Which Championship Meet is the Champion?
by Bob Kieckhefer
There are international implications to the Oct. 10 announcement that Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, will attend the races at Ascot Oct. 20.
A battle for supremacy is looming among three big year-ending race meets.
The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe meet at Longchamp in Paris is the traditional "big deal" among Europeans. And the Breeders' Cup, three or four weeks later, is well-established as the American championship.
But now British Champions Day is plopped down at Ascot in between those two. Champions Day, set for its second running Oct. 27, has the potential to suck up horses that otherwise might run in France or America. With good horses always in short supply, where will the good ones go?
Sam Walker, writing in the Racing Post in Great Britain, argued that the group I Champion Stakes, the big race on Champions Day, is a higher-class event than the Arc. He has the figures to back it up, but those figures are skewed badly in a year when the world's top-ranked horse, Frankel, is set to run in England, while the group I Arc was beset by the defection of several favorites and rain-soaked turf that produced an upset winner.
Her Majesty will lend Champions Day a big prestige boost the other two meets can't match. She's not only a royal but also one of the world's foremost horse owners. Her presence could help Champions Day land the additional and extended funding it needs to cement its place on the Thoroughbred racing calendar.
On the other hand, the Arc has history, charm, and Paris on its side, and continental horsemen are unlikely to defect in favor of Ascot. And though Breeders' Cup has established itself firmly as the United States championship day, it must continue to recruit top-ranked horses from other jurisdictions to justify the "World Championships" title it conferred upon itself.
Admittedly, it is possible to run both on the Arc weekend and on Champions Day. Cirrus des Aigles is set to do just that, taking on Frankel at Ascot after dominating the group II Prix Dollar. But that sort of thing is likely to be a rarity. And a Champions Day-Breeders' Cup double would be rarer yet.
Perhaps the most exciting outcome would be that the best of the best from all three meets–and elsewhere–come together one last time for a showdown at the end of the year.
Where? The Longines Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin Racecourse on the second Sunday of December could be the perfect solution, also drawing horses from Japan, Australia, and potential emerging jurisdictions such as mainland China. Horses from all over the world already have been successful in Hong Kong, and winners there have come back to be successful all over the world.
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