Mon dieu (Rodney), it's Arc weekend again.
Formerly the undisputed European championship of horse racing, that monopoly position has been challenged since last year by the emergence of Ascot's own Champions Day, which has 'stolen' such equine top bananas as Excelebration and, of course, the unequivocal tippiest of tip top bananas, Frankel.
Despite these setbacks, the two weeks between meetings offers owners and trainers the option to run at both Ascot and Longchamp, though in top class affairs such as these it's hard to see any horse achieving the double (or 'le double' as they say across La Manche) ;).
No matter, for there is a plethora of Group action to wade through: four Group 2's on Saturday and SEVEN Group 1's on Sunday... and that's excluding the Arab races! Last year, it was a classic game of two halves, as Saturday was 'golden ticket' day for your humble scribbler, and Sunday implied he'd never even been to a zoo before, let alone knew what a horse looked like!
Last year I was there in person, this year it's the TV for me, as baby duties mean I'm still (blissfully) housebound. Let's see what 2012 brings...
The first thing to note is that the ground is likely to be at least soft, and quite possibly very soft.
Saturday Arc Weekend Preview (all times UK time)
11.55 QATAR PRIX CHAUDENAY (GROUP 2) (3YO) (TURF) A furlong short of two miles, for three year olds only, and enough Anglo-Irish interest to suggest we might snaffle the first big pot (£95,000) of the weekend. Johnny G runs Shantaram, a horse who has looked reluctant to lead despite winning his last two, both on soft and both at Newmarket's July course.
He did ultimately stick on very well in the second of those victories, a three-plus length trumping of questionably talented opposition in a weak Group 3. The key points, however, are these: firstly, Shantaram has improved with age and a step up in trip; and secondly, Johnny G does very well in late season and at Longchamp. Those wins were both on soft ground, so Parisian underfoot shouldn't trouble him either, and he looks set to improve again on what he's achieved thus far.
Of the home defence, in a race they've won almost exclusively since 1987 (only Godolphin's Wareed in 2001 has won for the raiders in that time), Top Trip is likely to be fancied. This son of Dubai Destination, out of a Kahyasi mare, has been running well in the top middle distance races in France this Spring/Summer.
Top Trip was fifth in the Prix du Jockey Club; fourth in the Grand Prix de Paris; and, fourth in the Grand Prix de Deauville. The first two of those are the best three year old middle distance races run in France, and Top Trip was beaten an aggregate of less than four lengths. With stamina for the extra two furlongs looking likely, but still taken on trust, he's got a fair chance, reflected in his odds.
The pre-eminent trial for this however is not a middle distance race, but the course and distance Prix de Lutece, which has ushered forth the Chaudenay winner in six of the last eight years. Interestingly, perhaps, the last two years were the times when the Lutece did not portend the Chaudenay champion (said in a French accent, for purely alliterative purposes).
In this year's Lutece, Verema beat Canticum and Only A Pleasure. All three re-oppose here, as does the seventh placed, Valdo Bere. The quartet had already met over the same trip in Deauville in mid-August, when Only A Pleasure prevailed from Canticum with Valdo Bere fourth, and Verema fifth.
These distance affairs are normally run at a crawl with a sprint finish, and there's every chance that the pack of these four suits could be shuffled again. Whilst Valdo Bere does seem to have something to find, I'd be looking for the winner from remaining trio.
With no odds available at this time, I'm guessing that recency bias may send Andre Fabre's Only A Pleasure off a bigger price than he ought to be. He did get caught a little flat-footed last time, but his overall form has the best profile, and his trainer is bidding for an eleventh win in the race since 1991, and twelfth in total!
Selection: Only A Pleasure
Dangers: loads, principally Canticum, Shantaram, and Verema
12.30 PRIX DANIEL WILDENSTEIN (GROUP 2)
An all-age mile Group 2 in which three-year-olds have a patchy record. Specifically, they're responsible for just three of the last fifteen winners. Given that half of this year's field of eight is comprised of the Classic generation, I will (recklessly?) cleft the race in twain (said in a gawky accent) and focus initially on the older quartet.
