Barney Army – Hannon Colt to repel French Raiders

It’s primed to be as good a Champions Day as any before, with numerous plots and subplots at play, set to engage and enthral the expectant Flat racing masses.

Ascot has practically sold-out, and it’s no wonder with the talent on display. Even the late withdrawal of Ulysses (anticipated in yesterday’s piece) cannot dampen the spirits for what is set to be a high-class end of season extravaganza. Stoute’s outstanding four-year-old heads to America for a tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but in his absence, there remains a glut of exceptional thoroughbreds battling for supremacy on the richest day of British racing.

News also came yesterday that Churchill will contest the QEII, rather than take on Cracksman and Barney Roy in the Champion Stakes. The dual-Guineas winner has disappointed since his success in the Irish Guineas at the Curragh, but it is hoped that a drop back to a mile will spark a revival in fortunes for O’Brien’s high-class colt. He and Caravaggio remain the most likely of the Ballydoyle team to deliver the Group One success needed to match Bobby Frankel’s record.

Though I am not focusing on the QEII for today’s preview, I fancy that Ribchester will prove an unsurmountable obstacle, though a reinvigorated Churchill is a huge danger to Godolphin’s talented miler.

It’s the showpiece event that I have chosen to look at today. The Champion Stakes is the most valuable event, and arguably along with the QEII, the most coveted. It’s fair to say that the roll of honour lacks a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, though does carry the names of Brigadier Gerard, Frankel and last year’s exceptional French colt Almanzor.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Despite Ulysses resting-up prior to an American excursion, the remaining field of 10 still pack a high-class punch.

It’s quite amazing that neither Frankie Dettori or John Gosden have yet managed to capture this prestigious event. They look to put that record straight with tomorrow’s race favourite Cracksman. Winner of the Great Voltigeur and the Prix Niel in his last two starts, this son of the mighty Frankel (himself the winner in 2012) out of a Pivotal mare has been campaigned at a mile and a half throughout the summer, and this drop to 10 furlongs could prove an issue. The forecast rain due to hit Berkshire should aid his chances, along with a forceful ride from Dettori as he looks to make his mounts stamina a telling factor.

Fellow three-year-old Barney Roy appears the main danger to the favourite. Connections will have been thrilled to hear the news on Ulysses, having finished behind Stoute’s fella in the Eclipse and the Juddmonte. You could argue that Hannon’s contender would appreciate a sounder surface, though he coped admirably at York following an apocalyptic morning’s downpour prior to that Juddmonte race. Barney won the St James’s Palace Stakes on his last visit to the track, and is likely to have a little more ‘zip’ than Cracksman. Nevertheless, the favourite will likely take some passing, and that may well prove the thrilling aspect of this race.

The French challenge is a two-pronged assault, and although Jean-Claude Rouget’s Brametot has star appeal, his compatriot Recoletos should not be underestimated, especially if the ground turns soft or heavy.

Brametot won the French Guineas and followed up by taking the Prix du Jockey Club. He was a creditable fifth in the Arc when incurring traffic problems, but this 10-furlong trip appears his optimum. Rouget’s Almanzor took this race 12 months ago, and though this challenger is not as good, none of the contenders are. I believe that he’s a leading player and is likely to be delivered late and fast, as he was in the French Derby.

Recoletos was just behind him that day having looked a likely winner inside the final furlong. The softer the ground the better for this three-year-old, and odds of 25/1 are more than generous. Though his season started in March he’s not been overplayed, and I have a strong feeling he’ll outrun those odds. He could prove a surprise package with conditions to suit.

With Ulysses away, Sir Michael sends Poet’s Word into battle. A typical Stoute sort, he has improved rapidly during his four-year-old campaign, and was a terrific runner-up last time in the Irish Champion Stakes. He stays further and goes on any ground. First or second in his last six starts, he looks sure to go well, though I fancy a place finish is the best he can hope for.

Of O’Brien’s duo only Highland Reel can win, and for that to happen the rain must stay away. Cliffs Of Moher is simply not good enough.

Yet again I find myself siding with Barney Roy. I was sure York would suit him last time, but he came off third-best behind Ulysses and Churchill. I fear Cracksman, especially if plenty of rain falls, as he’s a relentless galloper, rather than a colt with gears. Favourites have a modest record with three wins from the last 10, and so I’ll be backing Barney for the win. If plenty of rain falls I’ll chance a French three-year-old each-way, though it will be Recoletos rather than Arc fifth Brametot.

Best of luck to all those having a punt. And to those heading to Ascot on Saturday, enjoy a thrilling day of racing.

Rough Day For Rouget

Jean-Claude Rouget had a day to forget at Deauville, with the eagerly anticipated return of Almanzor proving something of a disaster.

