Roger Varian is confident King Of Steel is at the top of his game ahead of his bid to provide Frankie Dettori with what could be a farewell winner in Britain in Saturday’s Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot.
Narrowly denied Derby glory by Auguste Rodin at Epsom, the Wootton Bassett colt enjoyed his day in the sun when dominating the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot before running well in defeat in both the King George and the Irish Champion Stakes.
With owners Amo Racing no longer retaining Kevin Stott, Dettori has been called up for what is scheduled to be the Italian’s final mount in Europe on British Champions Day – and Varian believes his star three-year-old is in prime condition as he looks to give his rider the perfect send-off on UK soil.
“Regardless of whether Frankie is signing off or not, I think he’ll suit the horse, and I think the race will suit him too,” said the trainer.
“He (Dettori) came and rode him and he was happy with him. It won’t be an easy race, but both horse and jockey go there in good form. I wouldn’t swap him.
“He’s been training great and he looks terrific. They tell you when they are right, and he’s telling us right now.
“The Breeders’ Cup isn’t completely off the table, but the Champion Stakes at Ascot comes first of course and that’s where our focus lies.”
King Of Steel is one of 11 horses in contention for the Champion Stakes following the confirmation stage, with Horizon Dore, Mostahdaf and last year’s winner Bay Bridge other major players.
Cirrus Des Aigles (2011), Almanzor (2016) and Sealiway (2021) are among the recent French-trained winners of the Champions Day highlight – and having extended his winning streak to four in the Prix Dollar, Patrice Cottier’s Horizon Dore bids to add his name to the roll of honour.
Mostahdaf demonstrated his top-level capabilities by winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Juddmonte International at York during the summer, but connections will be concerned about the prospect of significant rain later in the week for a horse who prefers fast ground.
John Gosden, who trains Mostahdaf in partnership with his son Thady, warned late last week: “Mostahdaf has won on soft, but we’ll have to see what the weather brings through the week. He ran in bottomless ground in the Arc last year and hated it, but if you get him on better ground he’s got a great turn of foot.”
The Clarehaven team have also confirmed Nashwa, although she also has the option of running in the preceding Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Gosden added: “Nashwa ran a huge race when third in the Irish Champion Stakes, where she was flying at the finish. She’s in great order, but a decision probably won’t be made about which race she runs in until later in the week, probably Wednesday as I don’t like leaving it until Thursday morning.”
Bay Bridge will step back in distance after finishing sixth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, while William Haggas has left in both last year’s third My Prospero and the globetrotting Dubai Honour.
Via Sistina (George Boughey), Royal Rhyme (Karl Burke) and Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Point Lonsdale and Paddington are the other acceptors, although the latter is widely expected to line up in the preceding QEII over a mile.
Paddington has been one of the stars of the season for Ballydoyle, winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas, the St James’s Palace Stakes, the Coral-Eclipse and the Sussex Stakes before meeting with defeat for the first time this year when third behind Mostahdaf on the Knavesmire in August.
Among 13 possible rivals this weekend are Dermot Weld’s Irish Guineas, Coronation Stakes and Matron Stakes heroine Tahiyra, Nashwa, her stablemate Inspiral, 2000 Guineas winner Chaldean and the supplemented Angel Bleu.
The afternoon gets under way with the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup, which is set to stage a mouthwatering clash between Trueshan and Kyprios.
Alan King’s Trueshan has bounced back from an underwhelming start to his campaign by winning the Doncaster Cup and the Prix du Cadran in the autumn and he now gets the opportunity to land this Group Two prize for the fourth year in succession.
Kyprios won the Gold Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the Irish St Leger in 2022 before registering a remarkable 20-length verdict in the Cadran. He was beaten on his return from nearly a year on the sidelines in the Irish Leger last month, but can be expected to take a significant step forward.
Coltrane is also among 10 hopefuls, but Gold Cup hero Courage Mon Ami is a notable absentee.
Kinross (Ralph Beckett) and Shaquille (Julie Camacho) are two of 18 speedsters to stand their ground for the Qipco British Champions Sprint.
There are also 18 horses in contention for the Qipco British Champions Fillies And Mares Stakes including Free Wind (Gosdens), Time Lock (Harry and Roger Charlton), Sea Silk Road (Haggas) and the doubly engaged Via Sistina. Henry de Bromhead has supplemented Group Three winner Term Of Endearment.
The Balmoral Handicap is the concluding race and Lincoln winner Migration, trained by David Menuisier, is at the head of the weights after 32 horses were confirmed.