Oscar-winning film The Revenant was billed as a revenge Western, and there’s an element of revenge at play with The Revenant, the French challenger in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, because the horse who immediately springs to mind is Bateel, who had a near-miss on Champions Day for the same team.
Like Bateel, The Revenant started in Britain before taking off in France for Francis-Henri Graffard; like Bateel, The Revenant carries the red and black colours of Al Asayl Bloodstock and has Pierre-Charles Boudot as his regular rider; and like Bateel, The Revenant loves the mud.
The Revenant has no familial connection to Bateel, but his dam explains a lot, because Hazel Lavery hit her heights on heavy ground, and so far there’s been no stopping The Revenant under testing conditions, including blitzing the Group 2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein (by 4½ lengths) on Arc weekend, when returning from a summer break.
It’s an away day in theory, also his first Group 1, but the ground at Ascot makes it very much a home fixture for The Revenant, and it’s hardly a case of the usual suspects for the QEII, the division thin ever since Too Darn Hot tip-toed off the stage.
And being drawn next to Century Dream helps from a tactical perspective in the wide-open space of the straight mile.
DIFFERENT DAY, DIFFERENT DRAW, DIFFERENT KHAADEM?
There were co-favourites in the Sprint Cup: one was the winner, Hello Youmzain, another was Dream Of Dreams, who’ll appreciate returning to Ascot, and the third was Khaadem, who finds himself at 16/1 for this Group 1 when he was only 9/2 at Haydock. The question is how forgivable was his flop?
A wide draw was part of the problem, in that he didn’t settle, away from the action, without cover, but his stall in 6 puts him in the thick of things, alongside the front-runners Hello Youmzain (5), Donjuan Triumphant (4) and Sands Of Mali (3), and that can only be to Khaadem’s benefit.
He still has a point to prove on the ground, but his odds overplay how disadvantaged he was at Haydock and underplay how impressive he was at Goodwood, arguably the handicap performance of the season in the Stewards’ Cup.
The draw makes it difficult for Make A Challenge to write a positive last chapter in one of the stories of the year, because 16 leaves him isolated, compared to the other heavy-hitters.
SCIENCE VERSUS MAGICAL
There are surprising stats, and then there’s the fact that Aidan O’Brien has never won the Champion Stakes. What’s more, since the race was re-homed to Ascot in 2011, no Arc participant has managed to land it, from 11 attempts (O’Brien responsible for 7 of them), including Arc winner Found, the horse who you’d measure up most to Magical, and certainly the horse Ballydoyle seem to measure up most to Magical.
That’s because her campaign has virtually mirrored Found’s in 2016, and the Champion Stakes will be the seventh same race they tackled in their respective season, Magical’s rating weighing in a little lighter, but equally, in this year’s renewal, there’s no Almanzor, who stood in the way of Found at Ascot.
In theory, she’s in pole position in a winnable Champion Stakes, but in practice the pressures of time and pressures of Paris, as a warning from recent history, might take its toll.
The fresh Addeybb, rested since Haydock 10 weeks ago, has his ideal conditions, and he’s almost single-handedly flying the flag for the boys, in a race where the mares outnumber the males, the top-class Nassau winner Deirdre amongst them, unlucky not to make more of a race of it with Magical in the Irish equivalent.
As short as 11/4, Lord North speaks for himself, but this will be by far the softest ground he’s faced – very different to the Cambridgeshire – and stall 20 means he’ll need some luck that the stand side isn’t disadvantaged by then (think back to last year when they all migrated far side).
Likewise, Clon Coulis has an extreme draw, in 1, and the way she has to be ridden naturally tempts trouble, but who she’s ridden by and what she did in the Hunt Cup over course and distance make her a compelling each-way bet against the hot favourite.
To be beaten a nose at Royal Ascot from her position was a remarkable achievement, stimulated by Ascot and Spencer, and it’s not hard to give her a pass for lesser efforts since elsewhere, under different scenarios.
She won on her only previous visit to Ascot, and, crucially, she’s two from two on soft ground.
Lord North would be a single-figure price in the QEII, no doubt about it, and there’s a precedent for the Cambridgeshire-Balmoral double because Bronze Angel did it in 2014, but it’s a tough task for Lord North, whatever the odds say, and Clon Coulis is bound to be thereabouts, luck permitting.