Anapurna came out on top in the Epsom Oaks earlier this season.
Following the release of the final declarations for the race, Nick Seddon previews Saturday’s QIPCO Champions Fillies’ and Mares’ Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot, and picks out his best bet…
By its very nature as a race restricted to the fairer sex, the Fillies’ and Mares’ Stakes can take a little longer than the other group races on Ascot’s Champions Day card to take shape, as several who are entered in this tend to eventually opt take their chance elsewhere. This has proven to be the case, and with Magical leading the exodus by instead taking her chance in the more illustrious Champion Stakes, we’re left with a final field of 12 runners.
The forecast heavy going adds an interesting extra dimension to proceedings, and the market is dominated by two Oaks-winning three-year-olds from the John Gosden yard, who boast almost identical profiles; the Epsom Oaks winner Anapurna, and the Irish Oaks winner Star Catcher.
Indeed, both fillies have had five starts so far this season, winning four, with two of those successes coming in Group 1 company. The stablemates are closely matched on what they have shown so far, though crucially they have met once before, in last month’s Prix Vermeille at Longchamp. The choice of Frankie Dettori that day, Star Catcher came out on top, defeating both her stablemate and the Aidan O'Brien-trained pair of Fleeting (fifth) and Pink Dogwood (eighth) to boot - and all three are due to re-oppose here. Dettori is once again on board, and she looks the one to beat on the back of that - though her price of 13/8 at the time of writing looks short enough.
Anapurna proved to be a disappointment in Paris last month, finishing seventh, but that came on the back of a three month break after being rested over the summer, and she has quickly made amends for that, returning to winning ways in the Group 1 Prix de Royallieu at the Arc meeting earlier this month. Provided that her defeat at Longchamp proves to be just a blip, Anapurna has outstanding claims of overturning that form with Star Catcher here, and is actually rated 1 lb higher than her stablemate on official ratings. Her current price of 4/1 feels a little generous as a consequence, and she looks worth siding with to spoil the Gosden-Dettori party.
Aidan O'Brien has won the last two renewals of this race with Hydrangea (2017) and Magical (2018) respectively, and he sends four this time around; South Sea Pearl, Delphinia, Pink Dogwood and Fleeting. As mentioned above, the latter two were behind Star Catcher at Longchamp last month, and neither appeal as having obvious claims of overturning that form. Indeed, Fleeting has yet to win in seven starts so far this term, and although she's largely held her form well in some tough assignments - with six of those starts coming at the top level - she looks to have place claims at best.
South Sea Pearl has struggled on her previous two attempts at this level, and of more interest is Delphinia. Her declaration here has thwarted our Long Distance Cup preview, for which she was an each-way selection, but she arrives here in good heart, having taken a considerable step forward for the step up to a mile and six furlongs the last twice, finishing a close second behind Anapurna last time out. Delphinia's strength in the finish that day suggests she's all bout stamina, though, meaning that the drop back to a mile and a half here isn't sure to suit, and others make more appeal.
Three more to consider are Antonia De Vega, Tarnawa and Sun Maiden. The first-named is the least-experienced in the field, with just four starts to date, but she has shown plenty of ability so far, winning a listed contest on soft ground in taking fashion on her most recent start at Newbury in June. She proved to be a disappointment on her only try in Group 1 company to date last season, when last of eight in the Fillies' Mile, but the testing conditions should suit, and she can't be discounted provided she's ready to go after a break. Tanarwa is more-experienced, and has been a model of steady progression so far this term, winning back-to-back Group contests at Cork and the Curragh the last twice. Admittedly, she was out of her depth in the Epsom Oaks back in May, but she arrives here as an improved model, and is another to consider in conditions which should suit. Meanwhile, Sun Maiden produced a solid effort to finish fourth in the September Stakes at Kempton last time, but would need more here.
The field is completed by Nausha, Sparkle Roll and Klassique. The first two have plenty to find on what they have shown so far and are readily passed over, though Klassique could prove to be an interesting each-way alternative. Her best effort to date came when winning a Group 3 contest in bottomless conditions at Haydock back in June, when scoring by three lengths, and she has held her own well in two starts in Group 2 company since, hitting the frame on both occasions. This requires more, but she can't be discounted - particularly if the rain continues to fall between now and Saturday.
As he has done all season in the fillies and mares division, however, John Gosden seems to hold all of the aces, and at the prices it looks worth siding with Anapurna to upset the order by defeating her stablemate Star Catcher.
Saturday 19th October 2019 - QIPCO Fillies' and Mares' Stakes - Anapurna @ 4/1
Epsom Oaks-winning filly, who was put away for three months after her classic success with an autumn campaign in mind. Produced a sluggish effort behind Star Catcher on reappearance at Longchamp last month, finishing seventh, but has bounced back by winning a Group 1 contest at the same track since, and looks to have excellent claims at the prices if on song here.