It’s been quiet on these Winning Post pages of late, but I can assure you that I haven’t lost my appetite for racing writing. In fact, it has if anything increased!
The reason for the absence is that I have been participating in the British Horseracing Authority’s Graduate Development Programme and was hence busy with 2 weeks’ training at the British Racing School in Newmarket and am now on a 2-month placement at Timeform in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
Before embarking on this experience I wrote a short piece on my racing background and ambitions for Careers In Racing. You can read this here.
I have since had an incredible time in Newmarket, enjoying privileged access to prestigious yards and tracks, as well as hearing from and discussing with some of the central figures of British racing.
You can read the first part of my blog on these adventures here.
And since starting at Timeform I have been keeping up my race preview work. This week I looked at the King George and the International Handicap and will hopefully have picked out a couple of weekend winners!
Over on Facebook, I have been sharing a steady stream of photos, such as this nice number of NEW APPROACH:
CHANTILLY 14.45 – Le Prix De Diane (3yo, 1m 2f 96y, Group I, 12 runners)
After the Arc, the Prix de Diane at Chantilly draws the biggest crowds in French flat racing. Unfortunately, this is due as much to the concerts, fairgrounds, and fashion shows of the ‘event’ as it is to the actual racing. In fact, beyond the Diane itself, it is a relatively lowly occasion, with only 2 Group IIIs to complement the main attraction along with a collection of Handicaps, Claimers, and Conditional Jockeys’ contests.
But don’t let me dampen your enthusiasm too much as I can tell you from experience that, whether you’re interested in hats, horse racing, or both, Diane Day is a fine experience and this year’s feature race will certainly outshine the sideshow!
It seems appropriate on a day famed for its elegance and femininity that one of the favourites should be a filly named MISS FRANCE, who rose to prominence as a 2yo when winning the 2013 Oh So Sharp Stakes at Newmarket for André Fabre.
Following this victory she shot to the top of the markets for most of the following year’s fillies’ Classics, but her reputation took a dent when she could manage only 6th in a Maisons-Laffitte Group III on her reappearance in April 2014.
However, this race was certainly not run to suit and the horses who beat her, including Group I winner Vorda and recent French 1,000 Guineas 3rdXCELLENCE, are not to be sniffed at.
In any case, Monsieur Fabre appeared unperturbed by the run and hence aimed his filly at the English 1,000 Guineas. Sent off at 7/1 for this race, she travelled sweetly and stuck on well at the finish to win by a neck from subsequent Irish Guineas 2nd Lightning Thunder.
With this form under her belt and a good break to freshen her up, she looks to have a fine chance of landing a 2nd Classic, especially as she won her Maiden at Chantilly and will have the assistance of the very capable LOCAL HERO as a pace-setter. What is more, she has been drawn in stall 1, which should allow Maxime Guyon to get her a good spot in a race in which low numbers are generally favoured.
The one question mark is whether she will stay the trip.
Unlike the traditional 1m4f distance of most Derby and Oaks-style races, the French ‘middle distance’ Classics are run over 10 and a half furlongs (2100m), but it is possible that this may still prove too much for this Dansili filly.
Though a fine racehorse and an even better sire, Dansili never won over more than a mile, but his progeny, who include King George, Grand Prix de Paris, and Arc winners, have nonetheless shown admirable stamina. And as a daughter of Miss Tahiti, who was 2nd in the 1996 Diane, MISS FRANCE could well have inherited staying quality on her dam side too. So if Fabre thinks she will stay then he’s probably right!
Currently available at 9/2, she looks likely to play a big part.
Despite MISS FRANCE’sClassic-winning profile, the filly heading the Diane market is Alain de Royer-Dupré’s SHAMKALA. Owned by the Aga Khan, who has seen his green and red colours carried to victory in this famous race on 7 occasions since 1993, this daughter of top sprinter and hugely successful sire Pivotal is unbeaten in 3 outings.
Having only made her debut last October, she is yet to have her limits tested and scored easily in the Group III Prix Cléopâtre over the Diane trip at Saint-Cloud last time out.
As a guaranteed stayer with a huge margin for progression and seemingly no going preference, SHAMKALA is a worthy favourite, even if she is yet to prove her Group I quality. But at a best price of 13/8, I prefer to take a slight risk on MISS FRANCE.
