Alice To Repel A French Assault

The Rowley Mile as again the focus of Saturday’s action, with the fillies and mares taking centre-stage in the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes.

Named after the fillies’ Triple Crown winner of 1942, the race was first staged in 1966, and was originally contested over 10 furlongs. Run at a mile since 2000, the prestigious event has gone to numerous high class fillies and mares.

The Mark Johnston trained Attraction, won the race in 2004 as a three-year-old. She was simply sensational during that particular summer, taking the 1,000 Guineas in England and then in Ireland, before success at Royal Ascot in the Coronation Stakes. Soviet Song lowered her colours in the Falmouth, and Johnston’s filly suffered further defeats in France and Ireland, before bouncing back to form with victory in her final start of the campaign here at Newmarket.

In recent times the French have dominated the race, winning five of the last seven. Sahpresa certainly enjoyed her trips across the Channel. She became the most successful mare in the events history when winning three in a row from 2009 to 2011. She saw a racecourse for the first time as a three-year-old at the end of July in 2008, winning an event at Maisons-Laffitte, and following up with success in a listed race at Saint-Cloud. She ended the campaign with a promising fourth place finish in a Group 3 at Newmarket.

Her education continued the following season, and by August she was competing in a Group 1, when finishing fourth behind the outstanding mare Goldikova at Deauville. She returned to Newmarket in October for the Sun Chariot, and though relatively unfancied, she defeated the Guineas winner Ghanaati, to land her first Group 1.

She beat Strawberrydaiquiri and Rainfall a year later, and completed the treble in 2011 at the age of six, defeating Chachamaidee and Strawberrydaiquiri in the process. In five career visits to Newmarket, she had won three Group 1s, finished second in another, and fourth in a Group 3. She was a truly high-class mare.

Siyouma continued the run of success for France in 2012 when defeating Elusive Kate, and 12 months ago yet another French mare tasted success. The Andre Fabre trained Esoterique had proved herself a class act at four, taking the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville, before a terrific fourth place finish against the colts in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp. She finished in the same position when travelling over for the Sun Chariot, but a year later the story was very different.

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It was as a five-year-old that Esoterique flourished, competing successfully at the highest level. She chased home Solow at Royal Ascot in the Queen Anne Stakes, before getting within a length of the outstanding sprinter Muhaarar in the Prix Maurice De Gheest. Just a week later she finally got the better of the colts when landing the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois, defeating the 2,000 Guineas runner-up Territories. In early October she arrived back at Newmarket to contest the Sun Chariot, and duly ran-out a cosy winner from Sir Michael Stoute’s classy mare Integral, who had won the race a year earlier.

And the French are in no mood to let their grip on the Newmarket showpiece loosen, with a trio of runners set to take up the challenge on Saturday. The assault is led by the unstoppable Jean-Claude Rouget, and his outstanding filly Ervedya. Rouget is in the midst of an incredible campaign, with high profile winners including Almanzor, Qemah and La Cressonniere.

Ervedya captured a trio of Group 1s as a three-year-old, but is yet to taste success at four. However, her three outings this season have come against the colts, and she has been far from disappointing, especially last time at Deauville when third to Ribchester. Back against her own sex, she looks sure to go close, and her form looks as strong as any in the race. The worry for Ervedya fans is her need for cover until the last minute. She’s a hold-up filly with a killer finish, but she only has one burst of speed, and this is often easier to accomplish on a round track.

Volta is a classy three-year-old, who not only travels powerfully through a race, but has the ability to stay further than a mile. She’s likely to be finishing off the race as well as any. Third in the French Oaks back in June, she then chased home Qemah when dropped back to a mile for the Prix Rothschild. Back from a break, she looks a leading contender.

Freddy Head trains the third French raider, Siyoushake. All three challengers from across the Channel are by top French Sire Siyouni, but this third contender looks to be the least likely to head home with the prestigious prize. She was fifth behind Qemah and Volta in the Prix Rothschild, and though she won a Group 3 last time at Deauville, it would come as a surprise if she were quite good enough to take this.

