10/13/2011 12:30PM

Ascot: So You Think back quick for Champion Stakes


Less than two weeks after a fourth-place finish in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, So You Think will be favored to win the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, a race that could be a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien, So You Think has become something of an iron horse in Europe this year, a continuation of a pattern the now 5-year-old showed last year when he ran four times in 24 days in Australia. During that span, So You Think, a New Zealand-bred by High Chaparral, won three Group 1 races, including the Cox Plate. He was third in the Melbourne Cup last November.

This year, So You Think has raced less frequently, winning 4 of 6 starts since early May, including three Group 1 races – the Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland in May, the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park in England in July, and the Irish Champion Stakes in September.

In the Arc, So You Think closed from the back of the 16-horse field to finish 5 3/4 lengths behind surprise winner Danedream, a 3-year-old filly.

O’Brien said earlier this month that So You Think rebounded from that race quickly, allowing for the Champion Stakes to be considered. Run over about 1 1/4 miles, the Champion Stakes is worth approximately $2,028,000. The Champion Stakes will be So You Think’s second start at Ascot this year, preceded by a second as a heavy favorite to Rewilding in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at the Royal meeting in June.

So You Think will be ridden by Ryan Moore in the Champion Stakes and was listed at about a 2-1 chance as of Thursday.

Nathaniel, a 3-year-old trained by John Gosden, is the biggest threat to So You Think. Nathaniel has won his last two starts, both at Ascot – the King Edward VII Stakes for 3-year-olds at the Royal meeting and the Grade 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes against older horses in July. The latter race is considered the summertime championship for horses racing over 1 1/2 miles in England.

Juddmonte Farms, which starts the unbeaten Frankel in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Saturday’s Ascot card, has two outstanding hopes for the Champion Stakes in the multiple Group 1 winners Midday and Twice Over.

Twice Over, third in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, and Midday, who won the 2009 BC Filly and Mare Turf, were first and second in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York in August. Midday won the Group 1 Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares at Goodwood for a record third time in late July. Both are trained by Henry Cecil.

There are five major stakes on Saturday’s Ascot program.

In other races, Opinion Poll, who won two-mile races at York and Goodwood during the summer, will be favored in the Group 3 British Champions Long Distance Cup, run over about two miles for approximately $312,000. At Royal Ascot, Opinion Poll was second in the Ascot Gold Cup to the O’Brien-trained Fame and Glory, another leading contender in the Long Distance Cup.

In the Group 2 British Champions Sprint Stakes over six furlongs, Deacon Blues will be favored to win his fifth consecutive stakes, a streak that began in the 25-runner Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot in June. The 3-year-old French invader Moonlight Cloud is a threat to Deacon Blues in his first start since a win in the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville in August.

The Cecil-trained Vita Nova, second in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks in August, will be a slight favorite to win the Group 2 British Champion Fillies and Mares Stakes. Run over 1 1/2 miles, the race drew a field of 11, including Dancing Rain, winner of the English Oaks in June.