Off the track since his sensational victory in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last October, he was sure to show a little ring-rust. However, finishing last in a mediocre Group Three was certainly not scripted, and Rouget has his work cut out to get this high-class colt back to his best for those autumnal showpieces.

The trainer’s comments after the disappointment put into question Almanzor’s future, when saying: “It is so hard to bring a horse to a race like this after being stopped for ten months, it’s impossible. He rose to such heights at three it is difficult to get that back. People talk about racehorses like they are racing cars but if a car’s engine begins to tire, you take it out and replace it.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

He continued: “You have to remember the best of times with him and they were really very good. The race at Leopardstown was the best field I have ever seen and he beat them all so well, you have to remember that, when you think of his future as a stallion. No decision has been made and we’ll have to talk with all the partners, but he seems to have come back to the stables fine.”

The trainer’s post-race comments hardly installed confidence, though the bookmakers possibly overreacted when sending Almanzor out to 20s for both the Arc and Ascot’s Champion Stakes. The horse was the best in the business last year, and is surely worth another shot before career defining decisions are made. A repeat trip to Leopardstown looks a possibility, with his performance there likely to prove critical. After such a poor return to the track, a shot at the Arc, over a trip he is yet to attempt, now looks completely out of the question.

Almanzor’s flop resulted in a shortening of Enable’s odds for the Chantilly showpiece. She’s now even-money in places, for a race that is rapidly looking uncompetitive. Rouget’s day out at Deauville failed to improve, when Brametot also flopped on his return to a racecourse. He’d been off the track since winning the French Derby in early June, but even a near two-month absence could not explain the dismal 10-length drubbing by Eminent in an ordinary looking Group Two.

He can be backed at anything from 10s to 20/1 for the Arc, but will need to improve vastly if he is to be considered a serious challenger to John Gosden’s flying filly.

Of the two, the Champion Stakes at Ascot now has a far deeper look to it than the Chantilly headliner. Almanzor may still line-up in hope of repeating last year’s Champions Day success. But should Rouget’s star fail to shine between now and then, the race still looks a potential thriller.

The Juddmonte International at York next week is a likely dress-rehearsal for the Ascot renewal. Dual-Classic winner Churchill is set to clash with Barney Roy and Ulysses, who were first and second home in the Coral-Eclipse. All three are prominent in the betting for the Champion Stakes in October, where the field may also include, Enable, Eminent, Highland Reel and Deauville disappointment Brametot. This year’s Arc is devoid of such depth in quality.

The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe has long been Europe’s most prestigious race, drawing a stellar cast. But it’s starting to look as if Ascot’s Autumn extravaganza will attract a more powerful field over the shorter trip of 1m2f. The influence of modern day stallions, producing quicker horses, rather than those with the requisite stamina for the Arc, may be a reason for the apparent shift in target. But whatever the explanation, Chantilly’s loss looks sure to be Ascot’s gain.

High-Class Entrants for Champions Day

Almanzor, Found, Minding and Ribchester, are just some of the stars that appeared on the card at last year’s Champions Day.

Ascot’s season ending extravaganza began in 2011, and acts as a ‘Finals Day’ for five divisions of a Flat racing series. Sprinters, Milers, Mid-distance, Long-distance and Fillies and Mares form the content (along with a one-mile handicap), of a valuable event that has fast become both prestigious and eagerly anticipated.

Its timing (close to the Arc meeting) had, and still does, attract negative press from a standpoint that many of the best racehorses will be otherwise engaged and unable to appear, thereby undermining the status of the occasion. Nevertheless, there’s no doubting that the quality of fields continues to improve, and connections appear to be targeting Ascot in October as a fitting finale for their equine stars.

This year sees a gap of three weeks between the Arc meeting at Chantilly and Champions Day, and there’s every chance that many will take-in both. Just two weeks separated the prestigious events last year, and that didn’t stop Aidan O’Brien’s Found winning the Arc before chasing home Almanzor at Ascot. The extraordinary mare then headed to America for a crack at the Breeders’ Cup Turf. That she finished third at Santa Anita, was testament to both her talent and cast-iron constitution.

Yesterday saw the announcement of entries for British Champions Day 2017, and as we head deep into this year’s Flat season, it’s exciting to look at the likely clashes that will bring the campaign to an exhilarating conclusion.

Your first 30 days for just £1

An incredible 18 Group One winners are entered in the showpiece Champion Stakes, won last year by French star Almanzor. Rouget’s outstanding colt could return in an attempt to defend his crown, though his season thus far has yet to begin due to injury. The French trainer spoke of the possibility, saying: “I have yet to make any decisions, and we will know more after his comeback race on 15th August in the Prix Gontaut-Biron. He satisfied me when working last Tuesday and although he won’t be 100% fit, I’m hopeful of a good performance.”