They are Zinabaa, Highland Knight, Dux Scholar and Evaporation.
Andrew Balding's Highland Knight may be the most obvious pick of the four, and he had a conclusive verdict over Dux Scholar the last day at Baden Baden under similar trip and class conditions. The problem for me is that I'm not at all sure he relishes soft ground, and he will get that here. As such, my value diviner is leading me elsewhere (quite possibly up a blind alley!)
Zinabaa may be a little long in the tooth now, at seven, but he's got some decent pieces of form in the book in the context of this race. Firstly, he loves sodden turf, as demonstrated by his Group class wins at Deauville and Saint Cloud on very soft going. They were Group 3 and 2 races, and he also ran a stonker to be beaten just a length and three quarters behind Golden Lilac in the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan (Cirrus Des Aigles, Planteur, Tin Horse, Reliable Man and Penitent also in that race: the last named trio finishing behind Zinabaa).
It is asking a lot for a 7yo to win this, but he's likely to be over-priced, based on his age and his recent form figures of 46. On a going day, he could make the frame at decent odds.
Dux Scholar was formerly with Sir Michael Stoute, and is now trained in the Czech Republic. He's not good enough to win this, pure and simple.
Evaporation could be under-priced. She's been running fairly well, without winning, this term, and she'll be ridden by Olivier Peslier, who has a fine record in this race (and on this track, and at this meeting). But she's frustrating, and has never won above Listed class, and only once from ten starts in the last two seasons.
She might win, but not with my euros on her back. One positive: Evaporation loves it muddy.
I do need to reference the three-year-olds: it would be remiss not to. Lucayan won the French 2000 Guineas here on good to soft. As that was a Group 1, he could be said to be the form horse. But we know about the veritable paucity of the classic generation, and that he was a Classic winner underlines that dearth. Again, he's likely to be over-bet (and therefore under-priced) and I'm sniffing elsewhere.
Pascal Bary's Mainsail is dropping back from nine furlongs, which is not necessarily a negative; and goes on very soft ground. Despite more scope to improve than Lucayan, his form is a fair way below that of the French Guineas vainqueur.
Tifongo is the other at a price that interests me for a few cents. His form figures of 520618 look more like a phone number than a Group 2 winner-in-waiting, but if we look only at his soft or soggier form, we see a slightly more compelling picture.
A debut win last year over six on soft was followed by a terrible run on similar ground. Since then, the soggy form reads fifth in a decent Group 1 (beaten 3 1/2 lengths); second in Listed company; 2nd in a Group 2; and a Listed race win on his penultimate start.
On faster ground, he's beaten just eleven of 59 rivals. Clearly, the ground is a big factor in his favour.
Sarkiyla looks to have a lot to do too. She did win on soft in the provinces (at Le Lion d'Angers) but has been racing on quicker since heading for the top class tracks. Her form is probably not as good as the figures of 113113 suggest, despite that latter '3' being in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin. (There were only four runners and she was beaten over six lengths).
It's not a race in which I'll be wagering boldly, but I will be demanding plenty of confiture on my pain.
Each way selections: Zinabaa, Tifongo
2.00 QATAR PRIX DOLLAR (GROUP 2)
At last, a race which has been priced up!
This looks a decent contest, and one which revolves around the 2011 Champion Stakes winner, Cirrus Des Aigles. He's had well-documented problems, having failed a drugs test earlier in the season and then got a septic foot. But he's back now, and this is his prep for a repeat tilt at the Champion Stakes, where he'll take on Frankel!
Perhaps that should have read 'BUT' this is a prep, etc etc. You see, Goldikova used to use the Foret as a prep for the Breeders Cup Mile. Other horses have used decent races as preps for other decent races. Sometimes they're fit enough to win, and sometimes they're not. Goldikova was both during her time, but she was always priced as though she should win.
