Updated on 10/14/2014 4:11PM

Cirrus des Aigles, at age 8, eyes another Champion victory

Hong Kong Jockey Club
Cirrus des Aigles, shown training in Hong Kong in December 2013, is the favorite to win Saturday's QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot.

The French veteran Cirrus des Aigles, Europe’s all-time leading money earner, heads to Ascot with a favorite’s chance of winning the QIPCO Champion Stakes once again.

With one of his potentially key rivals for Saturday’s race, Epsom Derby winner Australia, now retired, and the wet weather another aid, the 8-year-old has become a solid first choice ahead of lightly raced Irish 3-year-old Free Eagle.

One of just 24 horses trained at Chantilly outside Paris by Corine Barande-Barbe, Cirrus des Aigles is one of the most remarkable stories of recent seasons.

Sired by the otherwise-unremarkable stallion Even Top and so unruly that he was gelded even before his juvenile debut, he competed a rigorous 17 times during 2009, starting off in lowly events on the synthetic Cagnes-sur-Mer surface in January but making such progress that he ended up in that December’s Hong Kong Vase.

In a sport where equine stars are quickly ushered away for breeding, his enduring presence has led to great popularity not just in France, but much farther afield, and he boasts a résumé that features 21 wins (including six Group 1 races) and total prize money of over $9.3 million.

One of those successes was in this event back in 2011, and he ran second the two subsequent years.

“We want to win,” Barande-Barbe said.

Cirrus des Aigles just recently eclipsed the earnings mark set by 2010 Dubai World Cup victor Gloria de Campeao.

Such a horse probably would not have been given a second glance by the area’s more illustrious trainers, but as Barande-Barbe gently scolds the mischievous Cirrus des Aigles and feeds him carrots, it is clear that he has thrived on such individual attention.

“Every year when I see other horses going to stud or being retired, I think, ‘Ah, that’s good for next year,’ ” she laughed. “He’s really exceptional. With the pedigree he has and the way he looked when he was a yearling, nobody would have tried, even in a little yard. I tried because I was friends with the breeder, and his older brother was a very correct little horse.”

Cirrus des Aigles’s 2014 campaign started just as busily with a second in Dubai and three more European Group 1 wins. But after the third of those, the Coronation Cup at Epsom in June, he initially appeared lame and was rested through the summer.

Although disqualified from first on a comeback at Longchamp on Oct. 4, Barande-Barbe said: “He was the best horse in the race, and we know he is always better for his first run.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Cirrus des Aigles is the second-leading earner in European history. According to records compiled by Equibase, he is Europe's all-time leading earner.