The prospect of a clash with super-filly Enable is truly mouth-watering, though I have my doubts that John Gosden would come here so soon after a crack at the Arc. Much could change between now and then, but the trainer likes his trips to America, and I’d fancy a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Turf is more likely to follow Chantilly.

Barney Roy and Ulysses are far more likely to line-up, and there is now a real prospect of Churchill attending this end of season bash. He heads to York in a couple of weeks for the Juddmonte, and how he does against Barney and Co will determine the remainder of his campaign. Ballydoyle also have Highland Reel and Winter entered in this, though HR’s target will be determined by the ground, and Winter now looks set to drop back to a mile.

As such she may well take a similar path to Minding and eventually line-up in the QEII on Champions Day. Despite a powerful performance in the Nassau Stakes, her trainer Aidan O'Brien said earlier this week: “Winter is well entered up, but at this stage we're looking at going back to a mile with her in the Matron Stakes. She's come out of her Goodwood win well.” Churchill up and Winter back down appears to be the plan for the Ballydoyle stars at this stage, but October remains a distance away.

Should Winter line-up in the QEII, she’ll be looking to replicate Minding in defeating Godolphin’s Ribchester. This looks the obvious target for Richard Fahey’s classy miler, who now looks set to have a break after the disappointment of losing out in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Speaking earlier this week, Fahey said: “I haven't entered him for the Champion Stakes as I think we're going to stick at a mile with him for the time being. Quite what happened at Goodwood I'm still not sure, but I suspect it was a mistake to try to make the running, and that was my mistake. They were proper extreme conditions. It was just one of those things and we all live to fight another day.”

Andre Fabre could send Royal Ascot winner Le Brivido or Guineas third Al Wukair. Both are high-class and would prove a serious threat if travelling from France. Jean-Claude Rouget also has the recent Messidor Stakes winner Taaref entered. The four-year-old colt is improving at a rate of knots, and would be another exciting addition to a classy looking field.

The Tin Man took last year’s Champions Day Sprint, and looks sure to return. He loves the track, and trainer James Fanshawe is excited at the prospect, saying: “Hopefully we can have him in as good a form as he was last year when we get to 21st October. It’s a great day and we really enjoyed last year. He seems fine after Newmarket and the idea is to aim for the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock next month.”

Brando was third 12 months ago, but connections will be hoping for better this time around, especially after the thrilling recent success in the Prix Maurice de Gheest. Prior to that, the five-year-old was a fast finishing fourth to Harry Angel in the July Cup at Newmarket. There’s no doubting that Kevin Ryan has the sprinter better than ever, and he’ll prove a serious contender come October.

Harry Angel is also likely to be aimed at this. Mightily impressive at Newmarket last time, he lost out to Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal Meeting, and despite the latter seemingly going ‘off the boil’ of late, the pair may well clash again in October. Limato will need his ground, but would be another leading contender should he take his chance.

I’ve already got my ticket for the day. I, like many others, was uncertain about the meeting a few years back, but it has won me over. Its proximity to the Arc remains an issue, but Champions Day continues to grow as a spectacle. The list of outstanding entrants gives hope that this year’s meeting will prove the best yet.

Les Bleus Royal Ascot Assault

Anticipation mounts as Royal Ascot looms large on the horizon.

Flat racing’s greatest spectacle is less than a week away, and as ever with the Royal Meeting, talent from far and wide will gather, treating race-fans to a feast of top-class racing.

A challenge from ‘down-under’ has failed to materialise, but nevertheless Wes Ward will launch a strong assault from across the pond, and the battalion sent from France looks to be one of the strongest on record.

Les Bleus landed Royal Ascot glory 12 months ago thanks to a pair of fillies. Andre Fabre’s Usherette proved far too good in the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes, whilst Jean-Claude Rouget’s Qemah benefitted from a disastrous ride by Ryan Moore on Alice Springs, to take the Coronation Stakes.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Rouget will be hoping that his run of success with fillies continues, having landed back to back Coronations, with Qemah following on from Ervedya in 2015. The former looks set to head for the Duke Of Cambridge, won last year by Usherette. She was without doubt one of the best fillies over a mile last summer, and has a great chance of becoming a two-time Royal Ascot winner. John Gosden holds a strong hand, and Usherette may yet be supplemented.

Rouget also has interest in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, with Mekhtaal fancied by many to go well. The French have enjoyed plenty of success in the recent past, with Manduro, Vision D’Etat and Byword, all winners during a dazzling period from 2007 to 2010. Andre Fabre was responsible for two of those victories, and has a leading contender in Cloth Of Stars.

