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Escobar entered to defend Balmoral crown on Champions Day

23 Sep 2020

2019 hero among 69 entrants for the final race on QIPCO British Champions Day

Escobar is likely to attempt to become the first two-time winner of the £100,000 Balmoral Handicap, the race that brings down the curtain on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on 17th October.

The David O’Meara-trained six-year-old features among 69 entries for the race. 32 of the entrants (using British and Irish figures) boast a present official rating of at least 100, reflecting the quality of a race that often yields future Group 1 performers.

The 2017 edition included three subsequent winners at the highest level in Lord Glitters, Accidental Agent and Zabeel Prince, while Lord North, runner-up in last year’s renewal, landed the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. In addition, Glen Shiel, who was fourth last year, finished runner-up in last month’s Betfair Sprint Cup.

O’Meara knows better than anyone what is required to win the QIPCO-sponsored contest, which is run over the straight mile. He saddled Lord Glitters to win in 2017 and Escobar was second for him in 2018 before going one better 12 months ago.

Escobar has not managed to win this campaign but has been running creditably in pattern company, finishing third in the Group 2 Qatar Lennon Stakes and Group 3 Ladbrokes Supreme Stakes, both at Goodwood. He is also entered in the QIPCO-sponsored Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day and is among five O’Meara possibles for the Balmoral this year, the other quartet being Orbaan, Shelir, Hortzadar and Sagateur. The last-named is a new recruit from France.

O’Meara said from his base near York this morning: “Escobar’s a little bit caught between two stools at the moment, but he will run in one race or the other on QIPCO British Champions Day.

“He’s in the QEII (sponsored by QIPCO) but that’s probably going to be a little too hard for him and the Balmoral is probably a more realistic target. We thought he was [fast] ground dependent but he won it well on heavy last year, so he’s versatile in that respect.

“He won it off 105 and is now on 108: that might make him more vulnerable but he ran OK in Ireland last time and this seems to be his time of the year.”

Of the rest of his squad, he added: “Orbaan is in the bet365 Challenge Cup at Ascot on Saturday week and is the likely to go for the Balmoral as well. He won nicely at York on slow ground in July and at that time of the year [October 17] there can often be some juice in the ground. That would suit him fine.

“Shelir’s in decent form and ran well in the Moet & Chandon International Stakes at Ascot in July. I’d imagine he will take his chance. Hortzadar runs at Goodwood this afternoon and Sagauteur is in at Haydock on Friday. They would probably both need to rise in the weights to get in the Balmoral, so how they get on will determine where they go.”

The other trainers with a Balmoral Handicap on their CVs are Marcus Tregoning (Bronze Angel in 2014), Saeed Bin Suroor (Musaddas, 2015), Roger Charlton (Yuften, 2016) and Roger Varian (Sharja Bridge, 2018).

Like O’Meara, they could again be represented, with Charlton, in particular, having two intriguing contenders in course winners Tempus and Blue Mist. The former is a leading fancy for the bet365 Cambridgeshire at Newmarket on Saturday after winning both his starts this year, while Blue Mist landed the Moet & Chandon International Stakes at Ascot in July. The pair are owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah.

The Balmoral was first run in 2014 but has quickly proved something of a tease to John Gosden. The champion trainer has yet to lift the prize but, remarkably, been responsible for the runner-up every year bar 2018.

His trio for this year, all lightly raced improvers, are Al Rufaa, Haqeeqy and Magical Morning. Between them, they have run in 18 races and won half.

Euchen Glen scooped the Betfair Exchange Old Borough Cup Handicap over 1m6f at Haydock this month but is also effective over much shorter, as he showed when a close fourth to Addeybb over a mile and a quarter in the Listed Jordan Electrics Doonside Cup at Ayr last Saturday.

Jim Goldie, his trainer, has also entered Nicholas T, a seven-time winner at Ayr who has also finished runner-up six times at that course. He is no one-trick pony, though, and has also run well at Ascot on occasions.

