Cirrus primed to regain his Champion crown

Corine Barande-Barbe is confident Cirrus Des Aigles has finally reached his peak for the campaign as he looks to regain his crown in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot today.

Cirrus primed to regain  his Champion crown

The seven-year-old was something of a surprise winner when beating the likes of So You Think and Snow Fairy to the prestigious prize in 2011, while he pushed the brilliant Frankel closer than most horses managed 12 months ago.

It has not been all plain sailing for the French star this term, with a setback suffered in the Far East late last year delaying his comeback and when he did eventually return, he appeared just a shadow of his former self.

Defeats in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, the King George and twice at Deauville in midsummer suggested Cirrus Des Aigles’ days may be numbered, but as predicted by his trainer, the gelding has burst back into life this autumn.

A minor-race victory at Maisons-Laffitte was followed by the demolition of his rivals in Longchamp’s Prix Dollar and Barande-Barbe believes her pride and joy has everything in his favour on his return to Berkshire.

“The horse is very well. He took his last race well and we are looking forward to the race,” said the Chantilly handler.

“All year I wanted him to be at the top (of his game) for the Champion Stakes and I believe he is, that is what I think.

“We know he likes Ascot and he has the soft ground, so all the lights are green.”

A double-figure price when victorious two years ago and always likely to play second fiddle to Frankel last time around, Cirrus Des Aigles this year carries the pressure of being a red-hot favourite.

The usually bullish Barande-Barbe admits her charge deserves to head the market, but is taking nothing for granted.

“He is the favourite for the race, which is normal. He deserves to be the favourite and he is my favourite too,” said the trainer.

“But the race is not over until it has been run and you have to give consideration to the opposition.

“Hillstar is a good horse and Farhh has been a good horse, so we can only keep our fingers crossed and see what happens.”

Godolphin's talented but fragile Farhh appears to most obvious threat to the Gallic raider.

After kicking off last season with victory in the Thirsk Hunt Cup, the five-year-old was placed in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Coral-Eclipse before beating all bar Frankel in the Sussex Stakes and the Juddmonte International.

He was beaten just a head by Moonlight Cloud on his final start of 2012 in the Prix du Moulin, so was hardly winning out of turn when making a brilliant seasonal reappearance in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May.

Farhh has not been seen in competitive action since and takes his chance over a mile and a quarter this weekend instead of tackling the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over a mile.

Trainer Saeed bin Suroor said: “He seems in very good form. He won the Lockinge, had an injury after the race and we gave him a nice break.

“He has come back and is working well and is in good condition. He won well at a mile in the Lockinge, but also he has run the mile and a quarter very well in the past and good to soft ground is no problem for him.

“He is fit and well. Cirrus Des Aigles is the one to beat, he is a very good horse.

“But, at the same time, Group One races are always tough and our horse is good enough to be there.”

The William Haggas-trained Mukhadram has enjoyed a fine campaign, winning the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown before being placing behind Al Kazeem in the Prince of Wales's and Coral-Eclipse.

He secured a deserved return to the winner’s enclosure in workmanlike fashion at York in July and Haggas feels his charge should make his presence felt on Saturday.

“He’s in really good shape, he’s done well for his break earlier in the year,” the trainer told At The Races.

“He’s obviously better on better ground but he won on heavy ground at Sandown earlier in the year and he’ll run a good race, he’s a very genuine horse.”

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