10/16/2014 11:45AM

Noble Mission's connections dare to dream in Champion Stakes

Hong Kong Jockey Club
On Saturday, Cirrus des Aigles will take his fourth shot at winning the Champion Stakes at Ascot.

Typically, English fall weather has conspired against QIPCO British Champions Day, but a number of Europe’s top horses still will be gunning for prize money of more than $6 million Saturday.

While racing on the turf rumbles on until November, this meeting essentially is designed to bring the curtain down on the continental season before the action switches to the Breeders’ Cup, Melbourne Cup, and the Asian finales.

Started in 2011, British Champions Day was conceived when the 1 1/4-mile Champion Stakes was transferred from Newmarket to Ascot and staged alongside an existing Group 1, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over a mile, as well as the creation of three other high-level group events for categories in the Champions Series.

While injury or retirement has robbed the meeting of early-season stars Kingman and Australia, and others like The Grey Gatsby are not being risked on soft ground, the roll call of big names is considerable.

Leading the way is the French gelding Cirrus des Aigles, but even wider sporting attention could be drawn by the queen’s Estimate, who sparked an incredible scene when landing last year’s Gold Cup at the same track.

:: QIPCO Champions Day: Get free PPs

Champion Stakes

Lady Jane Cecil is expecting to be very emotional if Noble Mission can emulate the achievements of his older brother, Frankel, by winning the QIPCO British Champion Stakes.

It was two years ago in the very same event that the history-making Frankel, named after the late trainer Bobby Frankel and widely regarded as one of the greatest Thoroughbreds in history, wrapped up his career unbeaten in 14 races.

Sir Henry Cecil, the world-renowned trainer, died the following summer and left his widow in charge of his famous stable of Warren Place in Newmarket.

Noble Mission, who always has worn a hood, started off in the shadow of his sibling and had earned something of a reputation as an underachiever but carved out his own niche this year once more aggressively ridden on the lead.

His steady climb up the ladder led to his first Group 1 win May 25 in the Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland, and he was awarded another from the stewards in the following month’s Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

Noble Mission, who has not raced since July but was taken for a recent gallop on the Polytrack at Kempton, has become a solid third choice behind the 2011 winner, Cirrus Des Aigles, and the Irish colt Free Eagle.

“You hardly dare dream [of winning],” said Cecil. “I’m both nervous and excited. It looks like he’s going to get the ground, and he looks in good order. He’s had a long break, and we couldn’t be happier with him. I’ve seen he’s been coming in in the betting, and the race can’t come quick enough.”

Key contenders

Cirrus des Aigles

* This will be a fourth Champion Stakes attempt for Corine Barande-Barbe’s veteran, who was brushed aside by Frankel in 2012 but pushed Farhh to a narrow quarter-length finish a year ago.

Although sidelined with a minor problem through the summer, he was disqualified from winning his comeback in a Group 2 at Longchamp and handles wet conditions.

“It doesn’t bother him,” said his trainer. “He knows how to swim.”

Free Eagle

Seen twice as a juvenile but absent more than a year, Dermot Weld’s colt could not have been more impressive in winning a Group 3 at Leopardstown in Ireland on his reappearance.

Free Eagle is untried on soft ground, and the concern for his supporters is that Weld, who claimed the 1990 Belmont Stakes with the same owners’ Go And Go, will not commit until he personally has checked the conditions Saturday morning.

Ruler of The World

A close third from a difficult wide position last year, Aidan O’Brien’s 2013 Derby hero is taking the same route from the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe a fortnight ago, when he finished little closer to the dual winner Treve.