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Track switch helps sway decision to run 'tough and capable' Deirdre in Champion Stakes

Japanese challenger Deirdre will bring her four-race European adventure to a close in the Qipco Champion Stakes on Saturday with those closest to her confident she remains in prime condition to resume her rivalry with Magical.

Having swerved a possible crack at the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, trainer Mitsuru Hashida and his team have stuck to their first choice of Ascot's glittering £1.3 million season finale, despite Deirdre's preference for faster ground than she will encounter on Saturday. 

Deirdre, photo Liesl King

A contingency plan of waiting for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in sunny Southern California remained in play for much of this week. 

But with the inner track at Ascot holding up well against the weather and a belief that Deirdre is better equipped now to handle Ascot than when only sixth at the royal meeting on her European debut in June, Hashida and owner Toji Morita have decided to stick with plan A.

"When she won the Group 1 Shuka Sho at Kyoto the ground was really heavy, but she took it in her stride," said Hashida. "Compared to when she ran in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, she has gained more flexibility and is better able to adjust to the ground in Britain."

Deirdre will once again be partnered by Oisin Murphy and, with the defections of Japan and Hermosa confirmed at Thursday morning's declaration stage, she is now no bigger than 8-1 to come out on top, having been twice that price at the start of the week.

The five-year-old daughter of Harbinger arrived in Newmarket in April after early-season starts in Japan, Dubai and Hong Kong, and with the team finding the set up at headquarters to their liking, has had her stay gradually extended to take in an historic first Japanese-trained win at Goodwood in the Qatar Nassau Stakes, before suffering a luckless run when fourth to Magical at Leopardstown. 

"She is extremely tough and capable and can adapt to different environments," said Hashida. "She is also big and powerful and she recovers quickly from these tough races. It is her strength that has made this adventure possible.

"I'm happy that we have kept her fit and in good condition, and I believe she can handle the uphill finish at Ascot, having run there once before."

Reflecting on Deirdre's fast-finishing fourth behind Magical in the Irish Champion, Hashida said: "The acceleration she showed at Leopardstown was pleasing and we are proud of her. Of course, we always want to win by all means, especially in very prestigious races.

"But things don't always go your way, that's the way racing is. We will take it as a lesson and hope to avoid it happening again in the future."

Nightmare in Ireland

Deirdre's eyecatching late charge in the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes may have left mixed emotions for both her connections and backers, but nobody has wrestled with the way the race played out more than Oisin Murphy.

Deirdre found herself travelling powerfully but locked in a pocket by Ballydoyle runners and Headman, requiring Murphy to drop back to last before pulling Deirdre wide to challenge.

The champion jockey-elect said: "I knew it would be really hard to eclipse last year when I had nine Group 1 winners and I've only had two this year.

"I'm living with it and I'm okay with it because I don't think I've left any behind me, with the exception of Deirdre in Ireland.

"I can't put a number on it but having watched the race many times, unless I sat three deep from the time we jumped out of the gate and four deep from about 700 metres out, it would have been tough.

"I just couldn't imagine myself sitting four deep with three furlongs to go in a nine-runner race. I was always going to end up in that position.

"So whether I'm right or I'm wrong, I've broken that down in my mind and I'm OK with it."

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