Fabre’s colt clashed with Mekhtaal at Chantilly in April, and edged it in a thriller. He had fitness on his side and the pair look closely matched on all known form. Rouget’s fella needs decent ground, and looks sure to get it. In a hugely competitive renewal, both have a realistic chance at a trip that looks ideal. Jack Hobbs is favourite for the race, though this may prove short of his optimum.

The pair could be joined by another French raider in Al Shaqab owned Heshem. He finished ahead of Ribchester at Meydan, and is also entered in the Queen Anne on the opening day. That’s where I think he’ll go, and I fancy he’ll run a huge race. At around 14s he looks a terrific each-way proposition, and could easily be Ribchester’s main challenger. The longer race looks far more competitive, though should he take that route he could also go close. He’ll look to emulate Solow and Goldikova if he sticks to the mile.

Another from France who has two options, is the talented sprinter Signs Of Blessing. Third to Twilight Son in the Diamond Jubilee 12 months ago, he was mightily impressive on his seasonal return at Deauville, when giving lumps of weight and a beating to the hugely talented Profitable. Francois Rohaut’s six-year-old tends to go ‘hell-for-leather’ from the off, and the King’s Stand should be ideal. I fancy he’ll go very close if lining up in the opening day sprint, though the opposition is high-class, and will include America’s Lady Aurelia.

Fas is another being touted as a lively outsider, as he looks to line up in the Commonwealth Cup. He was impressive in a Group 3 at Chantilly in April, when demolishing subsequent French 1000 Guineas winner Precieuse. This is much tougher, but he looks to have improved plenty from two to three, and could go close.

Finally, though the French have not sent an Ervedya or a Qemah to contest this year’s Coronation Stakes, they could still prove competitive with either Rohaut’s Wajnah, or Pascal Bary’s Senga. The latter was disappointing in the French 1000 Guineas on unsuitably soft ground. Whilst Wajnah finished fourth that day and could run far better than her odds of 33/1 suggests.

It’s another terrific turnout from the French, and they are likely to be rewarded with a winner or two. Their football team taught England a lesson last night, and Les Bleus will again look to run the opposition ragged at Royal Ascot next week.

The Best Jean-Claude Since van Damme?

ASCOT 15-10-2016. The Queen Elizabeth Stakes. MINDING and Ryan Moore wins for trainer Aidan O'Brien from RIBCHESTER. Photo HEALY RACING.

MINDING and Ryan Moore wins for trainer Aidan O'Brien from RIBCHESTER.

What did you know about Jean-Claude Rouget: before Saturday, probably not a lot? Until this year I’m sure not too many were even aware of the 63-year-old Frenchman, especially in Ireland, writes Tony Stafford. Until September 10th and the Curragh end of Irish Champions weekend, according to the usually accurate Racing Post stats, he’d never had a runner in that country before Almanzor and Qemah pitched up.

Forays from his base in Pau, down in the southwest of France, were much more frequent to the US with his best horses and considering he’d been challenging and then passing Andre Fabre in recent years domestically, only sporadically had he ventured across the Channel.

He had his first English runner, Pinson, in 2005. Two years later, was busier, as Rouget collected the Champion Stakes with Literato, beating the Coolmore-owned Eagle Mountain in a photo-finish. That year the Danzig colt US Ranger, carrying the dark blue colours of the Coolmore team in partnership with his breeder Joe Allen of War Front fame, was seventh in Cockney Rebel’s 2000 Guineas and third in the Jersey at Royal Ascot.

Those same Racing Post statistics list 150 or so major wins, quite a few in the US and with many repeats. Yet in the seven seasons between Literato and last year when Ervedya won the Coronation Stakes, only 18 further Rouget runners and six places were recorded. Then, memorably each time at Ascot, France’s top trainer was to repeat earlier triumphs, with Qemah in the Coronation and Almanzor in the re-modelled Champion Stakes, from just five English runs.

I think he’s warming to us a bit though, even if when interviewed he’s still a bit more Yves Montand than Johnny G. He must be, why else would he still be looking at yearlings at Book 3 of last week’s Tattersall’s October Sale?

Then again, having 265 horses listed in Horses in Training for 2016 and having run a healthy proportion, 178 of them in France this year, he is as near in terms of home dominance as Aidan O’Brien has been as a Group 1 trainer all over Europe.

Your first 30 days for just £1

His horses have run in 622 races in France, for 157 wins and win and place money of Euro 6,523,465, bolstered by just over Euro 3million in owners’ premiums for French-breds. In comparison, O’Brien’s raids in France, with just 15 horses and 16 runs have brought two wins, seven places and Euro 5,142,970, with just some chump change (23k) in premiums – not many Galileo’s are French-bred!

