Star Catcher will be a hot favourite to provide Anthony Oppenheimer with a third Champions Day victory in as many years when she bids to crown an excellent campaign in the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.
The leading owner-breeder has seen his colours carried to success in the last two renewals of the Champion Stakes by the brilliant Cracksman – and will return to Ascot hopeful of further glory, with the meeting live on Sky Sports Racing.
Trained by John Gosden, Star Catcher has won four of her five starts so far this season – completing a big-race hat-trick by landing the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot, the Irish Oaks at the Curragh and the Prix Vermeille at ParisLongchamp.
The daughter of Sea The Stars is well fancied to add a third Group One to her CV this weekend, but with her Epsom Oaks-winning stable companion Anapurna among her rivals, Oppenheimer is taking nothing for granted.
He said: “I hope she’s got a good chance, but you’ve got the Oaks winner in there, who won a Group One last time, so it’s no pushover.
“I’m told she worked very well earlier in the week. The ground isn’t going to be as soft on the inner course as it is on the main track, which will probably be good for everyone. She goes on the soft and good ground, but wouldn’t want it heavy.
“She stays in training next year, so she’ll only run if Mr Gosden is happy with the ground.
“It would be wonderful to have another winner on Champions Day. Let’s see what happens.”
Anapurna was off the track for over three months following her Classic success at Epsom and could only finish seventh behind Star Catcher after encountering traffic problems on her comeback run in the Vermeille.
However, she showed her true colours on her return to Paris a fortnight ago when registering a clear-cut win in the Prix de Royallieu.
Mark Weinfeld of owners Helena Springfield Ltd said: “It’s nice to be heading there on the back of a win after what happened to her in the Vermeille. The Vermeille was a non-event for her, so she did well to bounce back last time back in France.
“What she showed there was that she handles soft ground very well and has plenty of stamina, so that’s not a concern, but what might be is that she’s coming back fairly quickly.
“She did have a mid-summer break, though.”
Gosden has a third string to his bow in Sparkle Roll.
Aidan O’Brien has claimed this prize in each of the last two seasons with Hydrangea and Magical respectively.
This year the Ballydoyle handler launches a four-pronged assault, with Fleeting (Donnacha O’Brien) and Delphinia (Seamie Heffernan) seemingly his two chief contenders, ahead of South Sea Pearl (Sean Levey) and Pink Dogwood (Pierre-Charles Boudot).
O’Brien said: “Both Fleeting and Delphina were second in Group Ones on their last starts. It’s pretty unbelievable that Fleeting hasn’t won one yet. She’s in good form and ran a great race in Longchamp (second in Prix de l’Opera). We haven’t done much since, but she seems well.
“Delphina also ran a great race in Longchamp the last day (second to Anapurna) over a little bit further, but she seems to be in good form as well.
“We’re a little bit lost with Pink Dogwood and we can’t put our finger on why her form has gone backwards, but she’s working nicely and was second in the Oaks.”
Few trainers have their string in better form than Ralph Beckett, who saddles Antonia De Vega. The three-year-old has not been seen in competitive action since claiming a Listed prize at Newbury in June.
“She did a nice piece of work at Kempton last week and we think she’s ready,” said Beckett.
“The ground will be right up her alley – it couldn’t rain enough for her.
“I’m hopeful she’ll run well. The draw (10) is not ideal, but we can’t help that.
“She’s very under-raced and I’m hopeful there is a bit more to come. She goes there nice and fresh.”
Beckett had five winners last Saturday, and added: “We had a tricky spring, it wasn’t going well and then we hit a bit of a blip in July when they weren’t running well. Saturday gave us all a thrill and it’s always a good idea to finish off your season well.”
The William Haggas-trained Klassique is an interesting outsider, having only once finished out of the first three in 10 starts.
She was last seen placing third in a Group Two at Deauville in August.
“Klassique ran well in France last time, but was a bit flat. She loves the soft and so we deliberately put her away,” said Haggas.
“She’s an outsider and has got quite a bit to find on form. If she can finish in the first four, then we will be delighted.”