Today is Bastille Day in France, an event that coincides with the running of the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp. This Group 1 race is for three-year-old colts and fillies and is run over a mile and four furlongs.
Established in 1863 it was arguably the most prestigious race in France prior to the birth of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1920. It remains an event with a rich history and has been won by many outstanding horses over the years.
It will come as no surprise to learn that Andre Fabre is by far the most successful trainer with 13 victories. His dominance was at its peak in the 1990’s with seven wins in the decade that gave us the likes of Subotica and Peintre Celebre. Both went on to win the Arc though Subotica took it as a four-year-old having missed the race a year earlier due to illness.
Peintre Celebre was sensational in 1997. He took the French Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris, before storming to a five length victory in the Arc. He smashed the track record that day and was named European Horse of the Year. Sadly injury forced his retirement when set to return to the track as a four-year-old.
Fabre also has a terrific recent record in the race, having lifted the prize on five occasions since 2006. Rail Link was successful that year and proved to be another sensational colt. He took the Prix Niel before victory in a thrilling Arc. His success in France’s greatest contest was all the more stunning when taking into account the standard of opposition. Pride, Deep Impact, Shirocco and Hurricane Run were all vanquished in that 85th renewal.
Fabre has saddled Flintshire and Gallante to take the last two renewals, and today sends Ampere in to battle. Likely to go off favourite, the son of Galileo was last seen getting the better of Aidan O’Brien’s Cape Clear Island at Longchamp in May. Still very experienced, he clearly carries plenty of stable confidence to be aimed at this.
Markets suggest that his main challenge will come from the UK, with Royal Ascot winner Balios and Irish Derby runner-up Storm The Stars travelling to Paris for the contest. The latter was also third in the Epsom Derby and one of the most interested onlookers today is sure to be John Gosden. He has two of the leading contenders for this autumn’s Arc in Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs, and will be weighing up the potential challengers.
The David Simcock trained Balios defeated Mr Singh at Ascot in June and that form was franked at Newmarket’s July meeting when Gosden’s colt won the Bahrain Trophy. Clearly this looks a far tougher task, though Simcock’s fella has every right to improve further having only had three career starts to date.
Aidan O’Brien has won the ‘Grand Prix’ with Scorpion and Imperial Monarch in recent years. He saddles the likely outsider in the field of six with his lightly raced colt Archangel Raphael. He arrives at Longchamp off the back of a win in a low grade three runner event at Fairyhouse. This is akin to beating Scunthorpe 2-1 and then taking on Barcelona in the Camp Nou. However, this is Ballydoyle we are speaking of, and the horse is certainly bred for the task. This son of Montjeu out of an Oasis Dream mare is very much the unknown package of the race.
The chance of another Rail Link or Peintre Celebre emerging from today’s showpiece is probably on the slim side. But it is an event with a rich history, and the winner will add their name to a stunning roll of honour. Andre Fabre will be hopeful that he again has the talent on hand to take the prestigious prize.