Marsha seeks Chantilly Double Delight

Several have managed it, the last being Lochsong in 1993 and 94. And on Sunday, Marsha will be the latest to attempt back-to-back victories in the Prix de l’Abbaye.

Texanita, ridden by the celebrated Yves Saint-Martin, was the first to achieve the feat in the mid-1960s. Trained by the outstanding Francois Mathet at his yard in Chantilly, the handler was to become the most successful in the prestigious sprint’s history, with eight victories recorded in less than two decades.

Gentilhombre matched the achievement for his Leicestershire trainer Neil Adam in the mid-70s. Brilliant at three, the horse was even better at four. He improved as the season progressed, ultimately winning the July Cup, the Diadem Stakes at Ascot and then taking his second Abbaye in a course record time.

Dermot Weld was next to train a back-to-back winner. Committed was a powerful mare, who at three began to dominate in her own country of Ireland. A year later Weld unleashed her throughout Europe, and was rewarded with success at York in the Nunthorpe and then at Longchamp in the Prix de l’Abbaye. She repeated the trick in France a year later, before heading over the Atlantic on a brief foray to America. She was later to become a successful broodmare in the United States.

Though hugely talented, Committed’s achievements were comfortably surpassed by the mighty Lochsong, who dominated sprinting in the early to mid-1990s. Trained by Ian Balding, she was a huge filly who simply bullied her opponents into submission. During a barn-storming period in 1993-94, she captured every sprint worth winning, including the l‘Abbaye twice.

And now is the turn of Marsha, as she attempts to add her name to the illustrious and select list of dual-winners. Since last year’s thrilling success, Sir Mark Prescott’s talented speedster has won two of her five starts, with last month’s victory in the Nunthorpe arguably a career best display. She got up in the dying strides to defeat another outstanding filly in Lady Aurelia, and on the back of that performance is understandably a short-priced favourite for Sunday’s Chantilly renewal.

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Battaash was something of a disappointment at York, having previously kicked Marsha aside in the Group Two King George Stakes at Goodwood. That victory came in testing conditions, though he’d proved himself just as swift when hammering a decent field in the Coral Charge at Sandown. The Charlie Hills trained three-year-old is currently second favourite, and I’m finding it tough to split the pair.

The race has been dominated by Brits in recent times, winning six of the last eight. The trend is likely to continue if the markets are to be believed. Signs Of Blessing appears best of the French, though the six-year-old has often come-up a little short at this level. If sprints were run at five and a half furlongs, I fancy he’d be as good as any. Unfortunately, he seems to lack the speed for five and often the stamina for six. Another frustrating performance may well lie ahead.

Don’t be surprised to see Finsbury Square go close at a decent price. He may well prove the best of the home team, as he often enjoys a trip to Chantilly. He’s won four times at the track and is yet to finish outside the top four, including when a very close fourth in last year’s renewal. Find a bookie that pays each-way the first four, and it could be your lucky day.

But it’s the Brits that I fancy will be celebrating yet another Prix de l’Abbaye success on Sunday afternoon, as Marsha looks to make history, with Battaash a possible party-pooper. With luck in running, the pair may well fight out a thrilling finish.

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