Cirrus des Aigles is a brilliant, brillant horse: one of the best in training. And I am a huge fan. But I'll not be wagering him here.
In truth, I'm unlikely to wager to win against him either. However, there is an each way horse here with real prospects. He's a dual Group 1 winner at this sort of trip, and is another who is having a prep before - I assume - heading East for the big Asian pots, one of which he won earlier this year.
Say bonjour to Chinchon. Yes, he's seven. And he's won over £1.7 million in prize money. He's been in the money in fifteen of his 27 starts, and has form on soft or heavier of 1215314611. He's 10/1 and his soft ground Group 1 form makes for the best value in a Group 2 race.
Maxios is respected but too short, and Hunter's Light probably wants it quicker.
Selection (each way): Chinchon 10/1
1.30 QATAR PRIX DE ROYALLIEU (GROUP 2)
A mile and a half race for the girls, and a reasonable one too. It's also a race the Brits have had some success in, with both Roger Charlton and Richard Fahey plundering the spoils in the last five years. This year, we're represented by Hughie Morrison's Oaks pair, Coquet and Shirocco Star.
Morrison's horses go well this time of year, and I'm a fan of both these fillies. In fact, I'm convinced that Coquet can win a nice race. She was inhumanely destroyed in the Oaks, her jockey having to pull her back to last place, before sticking on very nicely in sixth. She's done nothing much since, and the key to her looks to be a true run race, which she's not had in a while.
Alas, it's likely she won't get a strong pace here either, and I reluctantly overlook her chance and hope she runs in the QIPCO Fillies and Mares race, where I believe circumstances will at least offer the chance to show what she can do.
Shirocco Star has been consistent... and consistently beaten... all season. Ground and trip look plum for her, and she's sure to run another robust race, almost certainly making the frame... and almost certainly not winning.
Dalkala represents the Aga Khan and Alain de Royer-Dupre, who won this in 2009 and 2010 (fourth of four with the favourite last year). She's respected purely on that basis, though her form does give her a fair chance too. Again, she's likely to be over-bet on the pari-mutuel and she won't be for me.
The interesting one could be Jean-Claude Rouget's La Conquerante. Rouget is a wily one and, in her six runs to date, she's won half and been in the frame in the other half, albeit exclusively at a lower level than this.
The pick of her form would probably be her staying on third (beaten half a length) last time on good ground. Connections clearly feel she can turn the form around with Forces Of Darkness on this slower turf.
In a tricky affair, she's at least a sly one for the frame.
Small each way wager: La Conquerante
More obvious each way: Shirocco Star
Sunday Arc Weekend Preview (all times UK time)
And so we move to Sunday, and a scarcely believable seven Group 1's. I don't propose to cover all races in depth, but will offer at least a thought on each.
12.55 PRIX DE L´ABBAYE DE LONGCHAMP (GROUP 1)
Super Sunday's superlative set of seven Group 1's starts with the Prix de l'Abbaye, a helter-skelter five furlong sprint, perennially purloined by a British beast. Indeed, only Freddy Head's Marchand d'Or has allowed French fingers upon this trophy since 2001.
It is likely to be more of the same again this time around, with both quality and quantity in the raiding party.
The Abbaye draw looks to be material, with only the aforementioned 'golden merchant' making even the first two in the last five years. That he won from stall 20 as the 2/1 favourite underlined his superiority that day. That the race was run twice (due to a false start) beggared belief!
Sole Power is one horse I'm against here. Firstly, he surely needs faster ground to show his best. In fact, the last time he raced on softer than good to soft was on the second start of his 27 race career. It was a fair enough performance, but the avoidance of the deep stuff since implies it will at least inconvenience him.
Ally that to a stall 15 draw, and you have a lay to go to war with, if such things are your bagatelle. Personally, I'm merely happy with my perception that he's adding value to other runners in the race.