Rouget’s day out in Ireland brought the equivalent of £547,059 – Almanzor winning the Irish Champion from Found and Minding, and Qemah was third in the Matron Stakes behind Alice Springs. Almanzor propelled him to £1,071,670, healthy enough, while Found’s second to the Rouget star and Minding’s superb display in the Mile, took their trainer to beyond £8million here.

We can add to that just the 98 O’Brien winners from 495 in his day job in Ireland and win and place earnings of £3,367,689, although with the weakness of the pound, we’d need to add a bit to that.

If Almanzor was the obvious star of the show, Minding’s versatility and class were the bright point of a slightly disappointing day for Ballydoyle, with Order of St George, back at staying trips and Seventh Heaven, in the fillies and mares race, both looking a little sluggish as they tried in vain to overcome modest starts.

In winning a seventh Group 1 race by the age of three, she shares that distinction with the great French filly Miesque, who went on to win three more races at the top level at four years of age in 1988. With records there to be beaten, Minding, whose 2016 winning programme of 1,000 Guineas, Oaks, Pretty Polly, Nassau and Champions Mile might have been even better without the bang she sustained to the head when leaving the stalls for the Irish 1,000, when beaten by Jet Setting – an unplaced 33-1 shot behind her on Saturday.

In the end Ribchester got to within half a length of her with a strong late effort, but there was never any prospect of her forfeiting the lead she took under Ryan Moore at the two furlong pole. Indeed had the race been over six furlongs, Minding would almost certainly have won it. An Oaks winner fast enough to sprint [against milers, Ed.], the mind boggles.

I spent most of Champions Day moaning about the fact that, as predicted here last week, Dutch Law didn’t get into the Balmoral Handicap. He needed two to come out by 1 p.m. on Friday and none did, hardly surprising as all 45 confirmations from the Monday, were declared to run.

Equally unsurprisingly, one did come out after that deadline, Instant Attraction’s defection making it totally annoying for the Saeed bin Suroor stable, their Silent Attack denied a run by a rule that should be changed. Why it is deemed impossible to allow changes until the 45 minute declaration time? The rules of that particular race – worth a handsome £155,000 to the winner – permit three reserves, so why can’t they be just that, on the premises in case of absentees.

It was good to see Jim Crowley and Josephine Gordon receive their well-earned awards for champion jockey and apprentice, but a little bird tells me that gentleman Jim might have a fight on his hands to retain the title, as someone quite close to agent Tony Hind has reportedly had a bit of a punt on Fran Berry for next year. He or she might well be working on charming the super-agent to concentrate on Ralph Beckett’s stable jockey.

It was less sensible that Godolphin, 131 wins and £4,681,091, should get the award for champion Flat owner. Most of the £8 million collected by O’Brien, comes from the Magnier, Tabor, Smith triumvirate, but for the table’s purposes, Smith, Magnier, Tabor is a different owner from Smith, Tabor, Magnier. One Smith part of the team also got into the £4 million plus bracket thanks to Minding and King George winner Highland Reel’s exploits, but then again if they had won it (under different rules) they’d have had to cut the trophy into thirds.

They’ve still got a fast-improving and relatively fresh Alice Springs, so dominant in the Sun Chariot, and Arc runner-up Highland Reel, among a good few more to go to war with at Santa Anita with an extra couple of weeks to recover from recent exploits.

Doncaster on Saturday could offer another obvious chance for such as Capri in the Racing Post Trophy, but I’ll be surprised if Raheen House passes up the attraction of that race after winning nicely at York for Brian Meehan and owner Lew Day.

I doubt if Lew will be there, but just as after the Cambridgeshire and Spark Plug, I’ll be offering my services as trophy collector, should this promising son of Sea the Stars step up. It will be even better if Dutch Law can take the finale as consolation for last week’s Balmoral frustration for Raymond Tooth.

Magnifique Almanzor – Champion Of Champions

French sensation Almanzor turned in another dazzling display, as the Qipco British Champions Day lived up to its lofty billing.

Jean-Claude Rouget had taken the decision to bypass the Arc in favour of the Champion Stakes, after his colt romped to victory at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion. As in Ireland, his main rival was the fabulous filly Found. She had stormed to a sensational victory in the Arc just two weeks earlier, and those exertions may well have left their mark. Once again the two were locked in battle entering the latter stages, but just as a month earlier, it was the French raider that possessed that extra fizz in the final furlong.

Speaking to Channel 4 Racing, Rouget said: "He's a champion, he did the same performance as in Leopardstown. He had the time, five weeks between the two races, which was perfect. He beat Found a little further today because I think she felt the Arc in her legs, just 13 days ago, but still she's a champion, too. With him, Found, Minding - it really is Champions Day.”

