It's a formidable (pronounced 'four-me-dab-bluh'!) weekend of racing down Paris way, and I shall be there to enjoy the best of it. As well as the stellar Arc card on Sunday, there are also four Group races today. So let's get to it, starting with...
Saturday's Longchamp Preview
2.40Â QATAR PRIX CHAUDENAYÂ (GROUP 2) (3YO) (TURF)
A nigh on two miler to kick us off, for three year olds. Only five go to post, and four of them are fillies. The sole colt in the field, Gaily Game, is favourite off the back of two Listed race successes. This, then, represents a step up in grade, which he's entitled to.
As a chap against the lasses, he's conceding three pounds, but that ought not to be especially material and if he gets beaten, it will be because there is a better horse in the race.
I believe there is, and I believe that better horse is Mikael Delzangles' Shankardeh. This young lady was last seen chasing home Meeznah in a Group 3 at Glorious Goodwood (I was there that day, too!), and the daughter of Azamour was only beaten a couple of noses in a Group 2 on her penultimate start.
Pacifique merits mention, after winning a Group 3 last time. She's one of three offspring of Montjeu in the quintet (as well as Gaily Game and Bernieres), and will enjoy any cut there might be in the turf.
At around 4/1, I make Shankardeh the value play here in what may very well be a dawdle and then a sprint for the line. She has form on quicker and slower ground so is versatile in that regard, and should give her running.
3.15Â QATAR PRIX DANIEL WILDENSTEINÂ (GROUP 2) (3YO+) (TURF)
Another Group 2, this time over a mile, and for horses aged three and up. Eleven go to post, headed by Godolphin's Rio De La Plato and that boy, Frankie Dettori.
Rio De La Plata has tended to get placed and not win this season, as honourable podium spots behind the likes of Canford Cliffs, Frankel and Excelebration demonstrate.
But last term he notched two Group 1 wins on the continent at around this trip, albeit on soft ground. He's also won on good to firm so again there shouldn't be any problems on that score. The issue may just be that tendency to find one or two too good.
Weighing up the form of the opposition is tricky, as they come from far and wide to contest this. Perhaps the pick of the peloton is Freddie Head's Rajsaman. He was just behind Rio DLP at Goodwood in the 'Duel on the Downs' won by Frankel and that was a notch below his best. So, if he runs to his best, he'd have to be a player here. I make the two of them extremely well matched, which means Rajsaman's price of 5/1 is better value than the 3/1 on Rio DLP.
Royal Bench is the other proven Group 1 player in the fields and he's been primed for a late season campaign. This is his third start off a break, and he'll handle any ground. At 7/1 he has each way prospects.
Sandagiyr is interesting. Stepped into Group 1 company after an easy Listed success, he was well tonked in the Prix du Jockey Club (behind Reliable Man), and was then beaten for toe when sent off favourite last time. At around 16/1, there are worse speculative wagers on an each way basis, in a race that lacks depth.
Andrew Balding's Set The Trend has progressed out of handicaps, and the trainer is respected, but I just feel this is a step too high in class.
It's between the first three in the betting for me, with Rajsaman and Royal Bench offering a touch of value against Frankie and Godolphin's Rio De La Plata.
3.50Â QATAR PRIX DE ROYALLIEUÂ (GROUP 2) (3YO+ FILLIES & MARES) (TURF)
Just four runners for the third Group 2 of the afternoon, which must be a disappointment for sponsors. Fillies and mares over a mile and a half here, and a very tight betting heat is marginally headed by Godolphin and Modeyra.
In truth, all four of these have been expensive to follow, racking up the placed efforts when favoured by the betting, and perhaps Roger Charlton's Sea Of Heartbreak is the answer. She has at least been running to her market position and wasn't beaten far in the Newbury Arc Trial (which, yet again, failed to attract an Arc runner!).
It's a weak Group 2, and certainly not one I'd be having more than a token tickle in, soÂ Sea Of Heartbreak is a token selection.
4.25Â QATAR PRIX DOLLARÂ (GROUP 2) (3YO+) (TURF)
Compare and contrast the weakness of the previous race with the strength of this ten furlong battle. Cirrus Des Aigles and Byword head the field, and both are winners at Group 2 level (Byword is a Group 1 winner).
Cirrus Des Aigle is a most consistent and versatile sort, and he can be relied on to give his running and make the frame at least. Winner of his last three, and in the money in all eight 2011 starts, there is just a slight niggle that he might have had a hard season already. That said, he's won his last three races - all Group contests - by three lengths, eight lengths, and ten lengths!
Byword in contrast has been off since June, and might just need this run. Although he did win the Prince of Wales' Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, he hasn't looked that level of horse this season, and I'd be happy enough to look elsewhere, whilst acknowledging that a peak form Byword would be tough to beat.
Durban Thunder could be interesting at a price (currently 16/1) off a last time out win in a German Group 1 over this trip. That was on soft ground, and he looks like he needs it a bit slower underfoot... and possibly a bit slower in the opposition too!
