Ahead of the Flat season finale at Ascot on Saturday, QIPCO British Champions Day, Nick Seddon looks at five key conundrums which need solving...
Will he run?
There's no doubt about the fact that Stradivarius is the undisputed king of the stayers' division, but the likelihood of heavy conditions means he is no certainty to take his chance. The Long Distance Cup, along with the Champion Stakes and the Fillies' and Mares' Stakes, will be run on the inner hurdles track at Ascot, which will likely strengthen the chances of Stradivarius staking his chance, but we wont know until John Gosden walks the track on Saturday morning. It's worth bearing in mind that Stradivarius has had a busier campaign than he did coming into this race 12 months ago - with an extra outing, and victory, under his belt - and should Gosden decide against running, it would blow the race wide open. Indeed, the likes of Mekong (28/1), Max Dynamite (50/1) and Capri (50/1) will likely be much shorter in the betting should that prove to be the case.
Who's the queen of Clarehaven?
With Enable away for the winter and Magical heading elsewhere, the Fillies' and Mares' Stakes looks likely to boil down to two stablemates from John Gosden's yard, Star Catcher and Anapurna. Both fillies have almost identical profiles, considering that one has won the Epsom Oaks and the other the Irish Oaks, and the score currently stands at 1-0 to Star Catcher after her win in the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp last month. It's worth noting that Anapurna had been off the track for three months prior to that, though, and has since returned to winning ways in a Group 1 contest on Arc weekend earlier this month...
The one-mile division has very much been without a standout star this season, meaning that the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes looks wide open. The field will boast a healthy-looking size of 16 runners, and there's been plenty of support for the French-trained The Revenant. French raiders have an excellent recent record in this, winning two of the last five renewals, and a big run beckons from The Revenant, who has won each of his four starts since being gelded - including a Group 2 contest in clear-cut fashion at Longchamp a fortnight ago.
Bookmakers were left reeling when Lord North landed a sizeable gamble to win the 30-runner Cambridgeshire Handicap in the style of a future pattern performer at Newmarket last month, and he's once again a strong favourite for the final race on Champions Day, the Balmoral Handicap. He's been hit with a whopping 12 lb raise for that Newmarket success, but he won with plenty in hand that day, and the red hot partnership of John Gosden and Frankie Dettori will undoubtedly attract plenty of support in the market tomorrow - particularly if Frankie enjoys a productive afternoon beforehand.
Will Magical land a Champion Stakes double?
Magical has been one of the most consistent horses in training this season, winning two Group 1 contests so far, and has perhaps been unlucky to have been around at the same time as Enable. Indeed, she chased home Enable in second for each of her first three defeats so far this term, before doing well to finish as close as she did to the principals in the Arc a fortnight ago, when fifth, having helped to set a strong pace. She's capable of some superb form in her own right, though, winning the Irish equivalent of this race at Leopardstown last month, and provided the relatively quick turnaround doesn't leave any marks, she could prove to be a class apart in this.