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Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (Group One)
One joint favourite and one co favourite are all that punters have to show so far from the nine runnings of this race with others at odds up to 16/1 (Seal Of Approval in 2013), and a pretty equal mix between the three-year-olds (with five winners) and the older generation (with four). A talent packed field seems assured once again in the hunt for the £340,000 first prize so we have put together this ante-post race preview for you ahead of the British Champions Fillies & Mares of 2017.
Despite the presence of some high-class beasts it appears that an outstanding filly (or mare) is likely to be missing from this line up if it is assumed that John Gosden’s Enable misses this race to focus on a crack at the Arc in Paris just the three weeks earlier. If she does turn out so quickly then she would be the most obvious winner but as things stand that seems unlikely unless she flops in France, in which case we will obviously revisit our preview accordingly. If those assumptions are correct, it does not mean John Gosden will leave this race empty handed as he is also represented by Journey who sits surprisingly high in the betting for a horse yet to win a race this season. She is a clear on official ratings with a mark of 120 after a six and a quarter length fifth to Highland Reel at Epsom in the Coronation Cup and somehow got put up a pound after finishing a well beaten tenth of eleven at The Curragh in the Pretty Polly Stakes (beaten fourteen lengths), and will need to offer up a lot more than that if she wants to win here, though a four-length win in this race last season suggests this has always been her number one target for her master handler.
A filly who has thrown her hat into the ring in recent starts is the Dermot Weld filly Eziyra. Winner of a pair of Group 3 events, she was really strong in the finish when landing the Enterprise Stakes most recently. She was third to Enable in the Irish Oaks, again doing the best of her work in the closing stages. Ascot is gradually uphill from Swinley Bottom, so the stiff nature of the track is going to suit her, with a stronger pace on offer in his stronger grade of race. The Weld yard have had a poor season by their own very high standard, but have shown much more since mid-summer. She is yet to finish outside of the first three and with a number of these likely to target other contests, she could prove the one that punters need to keep onside, has a strong chance of taking the step up here.
Early betting (without Enable) sees Seventh Heaven at the top of the pile for Aidan O’Brien, and perhaps understandably so after her win at Newmarket when she saw off One Foot In Heaven by five lengths in the Group Two Jockey Club Stakes on only her second run of 2017. A superb second to Jack Hobbs in Dubai in the Sheema Classic at Meydan saw her earn close to a million pounds regardless but presumably that took a lot out of her, hence the one race since, but in return that means she arrives here considerably fresher than most and that could be the added bonus that sees her come home in front on the day with the trip and track looking ideal for the daughter of Galileo.
Why Aidan O’Brien would even consider allowing Winter to take them on over a mile and a half is beyond us but the dual 1000 Guineas certainly wasn’t stopping over the mile and a quarter when winning the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood and may well be able to get the trip. The question mark is over why they would even let her risk her recent record here and the reality is that they probably won’t unless the race cuts up badly, and as they may well be able to create two valuable broodmares via Seventh Heaven if she wins here, and Winter’s participation seems doubtful. If she runs she oozes class and if she says she wins, but as she is out of a Choisir mare her stamina will remain in question fascinating contender as she would be.
Aidan is not the only Irish trainer looking for a share of the spoils here and Dermot Weld will be looking for a big run from Zhukova who may well have needed her last run at The Curragh after being on the easy list following her win in the Man ‘o War Stakes at Belmont Park (New York) in mid-May. That was pretty impressive with a five-length win at odds on under jockey John Velazquez, and if we conveniently forget her last run over an inadequate mile and a quarter (where she looked far too fresh), then she has solid place chances at the very least for her astute and popular trainer. Her earlier two length win at Cork in Listed class proved she was in good heart, though there is a sneaking suspicion that she is not quite up to Group One class in the kind of company she looks sure to face here.
French raiders have failed to be successful here since Ashalanda in 2009 but have a livewire contender for 2017 in the shape of Baiyouna who has won two of her three career starts and any amount of likely improvement left to come. She does have plenty to find on what we have seen so far with wins at Chantilly and Deauville sandwiching a fifth in Group Two class at Saint-Cloud but trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre clearly thinks a lot of her to even enter her here, and if there is a dark horse who can get involved in the finish then she may well be the one today.
One more to round things off and another French challenger, this time in the hands of ex-jockey turned trainer Freddie Head. Terrakova would struggle to be any better bred being by Galileo out of Goldikova and she duly won her first two races at Chantilly and Saint-Cloud before a perfectly respectable third to Senga in the Group Two Prix de Diane Longines after being hampered by Rhododendron and losing any chance of success. She is clearly still learning with her racing and can only get better race on race, and if she does come over the channel to race here she could well be sorely tempting as an each way option.