He does have a verdict over Famous Name, however, and quite why that one is half the price of Durban Thunder is beyond me. That's surely a case of trying to steal money of Irish punters. Famous Name has never won above Group 3 company, and he's not going to start in this warm event.
French Navy - another Godolphin runner - is unexposed and progressive, and interesting as a consequence. He's won five of six, and his only defeat was when sunk by the heavy ground at Saint Cloud last backend. He did it very well last time in the Select Stakes at Goodwood, and deserves a crack at this rung of competition.
In receipt of nine pounds from Cirrus Des Aigles, I can see him running that one close.
The rest are probably tilting at the windmill at the end of the home straight, although Shimraan has some form from last year that gives him a shot at decent odds.
I make Cirrus Des Aigles the best bet on the card, and will be backing him to win a good few euro's at around 9/4. That will make the evening either excellent fun, or thoroughly miserable (sorry Jerry!), as I retire to watch Belmont's Super Saturday card, with its accompanying Breeders Cup clues. Yes, racing is a truly international game these days!
Sunday's Longchamp preview
SEVEN Group 1's on Sunday, and it starts early, with...
12.10Â QATAR PRIX DU CADRANÂ (GROUP 1) (4YO+) (TURF)
The Cadran is an excellent staying contest, over fully two and a half miles. The Brits and Irish have had some success in the last decade, with San Sebastian, Give Notice (both John Dunlop), Sergeant Cecil and most recently, John Oxx's Alandi in 2009, when I was last here. We have just the one representative this time, with Kieran Fallon booked to ride John Queally's outsider-of-the-field, Elyaadi.
She should stay all right, and won't mind the ground, but they ought to be too good for her here.
It seems interesting that Celtic Celeb carries the first colours of Henri de Pracomtal, given that this horse is 10/1 and the same owner's other entry, Kasbah Bliss is 4/1.
Kasbah has had three goes at this race, and been in the first four each time, without winning. At nine, he's not going to win this year either.
Celtic Celeb on the other hand is stepping up in trip and has the prospect of improvement as a consequence. 10/1 is fair enough, though this is not a race I'll be playing in.
Brigantin is a generally reliable sort and his best run was over this trip in the Ascot Gold Cup when third to Fame And Glory. A repeat of that would be good enough here, and he's the selection, albeit tentatively. 7/1 is fair each way, and he should at least offer a run for the rupees.
12.45Â QATAR PRIX DE LÂ´ABBAYE DE LONGCHAMPÂ (GROUP 1) (2YO+) (TURF)
Classic extremism, as we go from a two and a half miler to a five furlong licketty-split sprint. This is an overseas benefit with only Marchand d'Or winning for the home team in recent memory, and that in the year when the race was re-run later in the day after a false start!
The Brits are generally best, but finding the right one remains a conundrum.
It's a race in which younger horses tend to struggle despite the huge weight pulls they receive. Consequently, I'm against the juvenile Requinto and the rapid three-year-old Margot Did.
In fact, it's the horse that Jamie Spencer has jumped off to ride Margot Did, Masamah, that I like.
This is a speedy five furlongs, and Masamah is a horse that needs a speedy five. He goes on any ground, and if he does get hauled back, it will be late in the play. 10/1 looks pretty good to me.
In a race that is sometimes won by a big outsider, don't rule out Iver Bridge Lad, who will be fresh after a break since a close up run in the King's Stand at Royal Ascot. He wasn't beaten far there, and might make a bold bid at 33/1 or so.
There are obviously lots with chances, but I'm rowing in with Masamah and Iver Bridge Lad at decent prices.
1.20Â TOTAL PRIX MARCEL BOUSSAC - CRITERIUM DES POULICHESÂ (GROUP 1) (2YO FILLIES) (TURF)
What used to just be called the Prix Marcel Boussac is a recognised trial for the following year's 1000 Guineas, and these lasses will be hoping to further their credentials accordingly.
Six are slated to go to post, but it looks as though Godolphin's Falls Of Lora may not be starting. Certainly, there's no betting for her as I write.
Since 2002, the French and Irish have had this between them, and I don't see it being any different this term. Hope of the home team is Freddy Head's Zantenda. She is two from two, including a course and distance Group 3 verdict last time. She doesn't win by far (a short neck and a neck are the recorded verdicts to date) but she seems to do it comfortably enough. Unless you've backed her at the short odds she's been sent off at, in which case you may enjoy a brief moment of tachycardia prior to picking up!
The two Irish runners, Fire Lily and Yellow Rosebud, both have runs that say they could win it and runs that say they can't.
The only unbeaten filly in the line up is Zantenda, and she's the call on that basis. I wouldn't (and won't) be piling in, but she's most likely I'd say.
1.55Â QATAR PRIX JEAN-LUC LAGARDEREÂ (GRAND CRITERIUM) (GROUP 1) (2YO COLTS & FILLIES)
And this one used to be called the Grand Criterium... same as above but for the boys this time. (Girls are eligible but run in the Marcel Boussac, typically).
