French raider Cirrus des Aigles edged So You Think in the final strides to claim victory in the $2,028,000 QIPCO Champion Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot Oct. 15. The race was one of five group races held on the first ever British Champions Day.
The victory marked the first group I win for the gelded son of Even Top, who has now won five of his 10 starts this year, and has improved his overall record to 13 wins from 38 starts. The 5-year-old has finished in the money 33 times.
The result was not as pleasant for winning rider Christophe Soumillon, who ran afoul of the new British whip rule that went into effect on Oct. 10. Soumillon incurred a five-day suspension and had to forfeit his winning share of the purse, which amounted to $80,246.70. The jockey struck Cirrus des Aigles six times (one less than the total permitted), but administered all six hits during the final furlong, when only five strikes are allowed.
A furious Soumillon told reporters, “I’m very, very, very embarrassed for British racing. The people and the fans have been let down. The rules can change, but not like this, you can’t chop our heads and legs off.
“I heard about this a week ago; how can I adapt my riding style in a week? The last time I rode in this country was a month ago. It’s different in this country to everywhere else, I ride in many countries. We need international guidelines like they have in every other sport.”
The Champion certainly lived up to its name with seven group I winners among the field of 12 that went to the post. The field was led by So You Think, the Australian champion who had won four of his six starts (including three group Is) since being transferred to trainer Aidan O’Brien. The 5-year-old horse by High Chaparral was coming off a two-week turnaround after having finished fourth in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I).
Snow Fairy, who had finished second to So You Think in the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I), entered the race off of a strong third-place finish in the Arc. Juddmonte Farms and Sir Henry Cecil sent out the formidable entry of Midday and Twice Over, while trainer John Gosden sent out Nathaniel, winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I) in July.
Cirrus des Aigles broke sharply and was held up in fourth by Soumillon as Ransom Note and Nathaniel went to the front. Ryan Moore had So You Think tracking them from third, while Snow Fairy raced mid-pack along with Twice Over. Midday was settled toward the rear of the field during the early stages of the race.
As the field swept through the turn and entered the home straight, So You Think moved to the lead while still under a hand ride by Moore. Cirrus des Aigles rolled up to challenge on his outside, while Snow Fairy looked for room while being trapped on the rail.
In the final furlong it came down to So You Think and Cirrus des Aigles. At the wire it was Cirrus des Aigles just edging clear by three-quarters of a length, with Snow Fairy another half-length back in third.
The final time for the 10 furlongs over the good turf course was 2:02.52, which set a new course record.
Corinne Barande-Barbe, who trains Cirrus Des Aigles for owner Jean-Claude Alain Dupouy, said after the race, “It means a lot. I have always thought he is a very good horse and I am very happy for the owner and all the team. To win a group I against the best horses in England is fantastic.”
Despite his second-place finish, Aidan O’Brien was still pleased with So You Think’s performance. “He’s a big horse with a big heart,” O’Brien said. “The boys will have to speak about his future and make a decision.”
Cirrus des Aigles was bred in France by Y. Lelimouzin and B. Deschamps. He is out of the unraced Septieme Ciel mare Taille de Guepe.