If being French has proven a strong trend in recent years, then the age of winners is less defined. Three-year-olds have won four of the last 10, though the Classic age group have only one victory in the past seven renewals.

The favourite for Saturday’s race looks sure to be Ballydoyle’s hardy filly Alice Springs. Her last run was arguably her best, when comfortably winning the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. That impressive victory came off the back of a poor run in France, when well beaten in the aforementioned Prix Rothschild behind Qemah. There-in lies the problem with Alice Springs. She’s capable of throwing in the odd stinker, though her two poor performances have come at Deauville. Maybe she simply doesn’t like France.

Her record at Newmarket is far more impressive, having finished third in the Guineas and romped home in the Falmouth back in July. She also won at the track as a juvenile. The stiff finish appears tailor-made for this powerful filly. The weight differential between three-year-olds and their elders is far less on Saturday, compared to the Falmouth. Nevertheless, of the leading contenders it seems to me that Newmarket plays more to the strengths of O’Brien’s filly than any of her contenders.

It would be rude not to mention the South African mare, Smart Call, who could possibly prove to be the joker in the pack. This is her ‘prep-run’ for the Breeders’ Cup, having been off the track since January. It’s hard to believe that she could win after such a lay-off, but her trainer Alec Laird, seems hopeful of a strong performance. The mare has been here since June, with Frankie Dettori helping out with several pieces of work. She’s some unit, and is an intriguing runner.

I just can’t see anything beating Alice Springs. It’s a boring selection, I know, but she has all the attributes to win this, so long as she runs to form. I think Volta will chase her home, and Irish Rookie is the one most likely to please each-way punters, having finished third in this 12 months ago.

Fabre leads Formidable French Challenge

Fabre holds Aces

Fabre holds Aces

The French have something of a stranglehold on the Breeders’ Cup Mile, with the most recent win coming in last year’s renewal thanks to the Jonathan Pease trained Karakontie, who aims for a repeat success on Saturday.

Pease also sent out the winner in 1997 when Spinning World charged clear inside the final furlong. When announcing his intention to retire at the end of the season he spoke of his greatest achievements saying: “The highlights of my training career have been winning the 2004 Arc with Bago and three Breeders' Cup races: in 1994 (Tikkanen), 1997 (Spinning World) and 2014 (Karakontie).” He arrives this week at Keeneland hoping to sign off in style.

Freddy Head is responsible for the most prolific winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Goldikova dominated the race from 2008 to 2010 and incredibly attempted a fourth straight win in 2011, when finishing a gallant third. An outstanding mare, she won a host of Group 1’s beating mares and colts alike.

Twenty years earlier Head was riding an exceptional mare to victory in America. Miesque was trained by Francois Boutin and took the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1987. She broke the Hollywood Park track record when winning her first ‘Mile’ and a year later retained her crown when destroying a strong field at Churchill Downs by four lengths. She finished her career with 12 wins from 16 starts, 10 of those victories at Group 1 level.

Pascal Bary was an assistant to Boutin early in his career, and mirrored the success of his old boss when taking the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2002 and 2003. He managed the feat with two different horses, one of them another terrific filly in Six Perfections. A year earlier Domedriver had caused a huge upset when defeating the outstanding miler Rock of Gibraltar.

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The first French trainer to strike gold in the race was Robert Collet, when he saddled Last Tycoon to victory in 1986. A year later Collet completed an extraordinary training feat, when he saddled Le Glorieux to a trio of Group 1’s in three different continents. The horse managed to win in America, Berlin and then in Japan. He later had a rather less spectacular spell at stud, though was responsible for the mare Buck’s, who in turn became the dam of non-other than Big Buck’s.

