Timeform preview Saturday's Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket and pick out their best bet...
"The return to this track – which tends to suit her forward-running style – is a positive..."
Timeform on Laurens
An array of striking performances were produced at last week's Cambridgeshire meeting at Newmarket, not least in the Cambridgeshire itself as John Gosden recorded his fifth win in the race with yet another progressive three-year-old in the shape of Lord North.
The Sun Chariot Stakes used to feature on the same day as the Cambridgeshire but in 2014 was moved to headline a card staged one week later. It was Sir Michael Stoute who trained the winner that year with his four-year-old Integral beating Miss France by a length. Integral was owned by Cheveley Park Stud, who are also responsible for one of the leading hopes in this year's renewal.
The horse in question is Veracious, another four-year-old trained by Sir Michael Stoute, who made her breakthrough at the highest level in the Falmouth Stakes on the July Course (by a neck from One Master) last time, going one place better than her dam, Infallible, did in that race in 2008. In truth, Veracious hadn't looked a Group 1 winner-in-waiting beforehand, having been beaten on merit in Group 3 and Group 2 company on her previous three starts this season.
Indeed, it was another brilliant example of her trainer's skill and patience, for all there was certainly an opportunistic element to the success, breaking alertly and not taken on for the lead, settling much better than previously and allowed to stride on. Veracious could only finish sixth behind Laurens in this race 12 months ago, though, and a second success at this level is likely to prove difficult. However, she is a lightly-raced filly with an excellent pedigree, who is in excellent hands and may yet have even more to offer if she continues to settle.
The Karl Burke-trained Laurens recorded her sixth Group 1 win in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville (by half a length from With You) in July, returning to her best back against her own sex, after contesting the Lockinge Stakes and Queen Anne Stakes on her first two starts this season. She ran at least as well when narrowly beaten in the City of York Stakes on her next start, attempting to give 7 lb to a progressive three-year-old over an inadequate seven furlongs, and it is probably best to forgive her a rare below-par effort when two and three quarter lengths fourth to Iridessa in the Matron Stakes (a race she won in 2018) at Leopardstown last time. The return to this track - which tends to suit her forward-running style - is a positive and she is fancied to at least bridge the gap with that rival now.
Three-year-olds have a good recent record in this race having taken four of the last six renewals, and Iridessa has plenty of form to recommend her, notably her career-best effort in the Matron Stakes last time. That was her second Group 1 win of the season having also been successful in the Pretty Polly Stakes over a mile and a quarter at the Curragh in June, and she was suited by a truly run race back at a mile, staying on strongly in the final furlong to beat Hermosa by three quarters of a length, in the process overturning form from earlier in the season. This looks the obvious next step for Iridessa now and, for all this race is likely to be run in similar fashion, the Rowley Mile isn't the easiest track to come from off the pace. However, she has the best form of the three-year-olds and will command maximum respect.
Dual Guineas heroine Hermosa returned to form on that occasion - without having to be at her very best - but was just unable to repel Iridessa, who got first run on her entering the straight. That was a big step back in the right direction for Hermosa following her disappointing effort in the Nassau Stakes (her first try over a mile and a quarter) at Goodwood in August, and you would expect her to come on again for that given Aidan O'Brien's patient approach.
O'Brien is also responsible for I Can Fly and Happen, both of whom also contested the Matron Stakes last time, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. The former blew the start and found it hard to get into the race, but based on her third-place finish to Too Darn Hot in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in July she should be in the mix if running up to her best. All three of O'Brien's runners also hold entries at Longchamp on Sunday, however.
One of the least exposed horses among the entries is Lavender's Blue, who has raced just four times. She landed a gamble on debut over this C&D in April, and finished runner-up in a listed contest upped to a mile and a quarter at Newbury on her next start (strong form, with subsequent Ribblesdale, Irish Oaks and Prix Vermeille winner Star Catcher a neck behind in third). That prompted connections to have a tilt at the Oaks at Epsom (bred to stay that far), but she had too much use made of her and was later found to be suffering from thumps (irregular spasming of the diaphragm). Lavender's Blue then coped well with the drop back to a mile when quickening nicely to win the Atalanta Stakes at Sandown last time, leaving the impression she wouldn't be out of place in top company. She has the most potential out of these and doesn't have too much to find on form with the principals, so it would be folly to ignore her claims.
The Alex Pantall-trained duo of Crown Walk and Madeleine Must, along with Twist 'N' Shake and 2018 1000 Guineas winner Billesdon Brook complete the 11 entries. Madeleine Must was supplemented by connections at the five-day stage, but her stablemate Crown Walk seemingly holds more pressing claims on the book. Twist 'N' Shake has left the impression on more than one occasion that she has an even bigger performance in the locker, so can't be ruled out given the yard she hails from, while Billesdon Brook's best performance came over this C&D and she arrives fresh from a Group 3 victory at Goodwood.
In summary, this looks an up-to-scratch renewal of the Sun Chariot, with five previous Group 1 winners among the entries, and last year’s winner set to return and defend her crown. The ground at the time of writing is soft, but given there isn’t much more rain forecast in the Newmarket area, and some sunny spells are set to break through, there should be at least some ‘good’ in that description come Saturday. Therefore, the ground shouldn’t – in theory – be too much of a factor, and looking at the market it is hard to pick holes in Laurens. Admittedly, she was beaten fair and square by Iridessa last time, but given that was a rare below-par run from her, she can be forgiven, and her record over this C&D entitles her to maximum respect in search of a seventh win in Group 1 company.