The Group 1 Champion Stakes is the feature race on British Champions Day at Ascot. It was transferred from Newmarket in 2011 and was Britain’s richest horse race in 2013 with prize money of £1.3 million. Famous winners include Sir Ivor (1968), Brigadier Gerard (1971, 1972), Pebbles (1985) and Frankel (2012).
The Champion Stakes is an all-aged race over ten furlongs and is the highlight of Champions Day at Ascot in October. Ascot is one of the fairest racecourses in Britain and there are no excuses for beaten horses in this event. The going can be quite testing at this time of year so the race can produce an occasional upset.
Famous Champion Stakes Winners & History
The Champion Stakes was first run in 1877 at Newmarket with victory going to the four-year-old Springfield. Tristan won the race for a record three successive seasons from 1882 to 1884, remarkably adjudged to have dead-heated for two of those wins. The Champion Stakes quickly became established as a target for Classic winners and famous early winners include Rockfel (1938), Nearula (1953) and Petite Etoile (1959).
In 1970, English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky (4-11 favourite) suffered a shock defeat here to Lorenzaccio. The Champion Stakes was immediately classed as a Group 1 when the race grading system was introduced in 1971. Brigadier Gerard won it in 1971 and 1972 while subsequent dual winners include Triptych (1986, 1987) and Alborada (1998, 1999).
Triptych was one of several high class mares to win here, including Time Charter (1982) and Pebbles (1985). Clive Brittain trained Pebbles for Sheikh Mohammed who bought the 1000 Guineas winner from Captain Marcos Lemos. She became the first British-trained winner of a Breeders’ Cup race when taking the Breeders’ Cup Turf under Pat Eddery.
The late Khalid Abdullah enjoyed a great run of success in the Champion Stakes, winning it four times between 2009 and 2014. Twice Over (2009, 2010), Frankel (2012) and Noble Mission (2014) all carried his famous pink, white and green colours to victory.
Frankel’s victory was his fourteenth and final racecourse appearance. Sir Henry Cecil let him take his chance despite the very testing conditions. He was not at his brilliant best but still proved too good for reigning champion Cirrus des Aigles. There was an emotional win in 2014 for Frankel’s younger brother, Noble Mission, trained by Henry’s widow Lady Cecil.
Key Champion Stakes Trials
The most informative races for the Champion Stakes in recent seasons have been the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. Both Magical (2018) and Sealiway (2021) had finished out of the money in the Arc on their previous start before winning here.
Almanzor won the Irish Champion Stakes in good style before following up in this race for France in 2018. Magical (2020) followed the same route but finished third when attempting to repeat her 2019 success.
Champion Stakes Betting Trends
There have been five winning favourites of the Champion Stakes in the past twelve seasons; Frankel (2-11), Almanzor (11-8), Cracksman (13-8 and 5-6) and Magical (Even money). Twice Over (2010) and Farhh (2013) both started second favourite with the remaining five winners all outside the first three in the betting.
The longest priced winners during that period were Cirrus des Aigles (2011) and Sealiway (2021) who both returned at 12-1. Fascinating Rock was a 10-1 chance when scoring for Dermot Weld and the late Pat Smullen in 2015.
Champion Stakes Stats
There has been no dominant age group in recent years. Almanzor, Cracksman and Sealiway won as three-year-olds but there have been plenty of winners aged four and five. Addeybb won the race as a six-year-old for William Haggas and Tom Marquand in 2020. He was the first to do so since Pride (2006) but you have to go way back to the seven-year-old Bendigo (1887) to find the previous winner older than five.
This is a contest for top class horses with all but one of the last twelve winners having already won at least once in a Group 1 or Group 2 race. A rating of 117 or higher is usually required to win the Champion Stakes. Noble Mission and Sealiway were both on that mark while Frankel (140) was the highest rated horse going into the race, almost a stone higher than any other winner during that period.
Top Trainers and Jockeys
The most successful trainer in the history of the race is Alec Taylor Junior who saddled eight winners between 1903 and 1925. Frankel provided Sir Henry Cecil with his fifth and final Champion Stakes winner. Magical (2019) is the only winner to date from 15 runners in this race for the powerful Aidan O’Brien stable.
It is a similar story as far as jockeys are concerned with the all-time record still shared by Danny Maher (1901-1910) and Charlie Elliot (1923-1952) with six winners apiece. Tom Queally won it three times in four seasons aboard Twice Over (2009, 2010) and Frankel (2012). Apart from Queally, only Christophe Soumillon (2011, 2016) and Frankie Dettori (2017, 2018) have managed to record two victories in the race in recent years. It is one of the few Group 1 races to evade Ryan Moore to date.
Betting on the Champion Stakes
There is a lively ante-post betting market on the Champion Stakes, an obvious end-of-season target for top ten furlong horses. Bookmakers usually offer special enhanced odds on the favourite for new customers ahead of this race.
The mile and a half Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe can lure away some leading contenders so it is best to keep a close eye on running plans. Magical and Sealiway both showed that it is possible to win here after a tough race in France. French raiders have a good recent record in this race and are always worth noting.
The Champion Stakes provides a fitting climax to the flat turf season for the best middle-distance horses in Europe. Many star names have won this race, most famously Frankel who ended his career unbeaten after his fourteenth win here in 2012.