Anyhow, back to the matter at hand, and this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Mile with the prospect of further French success. Andre Fabre dominates the betting with Esoterique and Make Believe. The latter took the French Guineas at the start of the season, and roared back to form with a win at Longchamp earlier this month in the Prix de la Foret. The son of Makfi has gears, and looks the sort to do well in this.

Esoterique has had a terrific season competing at the highest level. She comes here off the back of a stylish win in the Sun Chariot Stakes. Adaptable as regards ground conditions, she is a powerful mare with plenty of speed, as she proved when only just beaten by Muharaar at Deauville in August. She looks sure to go close in this event that has gone to so many classy mares in the past.

Impassable is another French filly that cannot be discounted. Carrying the famous Wertheimer silks that were worn to victory so often by Goldikova, she lacks the experience at the top level though was a cosy winner of a Group 2 last time at Longchamp. That win was even more impressive, coming after a four month absence.

The Brits are dependent on Roger Charlton’s classy colt Time Test. Conditions may well have turned against him as he looked at his very best on rattling ground at Royal Ascot in June. There’s also the likelihood that he is a better horse at 10 furlongs, and this tight track over a mile may prove problematic.

Yet another filly looks to be the best of the home team. Tepin warmed up for this with a stunning seven length victory in a Grade 1 over course and distance. She appeared to appreciate the ease in ground conditions and looks a real danger to the European challenge.

That challenge could well prove to be a glorious one once again, in a race that has so often proved rewarding. Monsieur Fabre appears to hold a pair of Aces, though there remains uncertainty as to whether we see a King or a Queen crowned come Saturday.

Arc Trials Day Preview: Treve’s Back (Allez Treve!)

Treve bids for a second Prix Vermeille

Treve bids for a second Prix Vermeille


Longchamp stages its Arc Trials meeting this Sunday with six Group events on offer, three of which are major prep races for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Top billing goes to the Group 1 Prix Vermeille (1m4f) which sees the return of the mighty Trêve in her preparation for an unprecedented triplé in Europe’s premier race.

This will be her third appearance in the Vermeille after finishing fourth last year on the back of a troubled season but having won the race in her classic year for Al Shaqab Racing, who bought a majority share in the filly soon after her scintillating victory in the 2013 Prix de Diane.

TRÊVE comes into this renewal on the back of a long summer break but with two impressive performances under the saddle earlier in the season. In May she won the Group 2 Prix Corrida (1m4f) easily and then took the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint Cloud, on ground perhaps faster than ideal, at the end of June beating Flintshire. He has since won a Grade 1 in the US and is again a likely adversary in the Arc.

Defeat on Sunday would be a huge disappointment for her ever-growing legion of supporters. On paper she is the clear favourite but, despite its G1 status, this remains a trial and not the ultimate objective. TRÊVE was soundly beaten in the race last year and yet bounced back with a superb performance in the Arc. Criquette Head has handled her with aplomb this term and is looking forward to her reappearance.

Head said, “Sunday is important as we will see if she is still in the same form as she was at Saint Cloud. The race comes at the right time in her preparation. She has some strong opposition in the form of Arabian Queen and Sea Calisi. Any rain can only be in her favour.”

Indeed, Trêve’s main dangers come from the classic generation with the three year olds in receipt of 8lbs from their elders. ARABIAN QUEEN, shock winner of the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York, tackles 1m4f for the first time but owner Jeff Smith believes the daughter of Dubawi will appreciate the step up in trip and this race is her sole objective. The same is true of SEA CALISI, a daughter of Youmzain and recent third in the Yorkshire Oaks. François Doumen, her trainer, is quietly confident, “Everything is good. We haven’t been hard on her since her York run. It’s a top race but she’s improving”.

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The Aga Khan’s colours are carried by CANDARLIYA, a daughter of Dalakhani and winner of the Group 3 Prix Minerve (1m 4½f) at Deauville last time. That represented her fourth straight win yet she remains relatively unexposed. Alain de Royer-Dupré, her trainer and winner of the race seven times, was realistic about her chances when he said, “She is very relaxed and handles all ground conditions. We don’t really expect to beat Trêve but hope to run a place. This is really her Arc. The three year olds get a considerable weight allowance from the older horses”.

