Alice Springs, Smart Call among Breeders’ Cup candidates in Sun Chariot

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September 30th, 2016

Between the loaded Saturday domestically, and Arc weekend in France, don’t miss Saturday’s Sun Chariot (G1) at Newmarket (11 a.m. EDT). The one-mile test features four potential Breeders’ Cup contenders – Aidan O’Brien’s Alice Springs (pictured), the French pair of Ervedya and Volta, and South African star Smart Call.

Alice Springs and Smart Call have already booked their spots at Santa Anita by capturing “Win and You’re In” races for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1). While Smart Call is sticking to that Breeders’ Cup objective, Alice Springs is more interested in the Mile (G1).

A tough-trip second to Catch a Glimpse in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), Alice Springs has been hit-or-miss this season. But when she’s on, the Galileo filly is impressive. She broke the course record when bolting up in the Falmouth (G1) over Newmarket’s July Course (not the Rowley Mile they’re racing over on Saturday). Sun Chariot foes Always Smile (third) and Irish Rookie (fourth) were no match for her blistering turn of foot.

Alice Springs couldn’t duplicate that effort in the Prix Rothschild (G1) at Deauville, winding up a subpar eighth, but quickly turned the page by dominating the “Win and You’re In” Matron (G1) at Leopardstown September 10. That was a total form reversal. Rothschild winner Qemah (who’d also beaten a troubled Alice Springs in Royal Ascot’s Coronation [G1]) was only third. Alice Springs has run well in her three prior appearances on the Rowley Mile, and with the ground riding pretty quick, the trend should continue.

An even more potent trend is Gallic success in the Sun Chariot, with five of the last seven winners invading from France, and this year’s team is well qualified to pad the stats.

Triple Group 1 heroine Ervedya, who beat Found in last year’s Coronation at Royal Ascot, hasn’t had any success from three starts this campaign. Yet this marks her first attempt in exclusively female company in 2016, and trainer Jean-Claude Rouget adds cheekpieces to her equipment in hopes of galvanizing her. It wouldn’t take much to regain the winning thread, since Ervedya has placed to the likes of Cox Plate (G1)-bound Vadamos and the classy colt Ribchester. Those placings bookended her only poor effort, a fifth behind Tepin in the Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot. Note that the Aga Khan homebred gets a rider switch to Christophe Lemaire.

Sophomore compatriot Volta dominated the Prix Sandringham (G2) at Chantilly before competing honorably at the Group 1 level. The Francis-Henri Graffard trainee stretched out for the French Oaks (G1), finishing a close third to unbeaten La Cressonniere and Arc hopeful Left Hand. Back to her optimal mile for the Rothschild, Volta was comfortably best of the rest when second to Qemah. Rothschild fifth-placer Siyoushake came back to take the Prix Quincey (G3), and earned herself another crack at a Group 1 here. Interestingly, all three of the French fillies in the Sun Chariot are by Siyouni.

Smart Call left her native South Africa in career form, sporting a four-race winning spree rounded off by a pair of Group 1s at Kenilworth in January. After beating fellow distaffers in the “Win and You’re In” Paddock S. (G1), Smart Call pummeled the nation’s leading males in the prestigious J & B Met (G1) over 1 1/4 miles.

Trainer Alec Laird plotted out the logistics of getting the Mauritzfontein homebred to the Breeders’ Cup, and settled upon a trek to England, with a prep, as the most sensible path to Santa Anita. South African shippers have to undergo a rigmarole to try foreign ventures, thanks to the arduous quarantine protocols, so they need more time and careful build-up to return to peak fitness. In the circumstances, it’s not fair to expect Smart Call to run up to her best. All she needs to accomplish is to run well enough to knock off the rust, get something out of it, and crank up the preparations for the Breeders’ Cup.

Arabian Queen, winless since shocking Golden Horn in last summer’s Juddmonte International (G1), cuts back in trip off a fourth to highly regarded So Mi Dar in the John Musker at Yarmouth. Although Arabian Queen is too inconsistent to use as a yardstick, a better performance here could be read as a form boost for So Mi Dar ahead of Sunday’s Prix de l’Opera (G1).

Completing the field is longshot Epsom Icon, who lived up to her name when upsetting the Princess Elizabeth (G3) at Epsom on Derby Day. Her form elsewhere doesn’t measure up.

Alice Springs photo courtesy of Champions Series via Twitter