With one eye on the future, the trainer added: “I wanted to keep him at this distance, we keep him next year and we'll see if he goes to the Arc then. He'll have a good rest in the winter and we'll see where we go in the spring. He was quite backward at two, he didn't show he was a Group horse but he improved from race to race. He wasn't better today than five weeks ago. He was just doing his job.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Christophe Soumillon spoke in glowing terms of his mount: “He is an amazing horse. Everything you do with him looks easy, it just shows you how good he is. I never thought at the beginning of the season he would be that strong the whole year. He is getting smarter and smarter. A few horses were going left and right in the beginning. I was trying to get a good position but unfortunately I had to go on the inside. When I came on the outside with The Grey Gatsby I knew he was going to give me something.”

He went on: “I came a bit early for him and I knew Found was there and how strong she is, so I was giving him a chance to finish well and the last 100 yards he kept going. We have never tried a mile and a half but I am sure he will stay.”

And though defeated, it was once again an incredible performance from Found. Yet another top two finish in a Group 1 event, and Aidan O'Brien was rightly proud of his wonder-filly when saying: “I'm delighted for her, she only ran in the Arc two weeks ago. She's a great mare and she still kept coming with her head down. Ryan gave her a great ride as she was drawn out wide which is a difficult enough place. She looked great and was well in herself. I'm not sure about the Breeders' Cup, the lads will have to talk about that.”

Though Ballydoyle failed to win the showpiece, they grabbed a huge consolation prize when another sensational filly, Minding, outgunned the colts in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. She had too much speed for her market rival Ribchester, and though the runner-up was staying on again at the finish, he never looked like getting to the winner.

She was landing her seventh Group 1, and Ryan Moore was understandably thrilled with the victory: “I'm really delighted with her today. It was some performance. She's had a hard year and Aidan's just freshened her up. It's some achievement to see off the colts. She was too good for them, too strong. She has lots of pace and masses of talent.”

She’s likely to stay in training, and having shown such great versatility throughout the campaign, O’Brien has to be excited at what may lie ahead.

Earlier in the afternoon The Tin Man had caused something of an upset when scorching to victory in the Champions Sprint. In a race that saw several disappointing performances, Fanshawe’s talented speedster was probably best suited by the sounder surface. A thrilled trainer told Channel 4 Racing: “All year it has been stop-start with him, he had a problem in the spring and I've not been able to get him ready. We didn't have the smoothest run going to (Royal) Ascot, then we had a small problem after that and before his next race we had the coughing.”

The trainer added: “It was a hot race, I walked the course and in the past you've wanted to be drawn high but I was quite happy we were low today. It's great for Tom (Queally), he's been a big help, he was really cool, he rode a beautiful race and it's great for him to ride a Group One winner again. It's great that he's a half-brother to Deacon Blues who won this in 2011.”

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.

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.

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.

Almanzor – A Class Act

Almanzor powered to a stunning success in the Irish Champion Stakes, getting the better of Aidan O’Brien’s wonderful filly Found in a pulsating finish.

This was one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the season. A clash of both ages and of nations, saw high-class colts and fillies from France, the UK and Ireland battle for the prestigious prize.

Ebediyin and Success Days set a ferocious pace, such that dual Derby winner Harzand had to be scrubbed along early to maintain a prominent position. Turning for home the front pair paid for their exertions and were swallowed up by a bunch of classy pursuers.

Highland Reel and then New Bay looked to hold every chance inside the two-furlong mark, but it was Found and Almanzor, challenging widest of all, that swept past the pack to fight out the finish. And it was Jean Claude Rouget’s French Derby winner that had the most potent finishing kick. Found gave her all, but for the fifth time in a row, had to settle for the runners-up spot in a Group 1. Almanzor had just under a length to spare at the line.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Ballydoyle’s Classic winning filly Minding, kept on well on the inner for third, without ever looking likely to trouble the front two. Andre Fabre’s New Bay finished back in fourth.

Rouget is having a season to remember, and said of his impressive winner: “He doesn't look very tired. Christophe told me it was quite an easy race for him.We'll see now if he goes to Ascot or to Chantilly for the Arc. We'll decide after a good night!”

Having given the winner a perfect ride, Christophe Soumillon, the man for the big occasion, said: “He's a great horse. I've won on him a few times and I knew today he was going to run a great race. The pace was strong and he was very relaxed at the back. When I asked him to go he had a strong turn of foot.”

Rouget went on to add: “He's a fantastic horse. I was very relaxed like him in the first part of the race. When I saw him coming on the outside I thought he could challenge for the victory and he did. For me at the beginning we chose this race because I thought he was more a mile-and-a-quarter horse, but with the champions you can do anything.”