Mayson is the fellow to whose mast my colours are pinned. He's a bit like Tangerine Trees, last year's winner, in that he either wins or runs nowhere in the main. Exhibit A would be his last five runs, offering form figures of 11051. Mayson's most recent run is the best form in the race, a five length drubbing of The Cheka et al on heavy ground in the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket.
That was over six furlongs, whereas the Abbaye is over five. This issue is offset somewhat by Mayson's usual speed from the gate and, with stall one secured for this effort, he could rocket up the rail without seeing a rival.
The one reservation - aside from his occasional sulky efforts - I have with Mayson is that he could get boxed in from trap one if he doesn't break alertly. Hanagan knows him well however, and will give him every chance.
I've backed Mayson in an each way (mug?) double with Society Rock in the QIPCO Sprint, at 13/2 and 5/1 respectively, and will be cheering him accordingly.
Looking beyond the top of the market, the Abbaye is a race that offers hope to big priced horse backers. Secret Asset (2nd at 40/1) last year; Gilt Edge Girl and Mar Adentro (winner, 25/1 and 3rd, 66/1 respectively) in 2010; Moorhouse Lad (2nd at 25/1) in 2008; and, Desert Lord (winner, 25/1) in 2006, all attest to the merit of rolling with a battle-hardened handicapper in here.
Humidor fits this bill pretty well. I put him up at 100/1 when he was fourth in Ortensia's Nunthorpe win, and this slower ground may allow him to claw a few more back and make the frame. He's 'only' 25/1 this time, but could go well despite a less than ideal berth in fourteen.
Finally, in stall eight, Govinda looks over-priced. Whilst he has been running mainly at six furlongs and more, I suspect that may be to do with the lack of five furlong races in his native Germany. He is a fast starter, so ought not to get outpaced, and he loves soggy ground, as most of the German nags are bred to do. 40/1 outsider of the field is not right, and I think we might enjoy an even more out-of-kilter-with-his-chance offer before the stalls open on Sunday.
Each way interests: Humidor, Govinda
1.30 PRIX MARCEL BOUSSAC - CRITERIUM DES POULICHES (GROUP 1)
The first two year old race of the day, for fillies, and over a trip of a mile. I've no strong view on this, so will offer a few thoughts and leave it at that.
It's a very good race for the raiders, with Britain taking two since 2001, and Ireland accounting for another three. Going back as far as 1996, Johnny G (Gosden if you rather) has three wins; Criquette Head also has three (and two more earlier in the nineties); and, Pascal Bary has four since 2000. Alain de Royer-Dupre has weighed in with two recently (including the magnificent Zarkava), as has Aidan O'Brien.
Of those top target trainers, only O'Brien has one here. Magical Dream is harder than most of these, but she's also got less scope for improvement and wouldn't be the best of them on her form to date. Pas pour moi.
Purr Along probably has the best form, but it's all been achieved on sounder surfaces, and you'll have to take a short price about her replicating it abroad on softer grass. Encore, pas pour moi.
My Special J's may have been inconvenienced by the quicker going last time. If that is the case, she has a squeak at a decent price, on the balance of her previous seven furlong soft ground form. That form includes a Group 2 win in the Debutante Stakes.
Peace Burg and Topaze Blanche head the home squad, and both are improving and open to more of the same. Equally, both have soft ground form. Peace Burg has the better form, getting on top close home in a soft ground Group 3 over a mile last time. A slightly stronger pace will suit her well, and she looks the most likely winner.
Alterite was only three-quarters of a length behind Peace Burg on her penultimate start, and has since won a Listed contest. The fact that Rouget has supplemented her may be a tip with regards to her improvement since that four length pasting of Sir Mark Prescott's Oasis Cannes, herself a tough customer.
No strong views, so token offerings are...
Selection: Peace Burg
Alternatives: Alterite, My Special J's
2.05 PRIX JEAN-LUC LAGARDERE (GRAND CRITERIUM) (GROUP 1)
A seven furlong Group 1 for junior boys and girls, this year's renewal is noteworthy for the entry of the filly, What A Name. It is rare for a filly to run in this rather than the Boussac, and it must be assumed that a) What A Name is very good and/or b) the mile would be too far for her.
