbe is confident Cirrus Des Aigles has finally reached his peak for the campaign as he looks to regain his crown in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot this afternoon.
The seven-year-old was something of a surprise winner when beating the likes of So You Think and Snow Fairy to the prestigious prize in 2011, while he pushed the brilliant Frankel closer than most horses managed 12 months ago.
It has not been all plain sailing for the French star this term, with a setback suffered in the Far East late last year delaying his comeback, and when he did eventually return, he appeared a shadow of his former self.
Defeats in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, the King George and twice at Deauville in midsummer suggested Cirrus Des Aigles’ days may be numbered, but as predicted by his trainer, the gelding has burst back into life this autumn.
A minor-race victory at Maisons-Laffitte was followed by the demolition of his rivals in Longchamp’s Prix Dollar, and Barande-Barbe believes her pride and joy has everything in his favour on his return to Berkshire. “The horse is very well. He took his last race well and we are looking forward to the race,” said the Chantilly handler. “All year I wanted him to be at the top (of his game) for the Champion Stakes and I believe he is.
“He likes Ascot and he has the soft ground, so all the lights are green.”
A double-figure price when victorious two years ago and always likely to play second fiddle to Frankel last time around, Cirrus Des Aigles this year carries the pressure of being a red-hot favourite. The usually bullish Barande-Barbe admits her charge deserves to head the market, but is taking nothing for granted.
“He is the favourite for the race, which is normal. He deserves to be the favourite and he is my favourite too,” said the trainer. “But the race is not over until it has been run and you have to give consideration to the opposition. Hillstar is a good horse and Farhh has been a good horse, so we can only keep our fingers crossed and see what happens.”
Parish Hall will make the journey from Ireland along with Aidan O’Brien’s Derby hero Ruler Of The World, who three-times champion jockey Ryan Moore chose to ride in preference to Sir Michael Stoute’s Hillstar.
Hillstar, winner of the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, will be partnered by Richard Hughes.
On a glittering Ascot card, Jim Bolger is confident Dawn Approach can return to his best form in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. The three-year-old had showed himself to be one of the best milers in Europe with victory in the 2000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes but he has been beaten in his last two starts.
Just touched off by Toronado in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, the Godolphin-owned colt ran below par in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville in August. “Everyone knows he wasn’t right in France and now we move on. He’s been in very good form since then and I’m looking forward to seeing him run again,” said Bolger.
Olympic Glory was second that day in Deauville and the rain has given his connections more reason for optimism.
Hannon’s charge has since finished second to runaway winner Maxios in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp and the Everleigh trainer is hoping the fitting of blinkers will help him concentrate. “Olympic Glory is a big bull of a horse who seems better in the second half of the season and, while more rain might be a worry for some of the other principals, it would not bother our fellow who has shown he can act in the mud,” the trainer said.
Meanwhile, Maarek is reported to be in high spirits following his remarkable victory in France as he bids to repeat last year’s victory in the Qipco Champions Sprint Stakes. The six-year-old showed an amazing turn of foot to win the Prix de l’Abbaye over the minimum trip earlier this month and should be much more at home reverting to six furlongs.
Scotland’s Hawkeyethenoo chased home Maarek last year and, along with Jack Dexter, gives trainer Jim Goldie a strong hand. “For Jack Dexter this has been the target all year. We went for the Ayr Gold Cup first and he ran a great race but obviously we’d have loved to have won it,” said the Glasgow handler.
“Nevertheless, it was a big run and he came out of the race well. He’s in good order and we’re expecting a big run.”