Goldie says he is giving serious consideration to running Euchen Glen, whose CV also includes a win in the John Smith’s Cup at York in 2017. He said: “We thought we would have a look. It’s a stiff mile, he’s got winning form at the track [won over two miles at the Shergar Cup meeting in 2017] and he goes on anything. Soft ground would make it more of a staying race but I would not be worried if it was good to firm, either.

“He nearly had his first run of this year in the Royal Hunt Cup and the owner said he was going to get the white jacket out for me! But we keep speed in their legs and fast-run races suit him.

“He’s in good nick and the handicapper will probably tell you he ran a career-best at the weekend. We will also consider the Cumberland Lodge [also at Ascot] for him beforehand.”

Of Nicholas T, he added: “He’s been a great horse for us and could be a player. He likes a straight course and I’d forgive him his two runs at Ayr last week. The ground was very dead when he ran on the first day and had I not ran him then he probably would have run better on the second occasion.”

Montatham, trained by William Haggas, is currently the highest-rated runner in the field with a mark of 110. He finished runner-up in the Royal Hunt Cup in June before going one better in a tremendously competitive renewal of the Clipper Logistics Stakes at York in August. On his latest start, he chased home Posted in the Listed Chasemore Farm Fortune Stakes at Sandown Park.

Three Royal Ascot winners are engaged. Afaak (Charlie Hills, 2019) and Zhui Feng (Amanda Perrett, 2017) have Royal Hunt Cup victories to their name, while Bless Him (David Simcock) scooped the Britannia Stakes in 2017.

There are four Irish-trained entries, with Jessica Harrington being double-handed via Njord and Tauran Shaman. Keats, runner-up in a Listed event at Listowel yesterday, could represent Aidan O’Brien, while Aidan’s son, Joseph, who has tasted success at QIPCO British Champions Day as a jockey, has entered Dance Jupiter.

Other fascinating entries include four-time course winner Raising Sand and Beat Le Bon, who has been gelded since his latest outing, when fifth in the Group 2 Sky Bet City Of York Stakes. His exploits last year included winning the Unibet Golden Mile Handicap.

This year’s QIPCO British Champions Day will be held behind closed doors following the Government’s announcements on Tuesday 22nd September. Despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the day retains its position as the most valuable raceday in the UK this year with £2.5 million in prize money on offer. Earlier on the card, there are four Group 1 contests – the QIPCO British Champions Sprint, QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) and QIPCO Champion Stakes – the richest race in Britain this year – plus the Group 2 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup.

Full Enties

Montatham (GB) Beat Le Bon (FR) Escobar (IRE) Raising Sand (GB) Prince Eiji (GB)Euchen Glen (GB) Kynren (IRE) Bless Him (IRE) Vale of Kent (IRE) Graignes (FR) Silver Line (IRE) Orbaan (GB) Bell Rock (GB) Blown By Wind (GB) Cap Francais (GB) Stone (IRE) Greenside (GB) Al Rufaa (FR) Symbolize (IRE) King Ottokar (FR) Raakib Alhawa (IRE) Ropey Guest (GB) Tempus (GB) Blue Mist (GB) Afaak (GB) Haqeeqy (IRE) Power of Darkness (GB) Dubai Legacy (USA) River Nymph (GB) Fleeting Prince (IRE) Brunch (GB) King Carney (GB) Revich (IRE) Bear Force One (GB) Wise Counsel (GB) Cardsharp (GB) Milltown Star (GB) Magical Morning (GB) Shelir (IRE) Alternative Fact (GB) Hortzadar (GB) Raaeq (IRE) Nicholas T (GB) Matthew Flinders (GB) Hartswood (GB) Walhaan (IRE) Hayadh (GB) Dean Street Doll (IRE) Maxi Boy (GB) Crownthorpe (GB) Plantadream (GB) Into Faith (FR) Piece of History (IRE) Tulfarris (GB) Gin Palace (GB) Prince of Harts (GB) Chance (GB) Sagauteur (FR) Overwrite (IRE) Badenscot (GB) Grove Ferry (IRE) Baronial Pride (GB) Zhui Feng (IRE)Eton College (IRE) Brains (IRE) Njord (IRE)Dance Jupiter (IRE) Tauran Shaman (IRE) Keats (IRE)