10/11/2011 2:47PM

Frankel adds starpower to British Champions Series at Ascot


Nothing boosts the prominence of a newly created day of major stakes more than an appearance by a nation’s leading horse.

When the unbeaten Frankel starts in Saturday’s Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, the eight-time winner gives the first-year British Champions Series a showcase runner that promoters could only dream of attracting when the event was announced last year.

Sponsored by QIPCO, a private investment firm in Qatar, the six-race program features five stakes worth approximately $4.6 million and will be the richest day of racing in British history.

Aside from the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, worth approximately $1.56 million, the program includes the $2 million Champion Stakes, the $312,000 British Champions Long Distance Cup over two miles, and two races worth $390,000 – the British Champions Sprint over six furlongs and Fillies and Mares Stakes over 1 1/2 miles.

Interest in the event has been so strong that a portion of the massive Ascot grandstand sold out two weeks ago. One major bookmaking company has estimated that handle through Great Britain will exceed $62 million, or 40 million pounds. Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to attend and present the trophy for the race named in her honor.

The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes will be Frankel’s first start since a commanding win in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in July. Earlier this year, he won the English 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. More than likely, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes will be Frankel’s final start of 2012.

He was a big fat 1-3 in the future book for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes as of Monday and is clearly the star attraction Saturday.

“It is important for racing to have real champions – Sea the Stars, Arkle, Mill Reef, and Desert Orchid,” his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, said at a press conference Monday, mentioning four famous steeplechase and flat horses from the last 50 years. “You don’t have to be an enthusiast to have heard of them.

“Frankel is still an improving horse. Hopefully, it will be a nicely run race, and he will do what we expect.”

Owned by Juddmonte Farms and named in honor of the late American Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, the colt will have no more than nine rivals in the Queen Elizabeth II. Final entries will be announced Thursday.

Immortal Verse, the 3-year-old filly who beat Goldikova in the Group 1 Prix Jacques Le Marois in France in August; Prix du Moulin winner Excelebration; and Dick Turpin and Cityscape, the first two finishers of the Group 1 Premio Vittorio di Capua in Italy on Sept. 24, are among the other nominees.

The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was run at Ascot in late September in past years as the focal point of an outstanding two days of racing that often produced top contenders for Breeders’ Cup races. The Champion Stakes remains a mid-October highlight but had been run at Newmarket in the past.

Because of the three-week gap between Saturday’s British Champion Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup, it is unclear how many horses will run in both events.

One exception could be So You Think, winner of three Group 1 races in Europe this year and the fourth-place finisher in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Oct. 2. He makes a quick turnaround from the latter race and has been mentioned as a candidate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 by trainer Aidan O’Brien.

So You Think was the 2-1 favorite in future book betting for the Champion Stakes earlier this week, preferred over Nathaniel, winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner at Ascot in July; and the 2011 Group 1 winners Midday and Twice Over.