Reflecting on the victory yesterday, the French trainer appeared to be favouring Ascot with his classy colt, when saying: “He is getting better and better. Since the Prix du Jockey Club he has climbed the steps. Ten furlongs for me is a good trip. For me the option is the English race, because of the distance and we have two weeks more. If he was mine he would run at Ascot. He could run in the Arc next year."

It helps of course that Rouget has a perfect replacement for the Arc, in his talented filly La Cressonniere. Speaking of his French Oaks winner, he said: “She is fine in Deauville with my other horses and is preparing for the Arc. She is very fresh and in very good shape. She is a great champion. All she does comes easy to her."

Harzand’s Arc challenge looks less certain after Saturday. Not only was he somewhat disappointing in the Irish Champion, but the dual Derby winner also picked up a slight injury during the race. Dermot Weld confirmed that plans are now on hold, when speaking to At The Races yesterday: “I've not had time to review the race yet, but he was badly chopped early on. He's very sore this morning and lame. His right hind leg is badly bruised, and it was a brave performance considering what happened. We will have to see how he is before making any decision on the Arc.”

Found now appears Ballydoyle’s main Arc contender, and her consistency at the highest level would certainly give the team hope of another huge run. One O’Brien filly that could still play a major role in the French showpiece is Yorkshire Oaks winner Seventh Heaven. The yard’s Arc challenge looks somewhat threadbare, with the colts in particular appearing sub-standard this year. O’Brien’s fillies have been more impressive, and she looked mightily progressive at York, beating Found comfortably in the process.

The weekends action may well have focused the minds of many, though plenty of tough decisions are still to be made with regards to season end targets.

A Feast of Fabulous Fillies

Two outstanding fillies landed the major prizes over the weekend.

On Saturday it was Minding who added the Qatar Nassau Stakes to her incredible haul of Group 1s. She’s now won seven of her 10 career starts, with six of those at the highest level. She probably wasn’t at her outstanding best at Goodwood, with a combination of fast ground and a busy schedule resulting in a workmanlike performance, rather than dazzling.

She hit the front two furlongs from home, and fought off a persistent challenge from Queen’s Trust, with just over a length to spare at the line.

Aidan O’Brien appeared more than satisfied when speaking after the win, saying: “I’m delighted with this filly. She's thriving from race-to-race at the moment and is physically very strong. She loves racing and has a super mind. It all comes alike to her - she's very versatile. She's a real professional and conserves herself, doing only what she has to. There are a lot of options open to her and she is ready to go down most roads.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Her jockey Ryan Moore, pointed to the small field as a factor in her performance, saying: “It was always going to be a messy sort of race. I just tried to keep it as simple as I could. She was only doing what she had to do. She is a very special filly.”

The runner-up is probably useful, and would have appreciated the sounder surface, having run a decent race in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot in June on soft ground. Nevertheless, that is five Group 1 races in just three months for Minding, and I fancy she’d appreciate a summer holiday if she is to maintain her exceptional run of success during the latter part of the season.

Yesterday attention turned to France with the prestigious Prix Rothschild taking place at Deauville. In a strong looking renewal, it was Royal Ascot winner Qemah who proved herself an outstanding miler, when storming to victory from fellow French trained filly, Volta. Held up in midfield for much of the race, she was delivered to challenge by Gregory Benoist inside the two-furlong pole. She quickly asserted, and probably had a little more in hand than the winning margin of a length and a quarter suggests.

She was adding her name to an illustrious list of winners in recent times, including Moonlight Cloud and Goldikova. Her trainer Jean-Claude Rouget holds her in high regard. After this impressive victory, he said: “She is really good. We have seen other good fillies here in recent years like Goldikova and Moonlight Cloud and I think that she is up there in that kind of company.”

Rouget added: “Today Qemah confirmed all of her quality. People said she didn't handle a straight track but she was still quite immature in the Poule d'Essai and she benefited a lot from going to Ascot. Today she showed she is the best filly over a mile. A filly like her gives everything and it will definitely be the Matron [Stakes at Leopardstown on September 10] next.”

She’s sure to face a number of O’Brien fillies on that occasion, maybe Minding herself. Alice Springs disappointed yesterday at Deauville, possibly feeling the effects of her Falmouth romp a few weeks earlier. She too could head to the Matron for another crack at the French filly.

Another to disappoint yesterday was the Mark Johnston trained Lumiere. She faded tamely when asked serious questions, and finished second-last of the 10 starters. The run was hard to fathom after such an impressive performance at Newmarket last time. Maybe she needs rattling firm ground, or maybe more time between runs, to be seen at her best. It would come as no surprise if she were dropped back in trip, as she’s undoubtedly doing herself no favours in running with the ‘choke out’.

One filly that wasn’t in action over the weekend, was the undefeated dual Classic winner from France, La Cressonniere. Arguably the best of the bunch, she has a victory over Qemah to her name, though she appears to be heading towards a shot at the Arc later in the year, and maybe there a clash with Ballydoyle’s Minding.