The filly Moonlight Cloud was fourth in this back in 2010, and she subsequently proved herself to be a very fine sprinter indeed. The fact that she was 'only' fourth behind Wootton Bassett underlines how tricky it is for a lass to beat the fellas, and I'll watch with interest, wish her well, but wager elsewhere.
Between 1999 and 2006, Aidan O'Brien owned this race, with all bar two of the eight renewals going his way. Criquette Head-Maarek took the other two.
O'Brien runs George Vancouver and Pedro The Great. I have a serious reservation about the ability of the former to act on soft turf, and Pedro The Great's Phoenix Stakes win - a Group 1 which was run on soft ground - looks a far more likely proposition. Pedro won by nearly three lengths there, and this extra furlong should be well within his range given his middle distance pedigree (like GV, by Henrythenavigator out of a Rainbow Quest mare, and the first Group 1 winner for his illustrious 'old man').
Olympic Glory has performed well this year, and was recently bought by a Qatari prince (they sponsor the races here). His least impressive run was an all out Group 2 win on heavy ground, and I just wonder whether he's better on a firmer footing.
Consequently, I think Pedro The Great is clear pick of the raiders. Of the home team, What A Name may be best. But I don't believe she's better than Pedro nor perhaps Olympic Glory.
Selection: Pedro The Great
2.40 PRIX DE L´OPERA LONGINES (GROUP 1)
An excellent ten furlong Group 1 for ladies only. Roger Varian won this last year with Nahrain, but she bypasses the race this time in favour of a Breeders Cup tilt. Varian runs Ambivalent in her stead, but she would seem to need faster ground.
It's a really tough betting race - too tough for me - and it might be that the Vermeille form is the key race. Shareta, who runs in the Arc, beat Pirika, who has been supplemented for this, with Galikova and Sagawara further back.
The other form race is the Prix Jean Romenay, a Deauville twelve furlong Group 1 for the girls. There, Snow Fairy beat Izzi Top, Galikova and an out of sorts Giofra.
Let's try to eliminate some of the contenders: Galikova keeps finding a couple too good and in any case only wins in small fields; Rjwa may need it quicker, and tends to find one too good as well; Sagawara seems to have gone off the boil after winning the Prix Saint-Alary (G1).
My contenders list comprises Izzi Top, Giofra and Leaupartie; and, possibly, Quiza Quiza Quiza.
Izzi Top got closest to Snow Fairy in the Jean Romany, and has been running well. She's won both her starts on soft ground, including the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes, and ten furlongs is perfect. She must go well.
Giofra had been highly consistent prior to running down the field in that Snow Fairy race. The ground may have been quicker than she'd have liked but, in truth, it's quite hard to excuse that any other way than it was a clunker. Overlook that, however, and she's a serious player.
Previous form of 11121, including second to Cirrus Des Aigles in the Group 1 Prix Ganay and a win in the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes is pack-leading form here.
Leaupartie is a little less obvious. She's yet to win at Group 2 level or above, but she has the look of a quite progressive filly, in receipt of five pounds weight for age allowance here. A mere five runs into her career, she boasts two wins, two seconds and a sixth in the Group 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks). That was on just her third start, and she's improved from that to win a G3 and finish second in a G2.
Rested since that Group 2 second, she comes here fresh and capable of more. It's a bit of a speculative but she could run well.
The Italian raider, Quiza Quiza Quiza, is also of minor interest. She's older and hardier than most of these, and retains a touch of class, as well as real consistency too. She has finished 1-2-3 in fifteen of her nineteen races, and won a soft ground ten furlong Group 1 this time last year.
She'll be a big price, and is mildly appealing each way as a consequence.