And the English 1,000 Guineas winner is not the only Classic heroine in Sunday’s field, as we also have Jean-Claude Rouget’s AVENIR CERTAIN, who took her unbeaten record to 4 when landing what looked a competitive edition of the French 1,000 Guineas in good style on 11/05.
Having only raced up to a mile on either fibresand or softish ground, we are entitled to have some doubts about this daughter of Le Havre and indeed her trainer has said, truly enough, that we won’t know if she stays … until she stays.
So with these question marks around her and a best price of 7/2, she won’t be carrying my money.
Of those at bigger prices, XCELLENCE, who was already mentioned above, and BAWINA tie in with AVENIR CERTAIN on the Guineas form. Judged on that race, it seems unlikely they will be able to challenge the principals, but BAWINA’s Guineas run does deserve marking up as she was hampered at a crucial stage before running on strongly for 4th. Jockey Olivier Peslier is also particularly sweet on her, though a draw in stall 12 of 12 will not make things easy.
And finally I must mention BALL DANCING, who was this week supplemented at a cost of €66,000 for the race. It was clearly not foreseen that this US-bred filly would have Classic aspirations, but she has shown sharp progress for trainer Pia Brandt and beat some well-touted sorts in a Listed at Longchamp over 1m3f in May before taking 2nd in the Group III Prix du Royaumont over 1m4f on French Derby day.
It remains to be seen whether she has the class for a Diane and her rivals are formidable, but we know she will stay and her under-rated trainer is very much capable of challenging her more illustrious counterparts. BALL DANCING is currently available at 25/1, but I would recommend hunting around for the biggest price you can find and having a small each-way investment.
So on a day on which elegance and femininity are to the fore, I am hoping MISS FRANCE and BALL DANCING will have an appropriately prominent position!
MISS FRANCE – 1pt WIN @ 7/2
BALL DANCING – Half pt EW @ 25/1 or the biggest you can find
CHANTILLY 15.15 – Le Prix du Jockey Club (3yo, 1m 2f 96y, Group I, 16 runners)
With the various European ‘Guineas’ races out of the way and our top 3yo milers having been crowned, the Classic generation will now have to prove their mettle upped in trip. Generally, this will be over the ‘Classic’ Derby distance of 1m4f (2,400m), but not in France…
Since 2005 the Prix du Jockey Club (or French Derby) has been run over 10 and half furlongs (2,100m). This change was made so as to allow horses to make a more gradual progression, with the 1m4f of the Arc being seen as their ultimate late-season target rather than the 1m6f of a St Leger-type race.
To me, this seems to make sense for the French programme, but, as with any change to tradition within racing it remains controversial. It has also meant that a different type of horse has come to win the Jockey Club and that the relevant trials have also changed.
One race that retains its former importance is of course the Poule d’essai des poulains (French 2,000 Guineas). The Poulains was this year won by 2013 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère victor KARAKONTIE, who saw off Prestige Vendôme by a neck.
Though many were left unimpressed by this performance, we can see from KARAKONTIE’s record that he generally only does enough to win and he fought on tenaciously at the finish to leave me thinking he will enjoy a couple of extra furlongs. Also, he is currently available at 6/1 and therefore looks a prime EW option.
Prestige Vendôme, the Poulains runner-up is also worthy of note, but he has now been beaten twice by the selection and on pedigree is seemingly unlikely to see out the distance.
The horse that is currently favourite for the Jockey Club is the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Prince Gibralatar and this Rock Of Gibraltar colt certainly looks likely to be a big player having romped away with the Group I Criterium de Saint-Cloud at the end of his 2yo season and returned this term with an authoritative victory in the Group II Prix Greffulhe.
Both these prestigious races are run over 10f so he should have no problem with the Derby’s distance and hails from an in-form yard who know how to land a big prize.
With regular partner Christophe Soumillon retained on the Aga Khan’s Shamkiyr it is veteran jockey Gérald Mossé who will take the ride, but this is far from a negative as Monsieur Mossé is a cool head with 3 Jockey Clubs already to his name.
In all, Prince Gibraltar is a worthy favourite and it is only his short price that stops me selecting him.
One horse whose price has certainly caught my eye is FREE PORT LUX, who has progressed steadily this season under the tutelage of Freddie Head and took the Group II Prix Hocquart over 11f at Longchamp on 11/04.
