Glass Slippers was narrowly denied a second successive win in the Prix de l’Abbaye as Wooded landed the prize on just his second run over five furlongs.
Kevin Ryan’s filly was aiming to become the first since Lochsong to win the Abbaye twice – but a draw in stall 10 made Tom Eaves’ task all the more difficult.
Glass Slippers broke well, though, and Eaves was able to get a prominent position on the outside and looked to have every chance.
But Wooded made full advantage of stall two and Pierre-Charles Boudot got a dream run throughout on the rail.
Entering the final furlong Frankie Dettori appeared to be going as well as anything on John Quinn’s Liberty Beach, but the very testing ground just took its toll close home.
Just as Wooded appeared to have seen off her main contender, Glass Slippers came with one last lunge, determined to hold on to her crown, but she had to admit a brave defeat.
The win capped a great weekend for trainer Francis-Henri Graffard, who won the Prix Daniel Wildenstein with The Revenant on Saturday and went close in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe itself with In Swoop.
He told Sky Sports Racing: “He’s a horse I’ve always loved. We missed Ascot because of the lockdown and Covid. It was difficult to organise it. I was upset because I knew he was going to run very well in the Commonwealth Cup.
“Then I struggled with the trip. There were no races for him over six furlongs over the summer. We decided we needed to race him and toughen him up for next year because we have a nice sprinter on our hands.
“The only question was the ground. He is much better on fast ground. He worked on Monday. Pierre-Charles said he wasn’t the same horse on soft ground. Again we decided to run because I want to toughen him up for next year.
“It’s a brilliant victory – he went on soft today because he’s a very good horse.”
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Jockey Joe Doyle and Make A Challenge have both travelled the long road to Paris in search of Group One glory in the Prix de l’Abbaye on Sunday.
From a family steeped in racing, County Tipperary native Doyle enjoyed success in the pony-riding circuit before graduating to the track to ride his first winner on Inis Meain for Denis Hogan in an apprentice handicap at Leopardstown in July 2012.
After an apprenticeship with Charlie Swan, Doyle followed the well-worn path to Britain and, although it brought success in the form of riding out his claim with over 100 winners, challenges were also presented.
The 24-year-old explained: “It was kind of always the plan for me that when I had my Leaving Cert finished, I would go to England. There’s a lot more racing and it would appear that the lads go over and they do very well.
“I was very fortunate, I had two good bosses (John Quinn and Kevin Ryan) and rode lots of winners. I got a lot of experience out there and it is standing to me now.
“I finished off in England after not a bad season where I think I had 22-odd winners. I found it quite difficult to settle into England and the lifestyle over there. It’s tough to explain, but it’s a different life over there.
“I did light weights the whole way through my claim, but the last season was really tough. I was heavy and I was struggling with my mental health. It all became a bit much, so I decided to come home at the end of 2017 and that’s when I started back working for Denis, just riding out for a year.”
It was a six-month stint after this for breeze-up consignor Niall Brennan in America that helped to reignite the racing spark in Doyle.
He said: “Niall’s originally a Kildare man. I said I would have a go and I went over just riding out – cantering horses, breezing horses and I absolutely loved it. The weight started to fall off me over there because it was so hot (in Florida) and I was riding so many horses out every day.
“Niall has his own private track, so I was working there every day and then when the sales were coming up, he would send me down to Gulfstream and Miami to breeze the horses, which was an amazing experience because you are on the racecourse proper.
“I had to come home when my visa was up. As soon as I landed, I went straight back working for Denis. He asked me to take the licence out and I felt confident – my weight was good and I felt strong from riding 12 or 14 horses out a day in America.”
Hogan teamed Doyle up with Make A Challenge in a seven-furlong handicap at last year’s Galway Festival. The horse was a £6,500 Godolphin-bred cast-off rated 73 with a history of stalls issues and one previous victory for Hogan, but the pair held on by a nose and the improvement since has been nothing short of extraordinary.
“It was magic really. I never thought I would ride a Galway Festival winner after I left for England and obviously the journey that has gone on since,” said Doyle.
It has certainly been an odyssey for the five-year-old son of Invincible Spirit, who has rocketed up the ratings to a mark of 111 after eight more victories, including five at Listed level.
Doyle, who has won eight times on the horse who has rejuvenated his career, travels to Paris for a date with destiny with last year’s Abbaye heroine Glass Slippers.
Make A Challenge’s price is contracting as all-conquering sprint-king Battaash has been scratched from the field due to attritional ground in the forecast for ParisLongchamp.
Doyle, seeking his first Group One, said: “By the sound of things, it is going to be plenty testing. Our lad would love it to be up to his knees – he’s absolutely exceptional on very soft ground. I don’t think I would swap my lad for anything else in the race if it turns up to be very testing.
“I think he has come on from the last day – perhaps he was getting it a little easy at Listed level and I think the last day (when fifth in a Group One at the Curragh behind Glass Slippers) just sharpened him up. He’s going to have to be sharp – take nothing for granted, it is a massive task in front of him.
“The horse is in savage order and, if things go right for us, he could run an absolutely massive race. We knew he was a good horse, but heading for Group One sprints is unbelievable. Credit to Denis and the lads in the yard as the horse has come a long way.
“I think part of the whole thing is that he could have been anyone’s horse really. He was handy money and we are so fortunate to have a horse that good. It’s only really the start – we are only getting to know how good he is.
“I was there two years ago in the stands when Enable won her second Arc, so it will be nice to be in the weighing room this time.”
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Battaash has been ruled out of Sunday’s Prix de l’Abbaye due to concerns over the testing ground at ParisLongchamp.