Not since Rock Of Gibraltar in 2001 has a top drawer horse won this, and it may again be that way this year. Nevertheless, the Irish have an excellent record, especially Mr O'Brien, and his demand respect. Pity then that he's not running any, and nor are any other Irish trainers.
Indeed, the sole raider is four race maiden, Fort Bastion, for Richard Hannon. The favourite is a horse called Dabirsim, who has progressed from the provinces to win twice at Deauville after two earlier victories at Bordeaux's Le Bouscat race track.
All four wins were over six furlongs, and there has to be a question over the mile distance here. That said, he's oozed class at the shorter trip, including when cantering home in the Prix Morny last time.
Frankie rode him that day, and keeps the ride here.
Sofast bids to prove he's well named, and lines up here after a facile win over seven furlongs the last day. He's got something to find with Dabirsim on Prix Morny running, but this son of the aforementioned Rock Of Gibraltar will surely benefit for the mile.
Ultimately, if Dabirsim stays, he wins. If not, Sofast is most likely to take advantage. The very fact that Fort Bastion is here suggests a decent run is expected, but there's nothing in the book to give him a top chance.
I'll take Sofast as a reliable stayer against the obviously feared Dabirsim.
2.30Â QATAR PRIX DE LA FORETÂ (GROUP 1) (3YO+) (TURF)
The good stuff starts here. No, I mean the really good stuff! This is a top drawer seven furlong face-off, and Goldikova is the star turn. Saying that, this is clearly a prep race for her, and she's far better at a mile than seven-eighths, as she showed when only managing third at long odds on in this two years ago.
Against her is Dream Ahead, a horse I am convinced could be a world beater at six furlongs, but doesn't stay further. I think this chap is worth taking on. His six furlong form reads 11111 (including FOUR Group 1's). His other form reads 557. Erm...
Worthadd is the interesting one for me, and one I'll play for a reasonable each way wager. He looks to have been crying out for seven, after not quite getting home over a mile in Group 1 company. Yes, I know he's won a Group 2 in Italy over further, but in top class pan-European company, he might just love this shorter run.
Certainly his front-running style should see him get a lead, assuming the pacemaker Flash Dance doesn't bugger him up, and they'll have to pull him back. At 10/1 I reckon he's a cracking each way bet, and I'll be supporting him wholeheartedly (and half-walletedly).
The rest don't look good enough, which is why - if he doesn't get upset by the pacemaker - Worthadd looks an each way bet to now't. Clearly, Goldikova is respected (and loved as well).
3.15Â QATAR PRIX DE LÂ´ARC DE TRIOMPHEÂ (GROUP 1) (3YO+ COLTS, FILLIES & MARES)
The big one. Quite why people are saying this looks a sub-standard year is beyond me. Winners of 29 Group 1 races between them, FOURTEEN of them this season, renders that bunk.
The level of competition is deeper than in many years, and the betting reflects that.
I've offered my thoughts, and I have a fairly strong opinion for one, here:
4.45Â QATAR PRIX DE LÂ´OPERAÂ (GROUP 1) (3YO+ FILLIES & MARES) (TURF)
Any thoughts of 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' are somewhat extinguished with a cracking ten furlong ladies only race, for yet another Group 1 gong.
British and Irish interest is in the form of the Jim Bolger-owned and trained Banimpire and the Roger Varian-handled Nahrain.
The former is tough. Really tough. Almost bulletproof. But she's had a verrrry long season. Ten races long. She has had a little break, since mid-August's sub-par effort in the Yorkshire Oaks and, if freshened up by that, she'll go close here.
The trip should be fine, and she sets the standard.
Nahrain has the greater scope for improvement, having had just the three runs, and won them all. The latest was 'only' a Listed race so this constitutes a vast step up in class, and whether she's up to it remains to be seen. I wouldn't want to bet on it at the likely odds.
The French defence is spearheaded by Sandy's Charm, another improver who is yet to be out of the first two in five starts. She may now have shown us how good she is, with her most recent two outings receiving identical ratings from Racing Post, and that might be a bar or two below what's needed for a contest like this.
Andre Fabre's Announce won a ten furlong Group 1 last time, and she will likely offer more of a threat the British Isles' raid on the race. She's the 9/4 favourite on the early shows and that is fair if unspectacular.
I'd rather take Banimpire if she has indeed been revitalised by the break, and she ought to run well at around the 4/1 mark.
This is the sort of contest that could shape up for an outsider to come 'over the top' of them, and no more than a speculative suggestion on that basis is Haya Landa. This daughter of German stayer Lando has been racing against the right horses over this sort of trip all summer, and could go well at a price (currently 20/1).
I'll have retired to the bar by now, and will be cheering the rag, but my card will have long since been marked by the likes of Worthadd, Reliable Man and co.
Whatever you're backing, I wish you good fortune, and a brave face if it turns out other than you'd hoped/expected.
Until next time,