10/13/2016 1:56PM

O'Brien poised for huge day on British Champions card

Barbara D. Livingston
Found, the winner of the 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf, runs Saturday in the Champion Stakes.

Even by his lofty standards, trainer Aidan O’Brien is on a roll, and with strong chances in four of the five Group races Saturday at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day, the O’Brien train doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon.

On Oct. 2 in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, O’Brien not only won the race for the second time, with Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Found, but he became the first trainer to run 1-2-3 when Highland Reel nabbed second and Order of St George finished third. The next weekend in England, he ran one-two with 2-year-olds in the Group 1 Fillies Mile and the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes. O’Brien has 21 Group 1 wins in 2016 and is closing steadily on trainer Bobby Frankel’s world record of 25 during a calendar year.

The gap could narrow further Saturday. Found wheels back two weeks after her Arc score and joins stablemate U S Army Ranger in the featured Champion Stakes, the fifth race on a card that begins at 8:25 a.m. Eastern. The Ascot course as of Thursday was rated “good,” “good-to-soft” in places, and with more rain possible through Saturday, it will not be any drier than that.

Found did the Arc-Champion double last season and improved on a tough-luck ninth in France to finish second at Ascot. Found is in better form this year, but it’s not easy to imagine her running much better than she did two Sundays ago at Chantilly. She cuts back from 12 furlongs, which appears to be her ideal trip, to 10 and once again faces the exciting Almanzor, the Champion favorite who beat her by three-quarters of a length in the Irish Champion Stakes.

Almanzor, a 3-year-old trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, was held out of the Arc in favor of the Champion, his connections banking on his superiority over 1 1/4 miles, at distance at or about which he has won three in a row, sandwiching a Group 2 between strong wins in the Irish Champion and the French Derby. Course conditions should only help Almanzor, who breaks from post 1 under Christophe Soumillon.

Also among the 11 in the Champion is last year’s winner, Fascinating Rock, who has raced only three times during 2016, trading decisions with Found early in the season and most recently finishing second in the Group 3 Royal Whip Stakes about two months ago.

Jack Hobbs, a Group 1 winner who was third in the 2015 Champion, makes his first start since being pulled up in May. Midterm and U S Army Ranger are longshots not without a slim chance. Post time for the Champion is 10:45 Eastern.

Minding tops QE II

The O’Brien-trained 3-year-old filly Minding cuts back to one mile from 1 1/4- and 1 1/2-mile races to face 12 foes in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Third last out in the Irish Champion, Minding previously had won three Group 1 races in a row – the Nassau, Pretty Polly, and Epsom Oaks – and though she was upset by Jet Setting in the Irish 1000 Guineas, her most recent try at one mile, she won the English 1000 and the Fillies Mile over the trip and has enough pace to be effective going eight furlongs down the straightaway on Saturday.

Minding’s strongest challengers are a pair of 3-year-old colts, Ribchester and Galileo Gold. Galileo Gold won the English 2000 Guineas and the St. James’s Palace earlier in the year and finished second to The Gurkha in the Sussex, but he was a disappointing eighth last out in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville.

The Marois, though, marked a new peak for Ribchester, who won by a half-length after finishing third in the Sussex, and it might be Ribchester who is the ascendant horse at the moment.

O’Brien has two more favorites

Seventh Heaven is the solid favorite for the Champions Fillies and Mares after winning the Irish Oaks by 2 3/4 lengths and the Yorkshire Oaks by the same margin, the runner-up in the latter race none other than Found.

While Seventh Heaven could only finish sixth in the Epsom Oaks, her most recent race over ground softer than good, trouble in the running rather than the going might have done her in. The progressive Zhukova, another Ireland-based 3-year-old, this one trained by Dermot Weld, could be the main danger.

Order of St George, third in the Arc, stretches back out to two miles, a distance that better suits him, as the odds-on favorite in the Group 2 Champions Long Distance Cup. The filly Simple Verse tries two miles for the first time but won the English St. Leger over 14 1/2 furlongs last fall and might be the only one capable of threatening an in-form Order of St George.

The 14-runner Champions Sprint over six furlong appears to be wide open. Limato, who won the Prix de la Foret two weekends ago, was withdrawn from the race because of ground concerns and heads straight to the Breeders’ Cup.

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