The six-year-old is unbeaten in three starts this term for Charlie Hills, having bagged the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot, the King George Stakes at Goodwood and the Nunthorpe at York on his most recent outing in August.
He had been due to have a fourth crack at the Abbaye this weekend, having won the race in 2017 and finished fourth in 2018 before coming home a disappointing 14th on very soft ground last year.
The prospect of similar conditions this year following a wet week in Paris has forced connections into a rethink.
Hills said: “They have had 13 millimetres of rain overnight, added to the rest earlier in the week.
“I think it was 4.1 on the penetrometer last year and it’s probably going to be the same, if not worse than that, this year, so we won’t be running.”
When asked if Battaash could now head to next month’s Breeders’ Cup meeting, Hills replied: “We’ll have to see how he is.
“There’s one obvious race for him in America, but we’ll just have to see.”
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Battaash remains on course to try to regain his Prix de l’Abbaye crown against 13 potential rivals, including last year’s winner Glass Slippers.
Charlie Hills’ brilliant sprinter is also joined in the possible field for Sunday’s five-furlong Group One at ParisLongchamp by five further British challengers.
As well as Glass Slippers, who prevailed on soft ground 12 months ago when Battaash fell untypically short back in 14th of 16, Hills’ star may this time also come up against Denis Hogan’s Irish hope Make A Challenge.
The five-year-old was unable to contain Flying Five Stakes winner Glass Slippers when only fifth at the Curragh this month, but previously won four of six starts up to Group Two level this summer.
Among the home challenge in the Abbaye, after Wednesday’s forfeits but in advance of a supplementary stage which pertains for all Sunday’s Group Ones, bar the showpiece Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, is the sole two-year-old still in the reckoning, Jane Soubagne’s filly Livachope.
Air De Valse (Corine Barande-Barbe) and Wooded (Francis Graffard), first and second over course and distance this month, also fly the French flag.
The British contingent is completed by Liberty Beach and Flying Five runner-up Keep Busy, both from John Quinn’s North Yorkshire yard, James Fanshawe’s Archer’s Dream, Robert Cowell’s Rocket Action and James Bethell’s Moss Gill.
Four further Group Ones on the stellar card see Ireland remain very well-represented in the Prix de l’Opera, including the first three from the French Oaks.
Donnacha O’Brien’s Fancy Blue won by a short neck in a blanket finish at Chantilly in July, from Jessica Harrington’s Alpine Star and his father Aidan’s Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Peaceful.
Completing a possible Irish quintet over 10 furlongs is another three-year-old, O’Brien senior’s Laburnum, and Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa – following her surprise success in the Prix Vermeille.
There are three British challengers, in the shape of John Gosden’s Terebellum, Fanshawe’s long-priced Deauville Group One winner Audarya and Ralph Beckett’s long-absent Feliciana De Vega.
Leading the home contenders is Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum and Jean-Claude Rouget’s unbeaten three-year-old Group One winner Tawkeel.
In the Prix de la Foret, over seven furlongs, William Haggas’ One Master currently has 14 potential rivals as she seeks a third successive victory in the race.
Three fellow British contenders could stand in her way – Quinn’s Safe Voyage, who beat One Master at York last month, and Supreme Stakes one-two, Andrew Balding’s Happy Power and Richard Fahey’s Toro Strike.
Lancaster House and Lope Y Fernandez may travel for O’Brien, while his son Joseph has Speak In Colours.
Andre Fabre’s three-year-olds Earthlight and Tropbeau are principal French hopes.
Clive Cox’s Nando Parrado is one of nine juveniles left in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.
The shock Coventry Stakes winner, runner-up in the Prix Morny since, may face fellow British hopes Megallan, for Gosden, and Mick Channon’s Cairn Gorm.
St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley could represent O’Brien, while Ken Condon’s Laws Of Indices is another possible from Ireland.
The three-strong home team comprises Xaario, Sealiway and Selket.
There are still 19 two-year-old fillies in the Prix Marcel Boussac – including Fahey’s Deauville Group Two winner Fev Rover as one of four possible British runners.
The others are Mark Johnston’s Dubai Fountain, the Hills-trained Prado and Lilac Road, from Haggas’ Newmarket yard.
Group Three winners Divinely and Mother Earth may represent O’Brien, whose son Joseph still has Moyglare Stud Stakes runner-up Pretty Gorgeous in the reckoning. Condon’s Thunder Beauty may also travel from Ireland.
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Battaash remains an intended runner in the Prix de l’Abbaye as things stand, despite the prospect of very soft ground at ParisLongchamp.
Charlie Hills’ stable star could finish only 14th behind Glass Slippers in the race 12 months ago, in a defeat many put down to the soft ground.
The six-year-old gelding has been imperious this season, winning at Royal Ascot for the first time in the King’s Stand, collecting a fourth King George Stakes at Goodwood and claiming a second Nunthorpe at York.
His only success on ground described officially as soft came in 2017 – when the Prix de l’Abbaye was run at Chantilly during Longchamp’s redevelopment.
“We haven’t got as far as saying he is 100 per cent a definite runner, but from what I’ve been told it’s going to be very soft,” said Angus Gold, owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s racing manager.
“Who is that going to suit? I don’t know. At the moment he runs, but if it turns into an absolute quagmire I can’t tell you – but at the moment he runs.
“Everyone has their own theories about it. I don’t personally think it was the ground that beat him last year, he was just never at the races so I wouldn’t say that.
“We know he handles easy ground, it was soft when he won the Abbaye. If it was to get really bad – I can’t tell you.”
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