Cirrus goes up in trip for Royal Oak

Arc Weekend Day 1 Preview: The Calm Before The Storm

With such a sumptuous card on Arc day, Saturday’s meeting generally gets overlooked; but in the context of any normal weekend of racing it would surely enjoy headlines on its own merits, writes Nigel Howard. Four Group 2 events offering in excess of half a million euro in prize money, represent a pretty tasty starter before the main course is served up the following day.

The pick of the Group 2’s looks to be the Prix Dollar which, at first glance, appears to be a simple rematch between CIRRUS DES AIGLES and FRACTIONAL who fought out a desperate finish in last year’s contest. Corine Barande Barbe’s old friend pipped FRACTIONAL to the post but then lost the race in the steward’s room where he was found guilty of bumping the Godolphin horse in the final furlong.

The evergreen nine year old gelding has already won this race three times and it would be the story of the day if he managed to lift this prize once again. Whilst Father Time has been kind to the old boy thus far, he might finally be catching up with him as his last two performances have been poor, most recently when a distant seventh of seven behind Golden Horn at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion Stakes last month. Before that, he finished last of four behind Solow in the Prix d'Ispahan (Group 1) here back in May.

FRACTIONAL, also a gelding, looked to be back to his best when he easily took the Group 3 Prix Messidor over the straight mile at Maison-Laffitte in July and was sent off the short priced favourite to follow up that win in a Deauville Group 3 on heavy ground over 1m2f. However, he was never up to the task and ran a lacklustre race, eventually finishing fifth.

Two of his rivals that day re-oppose in the shape of the Freddie Head trained FREE PORT LUX and Andre Fabre’s ELLIPTIQUE. The former ran with credit at Deauville finishing second but has since finished a distant fifth to Postponed in the Prix Foy on Arc Trials day. ELLIPTIQUE disappointed at Deauville after her famous win in the Group 3 Grand Prix de Vichy in July which crowned her rider, Amelie Foulon, the first female jockey to win a Group race in France. Both appear to be better than their most recent runs suggest and shouldn’t be lightly overlooked.

AL WAAB makes a quick reappearance after finishing second behind Gailo Chop in La Coupe de Maison-Laffitte (Group 3, 1m2f). He’s had a good season but doesn’t really appeal in this hot contest. Of much more interest is ZIPZIP who won the Listed Prix de Boulogne under Franck Blondel at this track last month. That was a fourth win on the bounce and a fifth win this year for the Whipper gelding. He showed a lightning turn of foot to go from last to first up the straight to win by a short head. Eoghan O’Neill, his trainer, commented “We were really pleased with his performance and he’s an exciting prospect for his up-and-coming races”.

Crossing the channel is the Charlie Appleby trained/Godolphin owned FRENCH NAVY. He hasn’t been seen since he notched up a four-timer in the Earl of Sefton Stakes (Group 3) at Newmarket back in April. This Shamardal entire, now seven, was originally trained in France as a two year old by Andre Fabre. His Newmarket exploits give him a solid chance based on the achievements of Arod this season, the horse he defeated there. Lack of a recent run is less of a concern, as he goes very well fresh.

Ralph Beckett also crosses La Manche with an interesting contender in AIR PILOT. He won a Group 3 back in June at the Curragh and, again, his lack of a recent outing is mitigated by a similar layoff prior to a win this time last year.

This is a tricky race to call with many of the contenders coming into the race either on the back of poor runs or layoffs. Obviously, a fit and well CIRRUS DES AIGLES would be top of the list and even though he comes here on a sub-par run of form, he has bounced back in the past. Longchamp is his stomping ground and he looks likely to run well on the day. However, I think that the race could be set up for ZIPZIP.

Eoghan O’Neill is having his best year as a trainer since moving to France and obviously holds this horse in high regard. Although this is a big step up in class, he’s in great form and I expect a good price on the PMU as the Godolphin horses will be coupled in the betting and CIRRUS DES AIGLES will be heavily backed by his adoring fans, irrespective of his chances.

The Prix Daniel Wildenstein (Group 2) over a mile has been won by some decent animals in the past. Arazi, who famously landed the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in unbelievable fashion, won this race in 1992 after a disappointing three year old campaign, whilst Domedriver took the spoils on his way to Breeders’ Cup Mile glory in 2002.

Six are declared for this Group 2 with Miss France, last year’s 1000 Guineas heroine, a possible to run at Newmarket in the Sun Chariot Stakes on the same day. She ran a sound race on her return last time after a very long layoff. If she were to run here she has obvious claims.

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Without Miss France, the race looks wide open and the Wertheimer & Frere owned IMPASSABLE is a lively contender. Trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias, this daughter of Invincible Spirit has shown progressive form and already has a Group 2 event under the saddle when she took the Prix de Sandringham at Chantilly on French Derby day back in June. She has not been seen since, but the manner of her victory really impressed and she looks to have further scope.  Les Freres are doubly represented in this event and their other runner SONNERIE is no slouch either. She beat Miss France in her return race in September and Freddie Head, her trainer, was impressed.

The all-conquering John Gosden has declared JOHNNY BARNES, who took a Group 3 contest in the Deauville mud in August. He won that well, but Frankie, who was in the saddle that day, stressed that soft ground was a must for the horse and therefore the drying Longchamp turf would be a concern.

Carrying the colours of the Wildenstein Family is the probable replacement favourite for Miss France, AKATEA. This likeable daughter of Shamardal ran her best race to date when an excellent second to French 1000 Guineas winner Ervedya in the Prix du Moulin on Arc Trials day. She had no answer to the winner’s classy burst of speed but kept Breeders’ Cup Mile hero Karakontie back in third. She will be a worthy favourite but all her best form is on very soft ground and for that reason I would oppose her with IMPASSABLE who looks to be a class act and has form on a sound surface.

The richest race on the card is the Qatar Prix de Royallieu run over 2500 meters (1m 4 1/2f) with potentially eight going to post. Prix Vermeille second CANDARLIYA returns and all eyes will be focused on how she fares having finished a full six lengths shy of history-seeking Treve. Alain de Royer-Dupré, her handler, spoke frankly before the Vermeille stating he didn’t really expect his charge to trouble the super mare and was running for a place.  She duly obliged, holding onto second in a close finish with Yorkshire Oaks third Sea Calisi. That was still a solid performance and she looks the one to beat.

Her main challenger should be John Gosden’s MARTLET. This daughter of Dansili only has five runs under the saddle, the most recent of those being a listed race win at York in August. She will appreciate the drying ground and should run well.

MARYPOP looks a nice type and is improving with every run. A daughter of Layman, she finished second in a Listed event at Longchamp in September and looks the best of the rest. However, the real interest in this race remains the performance of CANDARLIYA. A good show on Saturday will set the Treve fans alight.

Opening the meeting is the Group 2 Qatar Prix Chaudenay run over 3000 metres (1m7f). Again, the Aga Khan looks to have the main contender in the shape of VAZIRABAD. This son of Manduro took the Prix de Lutece (Group 3) last time with BIG BLUE a length and a half back in second and GAIUS CAESAR further back in fifth.  Both re-oppose on Saturday but with no obvious excuses for either, VAZIRABAD would be expected to confirm his superiority over them again.

Of more interest, therefore, is the English challenger THE TWISLER. The Motivator colt, trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam, is in really good heart at present taking the Listed MARCH STAKES at Goodwood (1m6f) at the end of August. This is a step up on that Listed form but he seems to be improving and could be the most likely contender to push VAZIRABAD to the line.

Allez Trève !!!

- Nigel Howard

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