Alice To Repel A French Assault

The Rowley Mile as again the focus of Saturday’s action, with the fillies and mares taking centre-stage in the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes.

Named after the fillies’ Triple Crown winner of 1942, the race was first staged in 1966, and was originally contested over 10 furlongs. Run at a mile since 2000, the prestigious event has gone to numerous high class fillies and mares.

The Mark Johnston trained Attraction, won the race in 2004 as a three-year-old. She was simply sensational during that particular summer, taking the 1,000 Guineas in England and then in Ireland, before success at Royal Ascot in the Coronation Stakes. Soviet Song lowered her colours in the Falmouth, and Johnston’s filly suffered further defeats in France and Ireland, before bouncing back to form with victory in her final start of the campaign here at Newmarket.

In recent times the French have dominated the race, winning five of the last seven. Sahpresa certainly enjoyed her trips across the Channel. She became the most successful mare in the events history when winning three in a row from 2009 to 2011. She saw a racecourse for the first time as a three-year-old at the end of July in 2008, winning an event at Maisons-Laffitte, and following up with success in a listed race at Saint-Cloud. She ended the campaign with a promising fourth place finish in a Group 3 at Newmarket.

Her education continued the following season, and by August she was competing in a Group 1, when finishing fourth behind the outstanding mare Goldikova at Deauville. She returned to Newmarket in October for the Sun Chariot, and though relatively unfancied, she defeated the Guineas winner Ghanaati, to land her first Group 1.

She beat Strawberrydaiquiri and Rainfall a year later, and completed the treble in 2011 at the age of six, defeating Chachamaidee and Strawberrydaiquiri in the process. In five career visits to Newmarket, she had won three Group 1s, finished second in another, and fourth in a Group 3. She was a truly high-class mare.

Siyouma continued the run of success for France in 2012 when defeating Elusive Kate, and 12 months ago yet another French mare tasted success. The Andre Fabre trained Esoterique had proved herself a class act at four, taking the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville, before a terrific fourth place finish against the colts in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp. She finished in the same position when travelling over for the Sun Chariot, but a year later the story was very different.

It was as a five-year-old that Esoterique flourished, competing successfully at the highest level. She chased home Solow at Royal Ascot in the Queen Anne Stakes, before getting within a length of the outstanding sprinter Muhaarar in the Prix Maurice De Gheest. Just a week later she finally got the better of the colts when landing the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois, defeating the 2,000 Guineas runner-up Territories. In early October she arrived back at Newmarket to contest the Sun Chariot, and duly ran-out a cosy winner from Sir Michael Stoute’s classy mare Integral, who had won the race a year earlier.

And the French are in no mood to let their grip on the Newmarket showpiece loosen, with a trio of runners set to take up the challenge on Saturday. The assault is led by the unstoppable Jean-Claude Rouget, and his outstanding filly Ervedya. Rouget is in the midst of an incredible campaign, with high profile winners including Almanzor, Qemah and La Cressonniere.

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Ervedya captured a trio of Group 1s as a three-year-old, but is yet to taste success at four. However, her three outings this season have come against the colts, and she has been far from disappointing, especially last time at Deauville when third to Ribchester. Back against her own sex, she looks sure to go close, and her form looks as strong as any in the race. The worry for Ervedya fans is her need for cover until the last minute. She’s a hold-up filly with a killer finish, but she only has one burst of speed, and this is often easier to accomplish on a round track.

Volta is a classy three-year-old, who not only travels powerfully through a race, but has the ability to stay further than a mile. She’s likely to be finishing off the race as well as any. Third in the French Oaks back in June, she then chased home Qemah when dropped back to a mile for the Prix Rothschild. Back from a break, she looks a leading contender.

Freddy Head trains the third French raider, Siyoushake. All three challengers from across the Channel are by top French Sire Siyouni, but this third contender looks to be the least likely to head home with the prestigious prize. She was fifth behind Qemah and Volta in the Prix Rothschild, and though she won a Group 3 last time at Deauville, it would come as a surprise if she were quite good enough to take this.

If being French has proven a strong trend in recent years, then the age of winners is less defined. Three-year-olds have won four of the last 10, though the Classic age group have only one victory in the past seven renewals.

The favourite for Saturday’s race looks sure to be Ballydoyle’s hardy filly Alice Springs. Her last run was arguably her best, when comfortably winning the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. That impressive victory came off the back of a poor run in France, when well beaten in the aforementioned Prix Rothschild behind Qemah. There-in lies the problem with Alice Springs. She’s capable of throwing in the odd stinker, though her two poor performances have come at Deauville. Maybe she simply doesn’t like France.

Her record at Newmarket is far more impressive, having finished third in the Guineas and romped home in the Falmouth back in July. She also won at the track as a juvenile. The stiff finish appears tailor-made for this powerful filly. The weight differential between three-year-olds and their elders is far less on Saturday, compared to the Falmouth. Nevertheless, of the leading contenders it seems to me that Newmarket plays more to the strengths of O’Brien’s filly than any of her contenders.

It would be rude not to mention the South African mare, Smart Call, who could possibly prove to be the joker in the pack. This is her ‘prep-run’ for the Breeders’ Cup, having been off the track since January. It’s hard to believe that she could win after such a lay-off, but her trainer Alec Laird, seems hopeful of a strong performance. The mare has been here since June, with Frankie Dettori helping out with several pieces of work. She’s some unit, and is an intriguing runner.

I just can’t see anything beating Alice Springs. It’s a boring selection, I know, but she has all the attributes to win this, so long as she runs to form. I think Volta will chase her home, and Irish Rookie is the one most likely to please each-way punters, having finished third in this 12 months ago.

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