Hope Springs eternal in Chariot
Views from connections ahead of the Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday.
Alice Springs goes for the Sun Chariot
It is eight years since Halfway To Heaven last provided Aidan O'Brien with a win in the Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes but he holds strong claims at Newmarket this weekend with Alice Springs.
Her form this season has been a little in and out, but there is no doubt that a reproduction of her hugely impressive victory in the Matron Stakes on Irish Champions Weekend would make her the one to beat.
The Galileo filly also won the Falmouth Stakes earlier in the season on the July Course, but between those two Group One successes she could only finish eighth of 10 in the Prix Rothschild in France.
O'Brien has stated all season the key to her is proper quick ground and while that would generally be unlikely at this time of year, the weather gods appear to have shone on her.
"She's in good form and everything has gone well with her since Leopardstown," said O'Brien.
"She likes that ground and if it stays nice it will suit her well."
Five of the last seven renewals have gone to France, thanks in no little part to Rod Collet's Sahpresa, who struck gold three times between 2009 and 2011.
There are three challengers from across the Channel this time, including the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Ervedya.
The four-year-old won the French 1000 Guineas, the Coronation Stakes and the Prix du Moulin last season and while she has failed to add to those victories in three starts this term, she was not disgraced when third in the Prix Jacques le Marois on her most recent start.
Georges Rimaud, stud manager for owner-breeder the Aga Khan, said: "Jean-Claude is very pleased with Ervedya and says that her condition has improved since the Prix Jacques le Marois. He seems quite confident even though he knows that these type of races are always tough to win.
"The Marois was a nice performance, you couldn't be disappointed with that as she hadn't run for two months and was taking on the colts.
"She is fit and ready for Saturday and won't mind the fast ground. The undulating course will be different for her but she is very easy to ride so I don't think that will affect her.
"She is an important filly for us, a Classic winner, and this will be her last season of racing.
"We will be guided by her performance on Saturday, but there are a few international races that she could go on to afterwards."
Since kicking off her campaign with three consecutive victories, Francis-Henri Graffard's Volta has finished third in the French Oaks and second in the Prix Rothschild.
"I'm delighted with her. She's a very good filly. After the Rothschild we decided to give her some good time," the trainer told Racing UK.
"The French Oaks was messy in the straight and it wasn't the right trip for her also.
"We thought about going to the Matron, but we stuck to our previous plan and I'm very happy I did that because she has blossomed.
"Last time she was a little bit flat before the race but still ran really well and she is still improving physically. She looks fine now.
"It's a stiff mile in Newmarket so I don't see the trip as a problem."
Completing the French challenge is Freddy Head's Siyoushake, who steps up in class following a Group Three triumph at Deauville.
Head said: "Siyoushake is in good heart and the Sun Chariot has been the plan for her ever since she won the Prix Quincey at Deauville at the end of August.
"That is pretty strong form, but Saturday is going to be tough for her. Volta was three lengths in front of her in the Prix Rothschild so on paper she cannot beat her, but we'll have to see.
"Siyoushake loves a straight mile and fast ground, which she is likely to get on Saturday, so that will help."
Further international interest is added by South African raider Smart Call.
The five-year-old, trained by Alec Laird, has won multiple top-level prizes in her homeland and tests the water in Britain for the first time.
"She has nothing more to prove in South Africa and if we didn't try we would never find out just how good she is," said Laird.
"She is definitely the best filly that I have trained and after she won 'The Met' I began to think that she might even be better than London News, who I sent over to finish third in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1997.
"It's quite exciting as she will be my first true runner in Europe – London News was officially trained by Barry Hills. I couldn't ask to travel with a nicer horse as she has a very good nature and seems to have taken all the various flights in her stride.
"It's extremely exciting just to be on the world stage and it's a real thrill for her to be in Newmarket – the home of horse racing.
"She spent three months in Mauritius to fulfil quarantine regulations so she was only at 50 per cent of her full fitness when she got to Newmarket. The Sun Chariot will be her first run in nine months so it will be really tough as the top European horses are scary good.
"We are using it as part of her preparation for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
"It's a bit daunting the length of time that she's been off but, barring any hiccups, we should have just enough time to get her ready."
Godolphin's Always Smile was third to Alice Springs in the Falmouth and reverts to a mile having been fourth in Group Three company last time out at Glorious Goodwood.
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor said: "She is a good filly and I was very happy with her in her last piece of work.
"This is a tough race, but I am hoping for a better run from her.
"She's a tough filly who always tries her best."
The David Elsworth-trained Arabian Queen, Martyn Meade's Irish Rookie and Epsom Icon from Mick Channon's yard complete the nine-strong field.
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