DIHNA acts as pacemaker for the favourite so a strong gallop is expected and indeed needed if TRÊVE, who has a tendency to run quite freely in her races, is to settle after this long layoff. Her adoring supporters will expect nothing less than a win but one feels that Thierry Jarnet, her regular jockey, will be looking to take care of her in the event of a close finish. If any horse were to give TRÊVE a race, preference would be for ARABIAN QUEEN who has the generous weight advantage and is running in the race to win, not as preparation for the Arc.

Attention is turned to the three year old colts in the Group 2 Prix Niel (1m4f) with just 7 going to post for this year’s renewal. The Niel has been the stepping stone for previous Arc winners Montjeu, Sinndar, Dalakhani and Hurricane Run amongst others, with Rail Link being the last colt to do the double back in 2006.

This year sees a mouth-watering clash between Prix du Jockey-Club hero, NEW BAY, and the unbeaten Grand Prix de Paris winner, ERUPT, both sons of Dubawi. NEW BAY turned up at Deauville in August where he showed he could handle soft conditions with a smooth success in the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano (1m2f). This will be his first attempt at the classic distance but connections seem in little doubt that he will handle the step-up in trip.

Erupt ran out an impressive winner of the Grand Prix de Paris in July beating the Andre Fabre-trained Ampere by 2 lengths. The same horse finished 4 lengths behind NEW BAY at Deauville so a line through him gives NEW BAY the upper hand. Heavy ground may have played a part in that result but on the bare form lines, the Khalid Abdullah-owned NEW BAY is a worthy favourite.

Opposing are the Grand Prix de Clairefontaine (Listed 1m4f) first and second MING DYNASTY, trained by Mikael Delzangles, and Freddie Head’s MIGWAR. The latter was sent off the short priced favourite on the day but MING DYNASTY ran out a good winner and his trainer was delighted with the performance. Qatar Racing has since bought a half share in the King’s Best colt with the owner’s retained jockey Andrea Atzeni taking over in the saddle from fellow Italian Umberto Rispoli. MIGWAR was far from disgraced in defeat and was making his reappearance after a long layoff. Retained jockey Olivier Peslier holds this son of Invincible Spirit in high regard and improvement is expected.

Next up is the Group 2 Prix Foy (1m4f), reserved for four year olds and upwards and the race chosen as the warm-up event for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes winner POSTPONED. Another son of Dubawi, Luca Cumani’s colt looked to be the obvious choice in this race until Alain de Royer Dupré switched Dolniya from the Prix Vermeille. Consequently, the Foy has a much more solid look about it as DOLNIYA is a Group 1 winner in Dubai and most recently ran third to Trêve in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud. With Golden Horn having been pulled out of the Ascot showpiece, POSTPONED’S victory in the King George was considered bloodless. Where he finishes in relation to DOLNIYA tomorrow should give us more insight into the value of his form.

Away from the Arc, the other Group 1 event on the card is the Prix du Moulin run over a mile. This provides another chance for ESOTERIQUE to strut her stuff after a wonderfully successful Deauville festival. First she ran second to Muhaarar in the Prix Maurice de Gheest over an inadequate 6½f and then the following week she produced a stellar performance to defeat TERRITORIES in the Prix Jacques Le Marois. The daughter of Danehill Dancer loves some cut in the ground and with rain forecast over Paris at the weekend she should have the conditions she prefers. She looks the one to beat.

TERRITORIES, who re-opposes would seem to be held on their Deauville running and preference is for the Aga Khan’s French 1000 Guineas winner, ERVEDYA. She ran with credit when second to Amazing Maria in the Prix Rothschild over a mile at Deauville at the beginning of August. She has Group 1 winning form on rain softened ground and is likely be the one to chase ESOTERIQUE home tomorrow.