Selection: Izzi Top
Each way chances: Leaupartie, Quiza Quiza Quiza
3.25 PRIX DE L´ARC DE TRIOMPHE (GROUP 1)
And so to the main event. The mile and a half Arc is recognised as probably the most important race in the world. It also has a few 'nuggets' of received wisdom associated with it.
Specifically, it is perceived that three year old's have the best record; and it is also perceived that a wide draw is a negative. Simon Rowlands, head of research and development at Timeform, has argued compellingly against both of these in his piece here.
In a year such as this, it is difficult to make a case for one of the Classic generation, given how dreadfully they've acquitted themselves against their elders since midsummer.
Particularly, it is very hard to back Camelot, a horse which was celebrated when he won the 2000 Guineas and Derby. But let's look more closely at that.
Aside from Camelot himself, there have been just three winners from 46 subsequent runners from that Guineas; and, again aside from Camelot, there has been just one subsequent winner from the Derby field (Thought Worthy).
Camelot's Irish Derby win has also yielded just one subsequent win in what must be one of the worst three year old crops on record.
In my opinion, a price of 5/2 about Camelot is an absolute joke. If you want that, I wish you well, but you clearly have no concept of the principle of value whatsoever. It's a laughable price, irrespective of whether he wins or not.
The good news, of course, is that this makes the market for anything else we might fancy. Japanese raider, Orfevre, has almost doubled in price on the basis of a berth in box 18. But both So You Think and Cavalryman have made the first four from car park draws.
Sure, it's probably not ideal, but it's not insurmountable either. The problem is that there are other reasons to look beyond Orfevre: form reasons, no less. The apple of Japanese racing fans' eye is a quirky character, who managed to get himself beaten at 1/10 when swerving across the track and almost pulling up.
He was impressive in a slowly run Prix Foy in his trial, and could well overcome both the draw and his quirk. But 5/1 is still not enough for me.
Saonois is next in, and this boy would be a brilliant story, owned as he is by a bargain-bagging boulanger from mid-France. He cost less than ten grand, and has already returned almost £900,000!
His form in winning the Prix Niel, and the Prix du Jockey Club, makes him probably the best 3yo colt in the race (including Camelot). But he's yet to run a fast time, and there are plenty of pacemakers in here, meaning it will almost certainly be quick.
But... he is progressive, and he is brave, and he does have a lightning turn of foot, all three qualities he showed when nipping through a tight gap in the twinkling of an eye (as Van Morrison might say) to claim the Niel. If being closer to the rail equates to an advantage, then Saonois has most of it from box two, and I hope the 9/1 shot runs well. Not for me though.
A fair number of the fancied runners are drawn wide this year, meaning it's a pretty good acid test of whether there is an advantage or not to a single figure berth.
As well as Orfevre (stall 18), St Nicholas Abbey (10), Shareta (11), Meandre (13), Bayrir (14), Kesampour - my sneaky hope (15), Sea Moon (16) and Masterstroke (17) all have wideness to overcome.
If you believe a wide draw is a hindrance, then there must be value in the single figure draws. But, please, don't be sucked into backing Camelot on the basis of trap five and him being a three year old. Back him on form if you believe it's good enough, but not on another measure.
The Arc is a race which throws up plenty of big priced win and place horses. Last year, Danedream was 27/1 on the tote and the second, Shareta, was 66/1 (12/1 place on tote). In 2010, 22/1 Nakayama Festa was second; 150/1 poke It's Gino was fourth in 2008; Youmzain was second at 66/1, and Sagara 3rd at 33/1, in 2007; and so on.
I'm looking for a horse who wants soft ground, a strong gallop, has won over twelve furlongs, and has Group 1 form. In this context, Kesampour is interesting. He'd won his first four prior to finishing a length fourth in the French Derby behind Saonois, when the race was run slowly and unsuitably. He was then fifth to the same horse in the Niel when - again - the race was more akin to a funeral cortège.
