The £250,000 Balmoral Handicap, sponsored by QIPCO, the race that brings down the curtain on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on October 20, has attracted a bumper 74 entries.
A maximum field of 20 will be allowed to run in the mile contest, which is Europe’s richest mile handicap. Last year all bar three of the runners had an official rating of at least 100.
It says much for the quality 12 months ago that Lord Glitters, who pounced from well off the pace to take the spoils, and Accidental Agent, who finished fourth, went on to fight out the finish of the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot this summer. On that occasion the latter took the honours.
David O’Meara, the trainer of Lord Glitters, is hopeful of having multiple runners in his quest to hit the jackpot for the second successive year. He has indicated that all five of his entries – Escobar, Waarif, Firmament, Markazi and Bravery – could run if they make the cut.
The present ratings of Waarif, who has been prolific this year, Firmament, eighth and third in the past two runnings of the Balmoral Handicap, and Escobar, give them solid prospects of featuring in the final field.
“There’s huge money on offer and I’d hope to have as many runners as possible,” O’Meara said. “Waarif’s won four times this year, including at Ayr the other day and that will help get him into the race. He’s been very tough this year and I suppose he’s taken us by surprise. How much more he’s got in him is anybody’s guess. He seems versatile regards the ground but, if anything, he seemed to enjoy that heavy ground at Ayr. He seems to thrive on his racing and will probably run in the Cambridgeshire on Saturday.
“Firmament likes Ascot and he’s been running very well, including at Chelmsford last time when he might have bumped into a decent horse of Godolphin’s. He’s not won for a while but the handicapper’s given him a bit of a chance [at the moment he is 9lb lower than in the Balmoral last year] and he can be competitive off that mark if everything drops right for him.”
Of Escobar, he added: “He won really nicely at Haydock during the year and didn’t get much luck in Ireland [last time] as he was drawn very wide. He will most likely run if the ground is anywhere near decent. I don’t think he wants it too soft.”
Lord Glitters was having only his second start for O’Meara when winning the Balmoral Handicap last year, having formerly been trained in France. Markazi has a similar profile, having won six of his 16 starts for Jean-Claude Rouget in France before finishing a staying-on fourth in a Haydock handicap on his British debut on 11th August.
Markazi has been absent since but has four entries divided between Haydock and Newmarket later this week. O’Meara, based at Upper Helmsley, near York, said: “Markazi might struggle to get in this year but he could run at Haydock on Saturday and we will take it from there.”
Bravery won the Lincoln in 2017 on his first start for O’Meara but has since failed to add to that tally. The trainer said: “He’s not been in quite the same form this year and might be another who will struggle to get in but he may run again before [the weights are published] and we’ll see.”
Numerically, nobody has more entries than Mark Johnston, who has eight engaged. His squad includes Poet’s Society, the horse who provided his with his record-breaking 4,194th winner in Britain when scoring at York last month.
Remarkably, John Gosden has saddled the Balmoral Handicap runner-up in each of the past four years. His quartet of entries this time consists of Laugh Aloud, a runaway Group 3 winner at Epsom last summer; Tricorn, third in the Britannia at Royal Ascot in 2017 and an eye-catching second at Chelmsford last time; plus two progressive three-year-olds in the shape of Stylehunter, an easy winner at Goodwood last time after finishing sixth in the Britannia, and Argentello, who has won three of his past four races.
Afaak, Circus Couture and What’s The Story – second, third and fourth, respectively, in the Royal Hunt Cup – are engaged, as is Rip Orff, who has already won two valuable big-field handicaps at Ascot this year, and Dark Red, who was third in the Balmoral Handicap last year.
Other notable entries include Dolphin Vista, who won the Cambridgeshire last year, and ten-time winner Oh This Is Us, who was a close third in the Group 2 Park Stakes at Doncaster on his latest start.
Tickets for QIPCO British Champions Day on Saturday 20th October have completely sold out in the King Edward VII enclosure, with the only availability being in Queen Anne, and fewer than 100 tickets in Winning Post. For tickets to QIPCO British Champions Day go to britishchampionsday.com