(Published 27 August, 2018) – The Group 1 Matron Stakes has developed over the years into one of the top mile races in Europe for fillies and mares aged three years old and upwards. It’s right up there with the likes of Newmarket’s Falmouth Stakes in mid-summer, and the Sun Chariot Stakes back at HQ in October as a race that top trainers and owners want to win.
With €350,000 on offer, this race originally staged as a Group 3 at the Curragh before moving to Leopardstown back in 2002, was upgraded to Group 1 status just two years later and has produced a roster of impressive winners. Even before it was upgraded, the Matron Stakes saw stellar performances from top Irish fillies Kooyonga and Timarida, while the first renewal as a Group 1 saw victory for the tremendous James Fanshawe-trained Soviet Song. A year later it was the superb Attraction who landed the spoils. Lush Lashes, Rainbow View, Lillie Langtry, Chachamaidee and Alice Springs are among other smart fillies who have landed the spoils more recently.
Centauri: The Alpha Female
If she shows up for this coveted prize then Jessica Harrington’s outstanding three year old filly Alpha Centauri (a top priced 1/2 with William Hill) is going to take some beating – ground permitting. The daughter of Mastercraftsman has been one of the biggest stars of the European Flat racing season, landing four Group 1’s in succession following a quiet first run of the campaign when down the field on unsuitably testing ground at Leopardstown in April.
A really powerful grey filly, the Niarchos Family-owned miler had shown good form as a juvenile on decent ground, winning her first two starts before failing by only a neck in the listed Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot last year. Her only other start (and only other poor run) came on soft ground at the Curragh last September when made favourite, but eventually just fifth of six in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes won by Aidan O’Brien’s Happily.
The first time she got her ground this year was in the Irish 1000 Guineas where regular rider Colm O’Donoghue produced his mount from off the pace with a surging late effort to easily brush aside the front-running Could It Be Love by nearly two lengths. She was even more impressive when handing out a six-length beating to Threading in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, leaving many pundits wondering just how good she might eventually prove to be?
Leading after just two furlongs in Newmarket’s Falmouth Stakes at the July Meeting, Alpha Centauri again ran her rivals ragged, easing to a four-and-a-half length triumph over Altyn Orda and Clemmie, before taking on all-comers, including the colts and older horses, at Deauville last time out in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois on Good to Soft ground. Despite the ease underfoot, she travelled beautifully under O’Donoghue, cruising into contention then kicking away two furlongs out, eventually going on to beat the smart Recolletos by two-and-a-half lengths, with the Group 1 Prix Rothschild winner With You a further three-and-a-half lengths back in third.
Alpha Centauri is a true star, but she doesn’t shine on genuinely soft ground. The Irish autumn can throw up all kinds of weather, and if there is plenty of give in the ground she is worth taking on, although the likelihood is that connections will look elsewhere following the experience of the Curragh last autumn if that is the case. For that reason, and that reason alone, Jessica Harrington’s sensational filly cannot be recommended ante-post at 1/2, but if she turns up on the day with the ground in her favour she will be very hard to beat.
Laurens Can Bounce Back From York Defeat
From an ante-post betting point of view my task is to try and pinpoint something that is 1) likely to run, and 2) will handle the likely ground conditions as well as having the class to figure where it matters most. On that score the current second-favourite, LAURENS (10/1 with Sky Bet) is an interesting option despite her comprehensive defeat at York last week in the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks.
The daughter of Siyouni clearly failed to see out the mile-and-a-half trip that day as the Irish Oaks winner Sea Of Class tore the opposition apart, but on her previous form when a tremendous runner-up over a mile in the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, and when winning both the Group 1 Prix Saint Alary over 10 furlongs at Longchamp in May and the Group 1 French Oaks (the Prix de Diane) at Chantilly the following month, the Karl Burke-trained star has the look of a filly capable of running a massive race at Leopardstown in her customary, gutsy style.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) June 17, 2018
If Alpha Centauri runs, then Laurens will be up against it but should still be placed. But if the Irish filly stays in her box then Laurens has a great chance of winning a third Group 1 this season. She looks good value at 10/1 each-way in an ante-post market on which only a few firms are brave enough to price up at present.
Ballydoyle’s Leading Matron Candidates
With Aidan O’Brien’s best known older fillies such as Hydrangea and Rhododendron having generally performed some way below-par since the spring (even allowing for the virus that hit the yard over the last month or two), it seems likely that the most significant Ballydoyle candidates for the Matron Stakes will emerge in the shape of his three-year-old fillies, with Happily, Magical, and Could It Be Love being the three I prefer to concentrate on out of the yard’s 13 entries.
Happily (16/1 with Paddy Power), a full sister to the dual 2000 Guineas winner Churchill and to the Irish 1000 Guineas winner Marvellous, could hardly be better bred for a mile, and she’s run some fine race at the trip this season without managing to get her head in front where it matters most. The winner of two Group 1 races last season as a juvenile, she went off favourite for the QIPCO 1000 Guineas at Newmarket in May and finished a creditable third behind the shock winner Billesdon Brook, and Laurens.
O’Brien’s filly was again made favourite, this time for the Irish 1000 Guineas, but couldn’t respond to Alpha Centauri when finishing two-and-a-half lengths behind the great filly, She then ran another fine race when beaten just half a length into fourth behind Laurens in a blanket finsih for the French Oaks. Taking on the colts and older horses in the Group 1 Coral Eclipse at Sandown last time out, Happily found the hot opposition too much for her, but wasn’t disgraced in staying on to be fifth to the high-class Roaring Lion. She is well suited by soft ground, so if the rains come Happily would be a lively candidate for honours.
Magical (12/1 with William Hill) beat Happily over seven furlongs last year and ran well when beaten a short-head by her old rival in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes next time out. She’s only been seen twice this year, finishing fourth in France on heavy ground in April, then returning after a break to win on quick ground at the Curragh last month in the Group 2 Kilboy Estate Stakes, beating I’m So Fancy. That’s good form, but probably not good enough for this unless she has taken a big step forward since then.
Could It Be Love (33/1 with Betfair) put up a really bold front-running effort in the Irish 1000 Guineas before being cut down by Alpha Centauri in the last 100 yards. She was a fine second though, followed by a good third to Expert Eye in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, and another second place in the Group 3 Brownstown Stakes at Fairyhouse. She again finished second last time out, and seems to finding winning a difficult task but remains a quality filly.
Two More To Consider
There are two older fillies, however, that are worth a second glance.
John Gosden’s Laugh Aloud (33/1 with Sky Bet) hasn’t been seen for over a year, but this five-year-old mare is reportedly closing in on a return to action and holds a number of entries, including this weekend’s Group 3 Atalanta Stakes at Sandown, and the Group 1 Matron Stakes. The Godolphin-owned mare is a slow burner, taking four starts to break her maiden before picking up a listed event two runs later. On her last outing in June 2017 she slammed some decent rivals when scoring by five lengths in the Group 3 Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom. She’s obviously had issues since then, but if she shows up at the Curragh she would not be out of place and might go well at decent each-way odds.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) June 3, 2017
The four-year-old Tamayuz filly Making Light is our final horse in focus in this race, the Dermot Weld-trained four-year-old having two Listed wins and tow Group 3 successes to her name. On official figures she has a mountain to climb and is rated fully 21lb behind Alpha Centauri, but Weld is a past master at placing his horses, and the way this filly won in listed company last time at Cork suggested she might just be on her way to another form level. She is currently a 16/1 shot with Paddy Power.
ADVICE: LAURENS (10/1 each-way with Sky Bet)
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.