The British Champions Series has proven to be an important addition to flat racing since it was introduced in 2011. Many of the best horses across a number of different distances do battle in highly anticipated races throughout the season and it all comes to a head on British Champions Day at Ascot.
This is the highlight of the end of the flat racing season. Action over the jumps has already begun but we have one more chance to see the stars of the flat on British turf with five Group 1 or 2 races.
British Champions Day Races
|1:20||Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup||Group 2||2m|
|1:55||Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes||Group 1||6f|
|2:30||Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes||Group 1||1m4f|
|3:05||Queen Elizabeth II Stakes||Group 1||1m|
|3:40||Qipco Champion Stakes||Group 1||1m2f|
|4:15||Balmoral Handicap||Class 2||1m|
About the Meeting
British Champions Day marks the climactic end of the flat racing season and in terms of top quality racing action, this Ascot meeting in October is hard to beat. With upwards of £4 million in prize money on offer over the course of the day, Champions Day is the most rewarding race day on the calendar and it is little wonder it attracts the very best runners, riders and trainers in the business.
Champions Day serves as the denouement to the British Champions Series of races that takes place throughout the flat racing season. The five races we feature here are the finals of the five divisions. There is also a one mile handicap on the card, just to mix things up a little.
Long Distance Cup
As the name suggests, the Long Distance Cup is the test for the top stayers in the flat racing game. Run over a distance of around two miles, this Group 2 race is open to runners aged three or over and though the field can vary in number (six ran in 2018, 13 in 2017, 10 in 2016) it is always highly competitive, as indeed are all the races on the card. In 2018 the race had a purse of £500,000 with a cool £300,000 awarded to the victors.
The race was given a new name and transferred to Ascot in 2011, previously having been run as the Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket, where it was inaugurated way back in 1873. In the pre-Ascot era, Irish-bred gelding Further Flight won this race five years in succession (1991-95), while the great Sir Gordon Richards rode to victory seven times between 1930 and 1949.
Notable races in the Long Distance category of the British Champions Series leading up to this race are the Yorkshire Cup, the Ascot Gold Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the St Leger.
The Sprint Stakes is for the speed demons of flat racing and this six furlong dash is fast, frenetic and very exciting. Generally with 10 or more in the field (there were 14 runners in 2018, 12 in 2017, 13 in 2016) there have been some cracking races over the years. Upgraded to Group 1 status in 2015, it is open to runners aged three years and older and had a purse of over £600,000 in 2018.
Previously known as the Diadem Stakes, the race was first run at Ascot in 1946, but its renaming and subsequent reclassification as a Group 1 race has really cemented its significance on the flat racing calendar. Lester Piggott was in the winning saddle seven times for this race between 1971 and 1983 (under its previous name).
The top races in the Sprint category of the series are the King’s Stand Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, both at Royal Ascot, and the Darley July Cup (Newmarket) and Sprint Cup (Haydock).
Fillies & Mares Stakes
This race gives the top females of flat racing the chance to show what they can do. Upgraded to Group 1 status in 2013, this middle distance race of a mile and half is open to fillies and mares aged three or older. The 2018 winner, Aidan O’Brien’s Magical, earned her connections the tidy sum of £340,000.
This race started life at Ascot in 1946 as the Princess Royal Stakes before moving to Newmarket and being renamed the Pride Stakes before being returned to Ascot in 2011 when it was given its current name. Once again Lester Piggott is the jockey with the most wins with a total of eight victories between 1959 and 1984.
Races in the Fillies and Mares category of the British Champions Series include two Classics, the 1,000 Guineas (Newmarket) and the Oaks (Epsom), as well as the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
One of two races on British Champions Day to have a purse of over £1 million (£1,100,000 in 2018), the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is one of the top mile events of the season. Open to runners aged three years and older, there have been some big name winners over the years, not least the inimitable Frankel in 2011.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was created in 1955 when the Knights’ Royal Stakes was renamed in honour of the Queen. It has held Group 1 status since 1987 and has long been considered one of the top mile events of the year.
The Mile category of the British Champions Series boasts some cracking races including the 2,000 Guineas (Newmarket), the St James’s Palace Stakes (Royal Ascot) and the Lockinge Stakes (Newbury).
The biggest race of the day in terms of purse (£1,300,000 in 2018) and many would say prestige, the Champion Stakes is the culmination of the Middle Distance category of the British Champions Series. Run over a distance of one mile and two furlongs, and open to runners aged three and older, this race is a true favourite with racing fans.
Originally held at Newmarket, the race was inaugurated all the way back in 1877 and has been classified as a Group 1 race ever since the grading system was introduced in 1971. The legendary Frankel won this race in 2012, the year after he had been victorious in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
The ‘Wizard of Manton’ Alec Taylor Jr trained eight winners of this race between 1903 and 1925, while – at the time of writing – Tristan is the only horse to have won it three times (1882-84), though interestingly two of those were classified as dead heats.
Some of the biggest flat races of the season take their place in the Middle Distance category of the British Champions Series, including the Derby (Epsom), the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Royal Ascot) and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Ascot).
The British Champions Series itself, and its climax British Champions Day, were conceived of as a way to increase interest among racing fans in some of the key races of the flat racing season. The idea was to link races to others in their category, the five categories being Sprint, Mile, Middle Distance, Long Distance and Fillies & Mares.
The series was first run in 2011 with the first British Champions Day meeting taking place at Ascot in October of that year. The meeting brings together some of the most historic season-closing races from Ascot and Newmarket.
While the Champion Stakes (formerly at Newmarket) and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Ascot) retained their names, others were given a change: the Diadem Stakes became the Sprint Stakes, the Pride Stakes became the Fillies & Mares Stakes and the Jockey Club Cup became the Long Distance Cup.
