Finishing off a massive weekend of racing is the French equivalent of the Derby, the Prix du Jockey Club in the beautiful surrounds of Chantilly. It's on the bucket list as a race meeting to get to, one day I'll finally get there!
It's a very different test to Epsom and French races are often run quite differently in terms of pace, without a declared pacemaker to create a true staying test. Local trainers have won 13 of the past 16 runnings of the race, but Gosden & O'Brien have won the past two, adding to the intrigue.
PRIX DU JOCKEY CLUB
Group 1, 3yo colts and fillies, 2100m
Chantilly, Sunday 1600 local, 1500 BST, 0000 AEST
Expected Going - Good (souple)
1. Vadeni - Rouget/Soumillon/Aga Khan combination which is hard to top in France. Easy winner of the Prix de Guiche here last start after a soft run first-up in the G3 Prix de Fontainebleu at Longchamp. While he was untroubled in the Prix Guiche, the depth of form is a concern - the two rivals out of that race who line up here are rank outsiders. Gate 2 is a worry though, he always drops back and that will mean a lot of traffic to weave through. He could be locked away on the fence until far too late.
2. Al Hakeem - winner of the Listed Prix Suresnes here a month ago when he accelerated nicely once shown the persuader. That was his first success on turf but he couldn't have had an easier run in transit parked behind stablemate leader and it was a pretty average field (second horse Yoozuna is a rank outsider here). Can lead or sit just behind the pace. Demuro to ride, he has won this twice for J-C Rouget.
3. Welwal - ran sixth in a rather roughhouse Poule D'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) last start, when the leaders were heavily favoured and nothing was gaining ground from the back. Soumillon was aboard that day but switches to Vadeni instead for the same trainer while Demuro who had ridden him in previous runs will sit aboard Al Hakeem. Won the Prix de Fontainebleu in April when a delightful gap appeared in front of him, while his previous second on the synthetic here at Chantilly can be blamed on being boxed in by the winner until too late. Drawn well in six, do the stable have a genuine rank here or are just guessing? The Eyquem & Rouget combination won in 2016 with Almanzor. In with a serious shot.
4. Imperial Fighter - just the single win from six starts, but look at his placings: second in the G3 Acomb, second to Coroebus in the G3 Autumn Stakes, 2.5L fifth behind original (Epsom) Derby favourite Luxembourg in the G1 Vertem Futurity, third in the Listed Burradon when blocked for a run, third behind Native Trail in the Irish 2000 Guineas. Pack animal or a good colt just waiting for his day? Likely to be caught wide or have to come from the back, which will make life a bit harder.
5. Onesto - won the G2 Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud over this trip a month ago. Lengthened stride nicely in the straight and breezed past the leaders. Depth of that field is a query. Before that he had a quiet run resuming in the Prix de Fontainebleu, just like Vadeni, never seeing much space from the back in a pace-dominated race. Drawn 14, looks like he'll be settling at the tail and hoping for a fast pace to run down.
6. Mister Saint Paul - one of the most exposed colts in the field and pulls up a long way short of required. Well beaten by Vadeni last time in the Prix de Guiche and the winner barely raised a sweat.
7. Modern Games - 'winner' of the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf last season (US officials withdrew him at the gates because he 'might' have been injured, but passed a vet test and ran for purse money only. Quel dommage. Won the Poule D'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) three weeks ago after getting a perfect run camped on the pace, while those behind him faced quite a rough & tumble affair. Drawn 13 this time, the task gets much harder. Rightful favourite but not racing in at the price.
8. The Acropolis - ten starts with just a win in a Listowel maiden to show for it. Eight runs in stakes races, for a second and a third. Hasn't run beyond a mile (just once at that distance). Started 33/1 in the local Guineas, dropped out to last and then kept on past tired horses. Frankie to ride, I'm guessing they are desperate to win a big race with Churchill to boost his stud career because there is precious little reason to bother otherwise.