In a truly run race, he will stay, he loves the ground, he's got a decent jockey up, and he has class. 50/1 with Coral, or 100/1 on Betfair (check the place part) appeals each way.
Masterstroke could improve for the soft ground, and he'd need to. But with Andre Fabre looking for his eighth Arc and first since 2006, he's respected without being a bet at the odds on offer.
Solemia might run a nice race too. She ran an excellent trial when third in the Vermeille, and has plenty of soft ground positives. She's been in the frame in seven of nine stakes races she's contested, and 66/1 is decent each way value for a small tickle.
Yellow And Green was fourth behind Shareta and Solemia, and also enters calculations for an outsider worth wagering. She's progressive, goes on the ground, and could well stay on into the frame at around the 33/1 mark.
As always, it's a fiendishly trappy race in which to try to find the winner, and I'll wimp out by taking a couple at prices each way.
Each way value against the field: Kesampour 50/1+, Solemia 40/1+, Yellow And Green 33/1+
NOTE: The following bookmakers are paying 1/4 the odds 1-2-3-4 in the Arc and, if the prices are comparable, that's where you should wager your wonga.
4.55 PRIX DE LA FORET (GROUP 1)
This is such a bad Group 1 over seven furlongs, that I wish we'd entered Khajaaly! He may be rated only 63, but some of these aren't much better.
Gordon Lord Byron is interesting, as is Blue Soave, both of which were supplemented for the race.
I won't be wagering here, so good luck if you are.
Interesting (in a relative sense, at least): Gordon Lord Byron, Blue Soave
5.25 PRIX DU CADRAN (GROUP 1)
And we close an exquisite day's racing with the two and a half mile Prix du Cadran.
If there were hurdles on the course, flat debutant Nikita du Berlais would be the one to be on. She's won eight of her ten starts over timber, and been second and third on the other two. Obviously, she has stamina and class. Whether she's quick enough remains to be seen, but it's worth a try, isn't it?!
From the quirky to the... quirkier... as the defending champion in the race is none other than our old mate, Kasbah Bliss. Now a venerable veteran of ten years old, he was still sprightly enough to win this last term aged nine. A fantastic old stick, Kasbah has won more than a million quid for his lucky owners, but he came into this in better form last year than he does this, and it's hard to believe a younger buck won't have the measure of this pleasing old-timer.
The raiding party is strong this year, with Colour Vision, Saddlers Rock and High Jinx all making the ferry crossing.
If they go any gallop, I think Saddlers Rock can win. But he must have a decent pace. With Nikita, Goldtara, and Vadamar all frequent pace pressers, John Oxx's Goodwood Cup winner (two miles) could get what he needs. There remains a slight question mark over the going, but he ran well enough when second on heavy ground in the Saval Beg Stakes.
Colour Vision won the Ascot Gold Cup (this trip) and was maybe a little lucky not to lose it in the stewards' room. In any case, the pick of his form again suggests top of the ground is what he wants.
High Jinx has been a tough nut to crack this season, despite Times Up cracking him twice, and Melbourne Cup favourite, Mount Athos, also cracking him prior to that. But the problem is that two of his poorest performances have been on soft ground, and that must count against him here.
Vadamar is stepping up still further in trip, and to my eye at least, this smacks a little of desperation. He's a talented horse, no question, but he's found winning hard. Moreover, his front-running style will surely set this up for a closer down Longchamp's interminable home straight.
This is a race to take a bit of a punt at a bit of a price, and with that in mind, I'm going to side - preposterously perhaps - with the hurdler, Nikita du Berlais, in the hope (no prices at time of writing) that he's a decent offer. Kasbah Bliss has shown that hurdlers can win this, and Nikita could follow in his hoofprints.
Tentative Selection: Nikita du Berlais
And that's it. Four Group 2's on Saturday and seven Group 1's on Sunday will make for tremendous sport. How easy winners are to come by remains to be seen. But it won't stop us from trying and, as they say in France, bonne chance!
Tell us what you fancy and why in the comments below...