Though this race has not had a great deal of impact on the Jockey Club in recent years, it is nonetheless a recognised trial and the Aidan O’Brien-trained Adelaide, whom FREE PORT LUX beat into 2nd in the Hocquart, has since come out and won a Group III at the Curragh in some style. At 14/1, FREE PORT LUX merits an interest.
Speaking of interest, there will be a lot surrounding The Grey Gatsby tomorrow as he bids to become the first foreign-trained winner of the Jockey Club since Shamardal in 2005.
The Kevin Ryan-trained grey has thus far proved potent in trial races, but failed to show his best at the top level. I fear he may again miss out tomorrow, though the assistance of Ryan Moore is an obvious bonus.
Of the other runners Galiway could surprise a few having been running on well when 5th in the Poulains, while Jean-Claude Rouget has another notable chance with the unbeaten Gonna Run, who has yet to even contest a Group race, but looks an animal of real potential.
So these are the likely protagonists in the annual drama of the Jockey Club and I encourage you to tune in to see these distinguished performers light up the famous Chantilly stage.
Karakontie – 2pts EW at 6/1
Free Port Lux – 1pt EW at 14/1
15.30 – Le Grand Steeple-Chase De Paris (French Grand National) (5yo+, 3m 5f 181y, 15 runners)
It might seem strange to British and Irish readers that the biggest race of the French jumps season will be taking place this weekend, when most of us have already switched our attention to the flat. But this unusual timing is just one of the numerous distinguishing characteristics that help make Auteuil’s flagship event one of Europe’s great races.
First run in 1874, this infamously demanding contest was designed as a French equivalent to Aintree’s celebrated Grand National and certainly offers a test of a similar caliber, with 23 diverse obstacles having to be negotiated over a 3m6f course.
The most formidable of Auteuil’s fences is undoubtedly the ‘rail ditch and fence’ in the back straight, which though only jumped once, often cuts the field down to size. In 2012, for example, no fewer than 6 runners came to grief at this unforgiving obstacle.
That is not to say that the other fences are easy, of course, and their unusual challenges, including a stone wall, a drop bank, and a bullfinch, are often enough to put off the majority of foreign raiders.
Indeed, the idiosyncratic steeplechase track Auteuil is made for course specialists and there are numerous French horses who will only run here for their entire chasing careers.
With this in mind, it is unsurprising that the last foreign-trained horse to take the race was Fulke Walwyn’s MANDARIN, all the way back in 1962, and I therefore hold little hope for the 2 English-trained runners lining up on Sunday.
That said, Cheltenham Gold Cup and dual King George winner LONG RUN is of course no ordinary entrant and he did win a Grade I chase at Auteuil as a 4yo.
This will certainly stand him in good stead, as will the booking of Ruby Walsh, who once fought tooth and nail against him when partnering the great KAUTO STAR, but who rides Auteuil notably well for a foreign-based jockey and will not be duped by the sometimes muddling pace of French jumps racing.
However the form LONG RUN has shown this term does little to inspire confidence and it could well be that, having already raced at the top level for many seasons, he will be vulnerable to the spark of a younger rival.
And the youngest rival of them all, the 5yo STORM OF SAINTLY, is currently favourite for the race.
STORM OF SAINTLY has won his position at the head of the market thanks to both a string of powerful performances over the course and the pre-eminent position within French jumping of his trainer Guillaume Macaire, who landed this contest last year with BEL LA VIE.
Having demonstrated the required aptitude for the Grand Steeple’s obstacles and shown he is in good form when taking the Prix Ingre, a key trial for Sunday’s big race, last time out, he is certainly a key player, but 5yos have a notably poor record in this race and I am hence going to look elsewhere.
And the one I like is SAINT PALOIS, who runs for last year’s winning owners the Papot family.
Aged 6 and having gained notable experience without putting too many miles on the clock, this son of SAINT DES SAINTS has been aimed at this race since birth and has been given the break he requires in order to show his best when it matters. With James Reveley, who knows the horse well, on board and his preferred very soft ground forecast for Sunday, he should put in a big run at a fair price.