9. El Bodegon - won a G3 here last year (ahead of Vadeni) followed by a G1 at Saint-Cloud, ahead of Stone Age who started second fav at Epsom yesterday. Just didn't go in the Dante, beaten 10L behind Desert Crown, and the trainer stated he thought the colt needed softer ground (was his first run on good or better). It's hard to have any degree of confidence in what the state of the ground will be until it's officially announced, but there is what looks to be significant rain in the overnight forecast. That will suit him down to the ground as his three wins have been on soft, very soft and heavy. Ioritz Mendizabal, winner of the last two PdJCs, who was aboard in his two late season Group wins, returns to the saddle in another positive move. Gate 1 can be a blessing or a curse in big races, he'll have to be quick from the stalls to land the fruits of that draw. On his French form, he's a leading chance. If the Dante form is now his true level, then he's 100/1.
10. Lassaut - another Rouget runner. After one run as a 2yo, this season has been much more fruitful. Wins at Chantilly and Longchamp over Tribalist came in a maiden and conditions race before a tough run in the Poulains resulted in a fifth, three lengths behind Modern Games, and just behind Tribalist (third) and Ancient Rome (fourth). Mickael Barzalona takes over from Cristian Demuro. There's been decent support from him early but I don't see him as any better than the stablemates.
11. Machete - ran on well in the Prix de Guiche behind Vadeni but his form his still a long way behind the market leaders here. Drawn 3 but traditionally drops back so will need the seas to part for the dream run to the line. Nope.
12. Ancient Rome - a Fabre-trained, Coolmore-owned colt with top class 2yo form but this year hasn't gone quite to plan. Sixth in the Prix de Fontainebleu when favourite and then fourth in the Poulains when he sat forward and seemingly had every chance, haven't kicked his ratings along - in fact by Racing Post ratings, he's still yet to match his two best 2yo figures. Tom Marquand retains the ride (also Poulains) and drawn ideally in five. Market still gives him a chance, I think he looks like one of these Coolmore colts revved up early and then are cooked as a 3yo. Not for me.
13. Vagalame - longshot to be ridden by Maxime Guyon, and owned by the Wertheimers - a combination not to be ignored in French racing. This colt comes via an alternate form route, having only just won his maiden, after building up with several placings. In his last two starts he was beaten a nose here by L'Astronome (who has since won twice, including the G2 Prix Hocquart), then beat Athabascan of the Andre Fabre stable, who then won his next start in a conditions race. Big step up in class but the alternate formline holds some appeal. Widest draw of all makes life very tough.
14. Yoozuna - ran second to Al Hakeem in the Prix Suresnes, beaten 4L. Had winning form in previous two starts but against substantially weaker opponents. Guyon prefers the other (longshot) of the Wertheimer pair, this one has Peslier and stall four. Unlikely but can get a soft run.
15. Ivy League - sweated up before the Irish 2000 Guineas (first-time tongue tie) and finished out the back with Ryan Moore aboard, as per today. Previous form was limited with a win in an all-weather maiden and an average Naas handicap. Did run second (as fav) in a G3 against older horses before his flop in the Guineas. His brother Ontario was an over-rated flop as well. None.
A tricky one to sum up. The track has remained good (souple) this morning but rain is still in the forecast. How much is anyone's guess. French races are often settle, sit & sprint races which often creates a lot of congestion and trouble for those not sitting close to the pace. There's no obvious pacemaker here so if you are on one who gets back or is stuck wide, you want to be getting a premium in the price for that risk. Jean-Claude Rouget holds a very strong hand here with four solid chances. The four-time winning trainer (Le Havre, Almanzor, Brametot, Sottsass) has an even spread of cards (the quartet all have the same French handicap rating of 49) so I'm not convinced there is a definite pecking order in the stable. Hence, I've landed on the outsider of the four in Welwal. Drawn perfectly in six, he can avoid the traffic behind him and pounce when he is ready. Modern Games is obviously the one to beat but his price isn't attractive in relation to the draw & work he'll have to do compared to the Poulains, while Vadeni could be that good he just creams them. Imperial Fighter might put some value into the Quinte.
Welwal - EW at 18/1