The five finals were brought together at Ascot with the Balmoral Handicap to add something a little different, and the meeting has proved extremely popular with racegoers, punters and those in the business.
A Complete Timeline of British Champions Day
It’s hard to think of a more climactic way to mark an end to the flat season than with the hugely prestigious British Champions Day. Offering over £4m in prize money across six events, it is the most valuable day of horse racing to take place in Britain. Although created in 2011, the history of the races that make up the final day spans much further as you can see below.
1873 – Origins of Long Distance Cup
Newmarket adds a two-and-a-quarter mile contest called the Jockey Club Cup, a race we know today as the British Champions Long Distance Cup. It remained at its former home for over 170 years before being transferred to Ascot in order to form the new series.
1877 – Champions Stakes Emerges
Newmarket introduces another new race by the name of the Champion Stakes. Two-time July Cup winner, Springfield, won the inaugural running during a brilliant 14 race unbeaten streak.
1884 – Hat-trick for Tristan
Tristan, once described as a “very vile-tempered animal” completes a hat-trick of victories in the Champion Stakes. His stunning record has withstood the test of time with no other horse able to repeat the feat since. Perhaps even more incredible though is that two of his victories were dead heats!
1946 – Inaugural Princess Royal Stakes
As part of a post-war shake-up, Ascot introduces a new race, the Princess Royal Stakes in honour of Princess Mary. Fillies and mares aged three and above were eligible to compete in the one and a half mile contest.
1946 – Forerunner of Sprint Stakes Inaugurated
The Diadem Stakes is also founded at Ascot, a six furlong contest named after a prolific former winner at the racecourse. Winning the inaugural renewal was specialist sprinter The Bug, once branded the best British or Irish-trained horse of his generation. It’s this race which we now call the British Champions Sprint Stakes.
1955 – First Run of Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
As a way of honouring Queen Elizabeth II, organisers at Ascot renamed the Knights’ Royal Stakes to the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. September saw the first running of the one mile contest, available to all horses aged three and above.
1995 – Further Flight’s Five
Achieving what barely seemed possible, Further Flight made it five in a row in today’s Long Distance Cup. In doing so he became the first horse to win any European Group race on five occasions, an achievement no other horse has yet been able to match.
1995 – Carson Wins Number Eight
Willie Carson rides home Bahri in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, making it win number eight for the Scotsman. In no other race did he enjoy so much success with the Yorkshire Oaks (five wins) his next best major event.
1996 – Frankie’s Magnificent Seven
Frankie Dettori guides Mark of Esteem to victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes during what was the third win of the afternoon. The Italian famously went on to win the remaining four races on the card, completing a ‘Magnificent Seven’, much to the dismay of many a bookmaker.
2000 – Venue Change Due to Security Alert
A security alert at Ascot forces the cancellation of all but the first race on a Saturday meet. One of the abandoned events was the Princess Royal Stakes but Newmarket came to the rescue, hosting the race soon after. Adapting best to the change in venue was Sacred Song who was first past the post on the Rowley Mile.
2006 – Six Year Old Champions Stakes Winner
The Christophe Lemaire ridden Pride smashes the age trend in the Champion Stakes by becoming the first six year old old since Tristan (1884) to triumph in the race.
2008 – Farewell to Princess Royal Stakes
Ascot relinquishes control of the Princess Royal Stakes with the contest moving to its new home of Newmarket. The same year saw the race upped to Group 2 status and renamed to the Pride Stakes.
2008 – Breeders’ Cup Link-up
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes is added to the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Challenge. As result, the champion of Ascot’s race would receive automatic entry to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The partnership with the Challenge series didn’t last long however with QEII removed in 2012.
2011 – Key Races Move to Ascot
In order to form part of the British Champions Day, the Diadem Stakes, the Jockey Club Cup and the Pride Stakes moved from Newmarket to Ascot. The trio immediately have their titles changed and form the opening three races of the inaugural meeting.
2012 – Frankel Stars Before Record Crowd
Ascot breaks the modern era attendance record for an autumn flat racing day. A crowd of 32,000 showed up to witness the action and what a memorable day it was too. Frankel, who had won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes a year earlier, marked the end of a fabulous career, bowing out with a Champion Stakes victory in spite of testing conditions.
2012 – Derby Purse Exceeds Champion Stakes
The Champion Stakes loses its briefly held title as the richest race in Britain with the Derby exceeding its huge purse of £1,300,000.
2013 – Fillies and Mares Stakes Gains Prestige
Shortly after being added to British Champions Day, the Fillies and Mares Stakes enjoys a large double boost. Not only is it reclassified to the highest level, Group 1, but its prize money doubles from £250,000 to £500,000.
2014 – Long Distance Cup Goes Group 2
After spending over four decades with Group 3 status, the Long Distance Cup is finally reclassified as a Group 2 event, helping it attract a higher calibre of horse.
2014 – High Value Handicap Added to Champions Day
Ten years after the Balmoral Handicap, part of Royal Ascot, was scrapped, the title returned as part of a new event after the Queen gave her consent. The new Balmoral Handicap became the curtain closer of British Champions Day, offering a prize fund of £250,000. A purse this size made it the richest one mile handicap taking place in the whole of Europe.
2015 – Champions Sprint Stakes Becomes a Group 1 Race
Major changes to the sprint programme across Europe sees the Champions Sprint Stakes upgraded to Group 1 for the first ever time. Alongside the enhanced prestige came a huge increase in the race’s value. Upped to £600,000, the six furlong contest became the continent’s joint most valuable event of such distance.
2015 – Fillies and Mares Stakes Purse Boost
Further increase to the prize money of the Fillies and Mares Stakes pushes the overall fund up to £600,000. A purse this large made the race the joint most valuable female-only race in the country.