Cirrus Des Aigles back for more

Trainer Corine Barande-Barbe is taking nothing for granted as her French superstar Cirrus Des Aigles bids to regain his crown in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot today.

Cirrus Des Aigles back for more

It is three years since the popular gelding caused a minor upset in the prestigious mile-and-a-quarter event, beating a strong field that included So You Think, Snow Fairy and Midday to clinch his first success at the top level.

Any notion that surprise triumph may have been a flash in the pan has been completely blown out of the water since, however, with Cirrus Des Aigles adding a further five Group One victories to his CV, as well as filling the runner-up spot in the last two renewals of the Champion Stakes behind Frankel and Farhh.

Despite his advancing years, this has arguably been the veteran’s finest campaign yet, passing the post in front on each of his four starts in Europe, albeit losing out on a fourth win in last month’s Prix Dollar at Longchamp after being demoted by the stewards.

That fine display showed the injury he suffered when winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom in June has caused no lasting damage and he will surely bring the house down in Berkshire if he can come up with the goods once more on Saturday.

Barande-Barbe said: “Everything is perfect. The horse is looking very good and we are very much looking forward to the race.

“He is the favourite and we have big hopes he can win, of course, but the race is never won until after it is run.

“The ground will be soft, but that should not be a problem – he knows how to swim!

“It is very exciting to be going back to Ascot and I am just concentrating on my own horse instead of looking at the opponents.

“I know Frankel’s brother, Noble Mission, is running.

“We could not beat Frankel, so hopefully we can beat his brother.”

With dual Derby hero Australia a significant absentee from Saturday’s race after being forced into retirement by injury, the big Irish hope in the line-up is Dermot Weld’s hugely-exciting colt Free Eagle.

Connections insisted he was not seen at his best when beaten at odds-on by Australia in the latter part of his juvenile campaign and he made a sparkling three-year-old debut in last month’s Group Three Enterprise Stakes at Leopardstown.

His inexperience is the obvious concern ahead of his debut at the top level, but Weld has no doubt he has the ability to make his presence felt.

He said: “Free Eagle is very well, in really good form.

“I am not concerned about the quality of my horse, I am convinced that he is up to this class.”

Big-race jockey Pat Smullen said: “He’s in good form and everyone is very happy with him at home.

“The ground is a bit of an unknown, obviously, and it’s a big step up in class for him, but he’s a horse we’ve always held in very high regard.”

In Australia’s absence, Aidan O’Brien relies on last year’s Derby hero Ruler Of The World, who was a close third in this race 12 months ago.

He is turned out just after a fortnight after finishing ninth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and connections are anticipating a bold show.

Harry Herbert, racing manager for part owners Al Shaqab Racing, said: “He’s been very lightly raced this year and Aidan certainly wouldn’t be running him if he wasn’t happy with how he’d come out of the Arc.

“The ground was a little bit lively for him in Paris, but he ran very well in this race last year and he has his favoured ground, so I think it’s the right spot for him.

“Cirrus Des Aigles is always a tough nut to crack, particularly on this ground, but our horse was close to him last year and is a year older and a year stronger now.

“Hopefully he’ll run a big race and do himself justice.”

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