Whatever the plans for the remainder of the campaign, there’s no doubting that we are witnessing the exploits of three exceptional three-year-old fillies.

Fillies Fact Finding Mission

It’s always tricky at this time of year to get an accurate line on form as the first Classics approach. Very few trials are actually run with the 1000 and 2000 Guineas in mind, and for the most part we are left to hope that juvenile form is upheld when Newmarket comes around.

It’s therefore refreshing for us punters that we have already had a number of pointers to the relevant strength of markets for the fillies’ Classics, especially the Guineas.

John Gosden has hit top gear in double quick time, and has already sent out several impressive fillies, two of which won well at Newmarket a week ago. Yesterday however it was the turn of a potential Oaks winner to advertise her talents at Epsom. So Mi Dar beat the boys in the Investec Derby Trial and is now second favourite for the Oaks in June.

The daughter of Gosden’s former classy inmate Dar Re Mi handled both track and conditions to fend-off Richard Hannon’s Humphrey Bogart. Though it’s tough to gauge the strength of the form, there’s no doubting the strength of the pedigree of this three-year-old, along with the dominance of her trainer.

Your first 30 days for just £1

The success followed on from a strong showing in the Craven Meeting at Newmarket. Gosden struck with two talented fillies on day one. Swiss Range is a weak leggy sort, yet was still able to dominate a decent looking maiden, winning by a comfortable five lengths. She’s clearly talented, though the trainer suggested that she would be stepping up in trip rather than heading for a guineas in England or France.

On the same card the Newmarket trainer was successful in the Group 3 Nell Gwyn with Nathra. She travelled smoothly through the race, and found plenty for pressure when necessary. The victory backed up the fine second place finish to Minding in the Dubai Fillies’ Mile at the end of her juvenile campaign. It also strengthened Minding’s place at the head of the market for the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Gosden said after her victory: “This pays a huge compliment to Minding, who in my opinion is the most impressive Fillies’ Mile winner I’ve ever seen.” Nathra may well sidestep another clash with O’Brien’s filly and head to France for the French Guineas.

Should she take that option she may well bump into O’Brien’s other outstanding juvenile from last season; the talented Ballydoyle. She has a win and a loss from two clashes with her highly touted stable companion, and it would come as no surprise if the two were kept apart in the early stages of the season.

It’s interesting that Ballydoyle appears to prefer better ground, while Minding’s best performances have come in more testing conditions. It could just be that the latter is a stronger stayer. Ballydoyle has a win in France to her name whilst both have tasted success at Newmarket.

Whoever lines up at Deauville for the French Guineas could find Jean Claude Rouget’s classy filly Qemah a tough nut to crack. By Danehill Dancer out of a Rainbow Quest mare, she romped home yesterday at Chantilly. She was behind Ballydoyle in the Prix Marcel Boussac back in October, but finished strongly that day. She’s clearly trained on from two to three and looks sure to be a leading contender.

Though John Gosden has laid down a marker with his fillies, there’s no doubting that Aidan O’Brien holds a pair of aces with the Classics in mind. Minding is the one that left the greatest impression with her devastating victory in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket at the end of last season. By Galileo out of the 2010 Coronation Stakes winner Lillie Langtry, she heads the 1000 Guineas and Oaks markets.

Ballydoyle was similarly impressive in winning the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp. She is another Galileo filly out of Butterfly Cove, who was also responsible for Irish Guineas winner Misty For Me. She looked to be outstayed by Minding when defeated in the Moyglare at the Curragh.

The two set the standard but now have to prove that they retain that juvenile ability and have trained on successfully from two to three. We’re likely to find out in the coming weeks.

Aga Khan loses Arc hope Valyra and jockey Murtagh

Valyra and Johnny Murtagh win Pridx de Diane

Johnny Murtagh will no longer ride under contract to the Aga Khan. The decision appears to have been made rather suddenly, and judging from the terse statements issued by both sides, there’s no love lost between them. Read more

Soumillon aims for double joy in Classic weekend

Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon is looking forward to this weekend. He has yet to win an English Classic, but is confident that in Abtaal in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and Mashoora in the 1000 Guineas he has a real chance of doubling up. Read more

Behkabad to Stay in Training

Georges Rimaud, racing manager for the Aga Khan, owner of Behkabad, has announced that the horse will stay in training next season.

Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs

The three year old, who placed fourth in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and third behind Dangerous Midge in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs last weekend, will continue with trainer Jean-Claude Rouget next season.

Rimaud announced on Tuesday from Kentucky, “He stays in training as a four-year-old and came out of his race well. The colt is currently on his way back to France."