1.20 - Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup (Group 2, 2m)
The great thing about British Champions Day is it is just exactly that - there's no easing into this card and we kick off with the Long Distance Cup and the mighty STRADIVARIUS in his quest to win this contest for the second time in his career.
He won his third Gold Cup (2m4f, soft) back in June in what amounted to a rout and is, unquestionably, the star stayer of this generation but his record in this race reads 312 over the last three seasons and so there are doubters.
He was one-length third when Order Of St George won in 2017, fended off Thomas Hobson in good style a year later and saw his winning sequence ended when Kew Gardens nosed him out of this prize last year.
It's a harsh stick to beat Stradivarius with. The 2018 St Leger winner got first run and Frankie Dettori's mount closed on him quickly once asked. They looked sure to go and win, but Kew Gardens rallied and stuck his head out to win. There was little in it, the pair five-lengths clear of everything else.
Stradivarius has been beaten three times this season and so there's a perceived vulnerability in him now that was never there before. All of those defeats were over 1m4f, a trip well short of his optimum and, most recently, little attempt was made to utilise his staying power in a heavy-ground Arc.
Make no mistake, John Gosden's star is the one to beat. He thrashed his Gold Cup rivals on soft ground and many of those opposing him here must prove themselves on the testing surface. It will be a shock if Dettori's mount doesn't see this out best of all to win.
With 13 runners declared there's ample opportunity to find an each-way alternative against the jolly.
Search For A Song (first) and Fujaira Prince (second) come here on the back of pleasing runs in the Irish St Leger (1m6f).
Dermot Weld's filly is admirable and she gets 3lb from the favourite.
She should stay this trip but the prevailing ground is a massive unknown for a horse that has done all her winning on good/good-to-firm. She's been defeated twice encountering even yielding ground in Ireland and conditions must be a worry.
Fujaira Prince was an impressive winner of a soft-ground Ebor in August but, on ratings, has plenty to find before laying a blow on Stradivarius.
At the prices O'Brien's BROOME might be worth some each-way interest. The Australia colt has winning form on soft ground and goes well fresh. He's untested at the trip but last year's Epsom Derby fourth is surely worth a go. Ryan Moore seemingly prefers Sovereign but Colin Keane rates an able deputy and he might get a good tune from Broome.
1.55 - Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes (Group 1, 6f)
Haydock's Sprint Cup winner Dreams Of Dreams is the clear favourite for the Champions Sprint. Sir Michael Stoute's six-year-old is in the form of his life having backed up his wide-margin Group 2 Hungerford Stakes win at Newbury in August with that Group 1 triumph on Merseyside on soft going.
He did that decisively and had plenty of these rivals in behind in the process. No shock then to see him installed as market leader but worth noting he is 0-5 at Ascot previously. Admittedly, he's been defeated a head twice in the Diamond Jubilee over C&D at the Royal Meeting but those runs were on much quicker ground.
He was 20/1 for this race last year (heavy) and finished out with the washing as Donjuan Triumphant scored a shock win with One Master in second spot. Plenty of that same cast re-assemble now and while there's no arguing Dream Of Dreams arrives in much-improved form, he's probably a favourite worth opposing.
Glen Shiel chased him home in the Sprint Cup and is a fine each-way price here, while last year's second One Master won the Prix de la Foret for a record third time a fortnight ago but the admirable mare should again find 6f in Group 1 company going against her.
Lope Y Fernandez would harbour some claims on his best form but was never going with enough enthusiasm at Haydock last time, while The Tin Man (2016 winner) remarkably competes for this prize for the six year running but will do well to bag it for a second time.
July Cup winner Oxted has questions to answer on this testing ground and, at the prices, it might be worth chancing STARMAN instead. Ed Walker's progressive colt is 3-3 so far and had no problems dispatching Dakota Gold at York last month. He looks destined to succeed in Group 1 company and might go well if adapting to conditions.
Another three-year-old ART POWER however is the selection. Tim Easterby's Dark Angel colt was mightily impressive over 5f here in the summer when routing a handicap field before landing a Group 3 in Ireland soon after in commanding fashion.
He was poor in York's Nunthorpe and has more than two-lengths to find on Dream Of Dreams from their Haydock meeting last month. Art Power still looks a work in progress and a return to Ascot might be just the ticket for a career-best showing.
2.30 - Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (Group 1, 1m4f)
Three of these fillies met in a good renewal of the Group 1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp last month, with DAME MALLIOT (third) ahead of Wonderful Tonight (fifth) and Even So (sixth).
That form is strong, with winner Tarnawa landing a gutsy Prix de L'Opera since and runner-up Raabihah coming out of the Arc with credit (fourth). Ed Vaughan's filly has remained progressive this season and should go close under in-form Hollie Doyle. Of the market principles, she's the most appealing.
The consistent Antonia De Vega becomes harder to knock with each passing run and remains relatively low-mileage. Ralph Beckett's challenger ought to give her running again.