It must be said that both SAINT PALOIS and STORM OF SAINTLY were beaten earlier this season by UNMIX in the Prix Murat at the beginning of April. This result came as something of a shock to the French racing public however and the way the race was run certainly played in UNMIX’s favour as he broke away from the field and could not be caught. With 6 extra furlongs to cover in the Grand Steeple and his rivals wise to any similar move, it is unlikely he will have things his own way again and shouldn’t have the class of some of his competitors.
Two horses certainly not lacking in class are RHIALCO and SHANNON ROCK.
The former has recorded 5 consecutive wins over hurdles and fences at Auteuil since returning to competition in September 2013 following an injury. He is yet to win at Grade I level however and his jumping can let him down when the pressure is on.
SHANNON ROCK has twice been 2nd in the Grand Steeple, including last year, and many would be happy to see him finally get his head in front. But an inauspicious return to action in March, when he was pulled up when favourite for a Listed chase, and a fair beating by STORM OF SAINTLY in the Prix Ingre last time out, lead to me to believe that he may miss out again this year.
Add to these key figures the exciting TZAR’S DANCER, the veteran PIBRAC, and Jo Hughes’ SOLL and you have the makings of a fine race so be sure to seek it out and enjoy what is one of the great races in the French calendar.
The first European Group I of the season is always a moment to savour, but this year’s Prix Ganay has added attraction as it will feature an unlikely clash between 2 of the world’s most popular, exciting, and contrasting equine talents.
TRÊVE and CIRRUS DES AIGLES require little introduction at this stage, with the former having last year wowed the racing public with an immaculate 3yo season that took in the French Oaks and the Prix Vermeille before culminating in an incredible 5-length beating of a field of Group I winners in the Arc.
With this top-level hat-trick in the bag, it was no surprise to see Criquette Head-Maarek’s filly at the summit of the world rankings, on a par with the one and only BLACK CAVIAR, and with just 5 runs to her name she could, scarily enough, still have room for improvement.
Conversely, 8yo gelding CIRRUS DES AIGLES has now had 55 runs under rules and failed to land a Group I in the course of 8 outings last season. But with this horse the form figures are far from the full story…
In 2013, CIRRUS (as he is known to his many fans) was returning from an injury sustained while preparing for the 2012 Hong Kong Cup and seemed to take time to regain his best form.
As the months went by and the ground grew softer, he landed a Group III at Maisons-Laffitte and a Deauville Group II before going down by a quarter-length to the high-class FARHH in the Champion Stakes and bagging 3rd on unsuitably fast going in the Hong Kong Cup.
So although CIRRUS may not have reached the Group I heights of TRÊVE in 2013, in a way he had a much tougher task before him and came out of it with his striking head held deservedly high.
And 2014 can already be counted a success for the cherished stable star of Corine Barande-Barbe as he found only the powerful Japanese mare GENTILDONNA too good in the richly doted Dubai Sheema Classic last month.
This Meydan run not only proved the good form of CIRRUS DES AIGLES, but also ensures that he will be at peak fitness for Sunday’s Ganay and, combined with the rain there has been in Paris this week, could perhaps give him an edge in attempting to penetrate the galvanised Group I armour of TRÊVE, who will be having her first run since the Arc.
However, as just a 4yo, TRÊVE is highly likely to have progressed in the off-season and indeed both her trainer and her jockey, Al Shaqab Racing’s retained rider Frankie Dettori, believe she has become stronger and more professional since last year. Reports from her work in Chantilly have also been excellent and, with BELLE DE CRECY, herself a Group II winner, booked for pace-making duties, all seems primed for a successful return.
And this fact is certainly reflected in TRÊVE’s odds, as she is currently best-priced 2/5, with CIRRUS DES AIGLES rated the only serious opposition at 10/3.
Yet despite this seeming to be a somewhat one-sided match, there will be 8 runners in Sunday’s feature and, beyond the sacrificial lamb of BELLE DE CRECY, there are a few who could potentially play a small part.
We all know the 7yo JOSHUA TREE as a gallant type and he has 3 Grade I Canadian Internationals to his name, but the most meaningful challenge from the outsiders will likely be from the closely matched pair of NORSE KING and SMOKING SUN.
These 2 5yos have both scored at Group II level and recently filled the first 2 slots in the Prix d’Harcourt over the Ganay’s course and distance. SMOKING SUN came out on top that day in first-time blinkers and showed a powerful finishing kick that NORSE KING was unable to match.