A chance is taken with FRANKLY DARLING on the strength of her Ribblesdale success at the Royal Meeting over C&D (good to soft) in June. She was much the strongest that day having been sent for home early in the straight by Dettori, with Passion well behind in third.
She's finished third (Oaks) and fifth (Yorkshire Oaks) since in races dominated by Love and might well benefit from not having that superstar rival in this line-up.
She handled heavy ground on debut in her sole two-year-old run (second to Cabaletta at Yarmouth but has progressed well past that rival since) and therefore can be expected to handle conditions just fine.
Rab Havlin takes the ride - as he did at York - and it's unknown if Frankie had the choice but, regardless, Frankly Darling if fancied for a big run as trainer John Gosden bids for a third win in five years in this race.
3.05 - Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Group 1, 1m)
A rock-solid favourite for the QEII in the unbeaten miler PALACE PIER and no surprises should the impressive son of Kingman remain such after this latest Group 1 assignment.
An easy winner of both two-year-old starts, he reappeared on the all-weather at Newcastle in June and won decisively before upping the ante considerably to defeat Pinatubo and Wichita in a strong renewal of the St James's Palace Stakes here (good) at the Royal Meeting.
He's only had more start since then, repelling the likes of Alpine Star, Circus Maximus and Persian King to win the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville on heavy ground in August.
That sets him up well for this assignment and he's going to be many people's idea of the Ascot banker on Saturday. He looks the real deal.
French raider The Revenant was strong in the finish when landing the Group 2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp two weeks ago and will surely run a big race on conditions that pose no problem.
Century Dream was third in this in 2018 and has shown good form this season, James Doyle's partner will have a chance if racing with some more restraint after being a little keen last time in Ireland.
As an each-way play, consider the other Gosden runner NAZEEF. She's 6-6 at this trip and won over C&D earlier in the season. She arrives following a soft-ground Group 1 win at Newmarket a fortnight ago and will definitely handle conditions under former champion jockey Jim Crowley.
3.40 - Qipco Champion Stakes (Group 1, 1m2f)
With Enable's retirement last week, MAGICAL has ascended to become the best mare in training across Britain and Ireland. This might well be her swansong too, though of course retirement was mooted after she won this prize a year ago only for the Coolmore team to have a rethink.
How wise they look now, with three more Group 1 wins taking her top level tally to seven. Her defeat behind Ghaiyyath in York's Juddmonte International is the only blot this season and she certainly avenged that last month in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, eye-balling the Godolphin runner before winning the battle late on in determined fashion - with subsequent Arc winner Sottsass behind in fourth.
She is a supremely consistent mare and with her win in this last year coming under similar conditions, Magical is a confident pick to become the third horse this century to retain this crown.
Addeybb was second last year and will relish the ground conditions again. William Haggas' charge won a brace of Australian Group 1s in the spring but was well-held in second behind LORD NORTH here in June.
The Prince of Wales's Stakes winner could be big danger to Magical. His only run since saw him a length and a quarter behind the mare at York in August in the Juddmonte. Plenty will anticipate Addeybb reversing form from the Royal meeting on softer ground but Lord North ran a blinder on this card last year behind Escobar in the Balmoral Handicap before ending the season with a heavy-ground Newmarket win over this distance.
He's still low-mileage and that York third is his only defeat over the trip. If Magical has any sort of off-day, James Doyle's mount should be primed to take full advantage.
Promising three-year-old Mishriff - stablemate of Lord North - is rightly being talked up and his Prix Guillaume d'Ornano win at Deauville came on testing ground in August. Frankie Dettori will hope for a big run but, on his first start in an all-aged Group 1, this might be asking a lot as the Classic generation have only won twice in the last 11 years.
The admirably Pyledriver surely will find this trip on the sharp side while it remains hard to know just what Epsom Derby winner Serpentine is going to be capable of in the longer term.
4.15 - Balmoral Handicap (Straight Mile)
The toughest punting puzzle comes up as the final act, with 20 runners contesting this fierce handicap over Ascot's straight mile. This race can often throw up a group-performer in the making - Escobar held off Lord North last year with both competing for Group 1 prizes today.
In that regard, look no further than Raaeq and TEMPUS at the head of the market. Brian Meehan's colt strode to an impressive four-length success over 7f (good to soft) here early in the month and, despite his penalty, could still be on a very workable mark.
Tempus won his first two starts of the season at Newbury and here (1m, good to soft), enough to see him going off favourite for the Cambridgeshire at Newmarket last month. Neither the good ground nor an extra furlong appeared to help him there as he finished only sixth. He's already a heavy-ground winner and strikes as one to stick with for now.
Irish raiders Njord and KEATS both warrant respect and it's the Aidan O'Brien runner that is fancied most.
He was ahead of Njord when second to Lady Wannabe in a Listed contest at Listowel last month and improved on that to win in the same grade since at Cork, while the Listowel winner took out a Newmarket Group 3 on her next start.
The penalty Keats got for his Cork win gets him into this field and he could do fare much better than when last spotted in a handicap at the Curragh on Irish Champions Weekend, a race in which things didn't fall his way.