With André Fabre’s 2 entries, BALTIC BARONESS and TRIPLE THREAT, seemingly not up to Group I level, it should be SMOKING SUN who will fill 3rd place behind the principals.
So there you have it. The Ganay will be drawing global attention on Sunday, but won’t perhaps catch the punter’s eye as TRÊVE should continue her arc of improvement to win, even if CIRRUS might make her get serious.
It’s one of the great sporting spectacles and only becomes more exciting if you’ve got a horse in with a chance nearing the end of this 4 and a half mile marathon. So let’s see what we can come up with…
Previous form in either the National itself or a similarly testing event is indispensable when looking for the winner of this. Any staying frailty WILL be exposed in these conditions and so picking out horses with proven stamina is definitely the place to start.
This is one key way of narrowing down the field, as is the age of your various fancies. Horses aged between 8 and 11 tend to dominate, with 9 and 10 year-olds also holding an advantage within this bracket.
Since recent changes to the weighting of the National, higher-rated horses have done better and an Official Rating of 144 or higher is preferable.
Irish-bred horses also have a particularly good record in the race, with British-bred runners faring notably badly.
So, bearing all this in mind, I have decided on…
MONBEG DUDE and TEAFORTHREE.
These 2 comply with many of the key trends, will stay all day, and should both give us a good run for our money.
The latter would be even shorter in the betting I feel had he missed the Gold Cup and the poor run of Rebecca Curtis’s O’FAOLAIN’S BOY yesterday leaves a few doubts.
But MONBEG DUDE has clearly been tuned up for this and the excellent Paul Carberry will hopefully guide him safely through the mayhem.
Monbeg Dude – 1pt EW at 16/1.
Teaforthree – 1pt EW at 12/1.
Let’s hope everyone comes home alright and that the new course at Aintree will prove both safe and exciting.
CAVALRYMAN won this as he liked last year and returned to action at the beginning of the month with a powerful performance to beat several of today’s rivals with ease. He loves the track and even the best of the opposition lack consistency.
Joshua Tree will stay the trip well and was 2nd in this in 2012. Having recently made a pleasing seasonal debut over an inadequate distance, he should give a good show.
SELECTION: Cavalryman – 3pts WIN at 3/1 NB: Joshua Tree – EW at 10/1
JUST A WAY made excellent progress last season in Japan, culminating in an impressive 4-length beating of the brilliant Gentildonna in October. With a fine first run under his belt this term, he looks the progressive type to land this.
I have followed Tasaday throughout her distinguished career and though she has struggled to get her head in front at Group I level, she is as consistent as they come and looks good value for a place following a recent course win.
SELECTION: Just A Way – 1pt WIN at 4/1 NB: Tasaday – 1pt EW at 16/1
Runner-up in this behind the great St Nicholas Abbey in 2013, GENTILDONNA could well go one better this year thanks to her C&D experience. Her draw is not ideal, but over this trip the gifted Ryan Moore should find her a good position from which to challenge.
Cirrus des Aigles bids to become the first horse to win this race twice, though I feel the draw and the ground will count against him.
In contrast, Godolphin’s Excellent Result has a prime berth in stall 1 and has been notably progressive this season. He’s miles behind on ratings of course, but could still surprise a few by making the frame.
SELECTION: Gentildonna – 1pt WIN at 5/1 NB: Excellent Result – EW at 16/1
18.05 -Dubai World Cup (Group 1) (3yo+, 1m 2f, 16 runners)
The richest race in the world has succeeded in attracting 2013 Epsom Derby winner Ruler Of The World and, with 50% of Aidan O’Brien’s Classic winner having recently been bought by Sheikh Joaan’s Al Shaqab Racing, a massive run must be expected. The draw, the trip, and the surface do however put me off backing him.
PRINCE BISHOP has had a much less illustrious career, but his recent C&D form can not be faulted and so, with a draw in stall 1 and Kieran Fallon (who has won 3 times on the horse from 3 rides) on board he looks worth an EW investment.
2013 Japan Cup winner Akeed Mofeed disappointed last time out at Sha Tin, though that race might have come a little too soon for him. With excellent work reports coming from Dubai, he seems another with solid place claims.
SELECTION: Prince Bishop – 1pt EW at 12/1 NB: Akeed Mofeed – EW at 11/1