Tag Archive for: Prix Maurice de Gheest

Monday Musings: Of Silly Season, Jerome, Maurice and Mariana

For the first half of my working time in Fleet Street, life was still very much as it had always been in the early years after World War 2, writes Tony Stafford. Initially the BBC was the only Channel either side of the hostilities but then, in 1955, ITV brought in the first commercial opposition and nine years later BBC2 came on stream.

The dailies had combined sales well into eight figures at the start of the 1960’s and I remember there were THREE London evening newspapers. Every Saturday the paper man came round with the “Classified” edition where the football results magically appeared in the “fudge” – stop press -minutes after the matches finished. Every paper boy on the street corners in Central London called “Star, News and Standard”, always in that order until the Star disappeared in 1960, as we and our dads queued to find out what had happened to our team.

New (as we knew it anyway) technology was anathema to the print unions in those days and the internet and social media were half a lifetime away.

As I said, newspapers were the principal provider of news: households without television exceeded those homes with the big piece of furniture and its tiny screen of hazy black and white (grey really) pictures in the corner of the living room.

In those days, when we got to August everything shut down as politicians, journalists, schools and many big industrial factories went on holiday. Back in Fleet Street for those left behind, and then later when the two ‘new’ channels were well established, we had what was universally known as the “Silly Season”.

Suddenly editors were looking for quirky stories of the famed “man bites dog” variety. Reporters were dispatched around the country for the oddest and unlikeliest events which from September on wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

In many ways British horseracing has been mired in a similar tradition perhaps more firmly than its other major competing nations in Europe. The silly season has not really been possible yet this year with the pandemic still extending its grip and the Olympic Games 2020 going on for the past fortnight in Covid-strangled Tokyo. But there’s still time!

Between Goodwood (concluded on July 31 this year) and the end of August only the four days of York interrupt the ordinary sausage-machine offerings, weekends of valuable handicaps apart. One welcome innovation this year has been the William Hill Racing League where a dozen teams of four trainers, each calling on a squad of 30 potential runners and with three jockeys attached to each team, compete in six races on six consecutive Thursday evenings. Two have been contested so far.

With £50,000 available from each race, the idea seems to owe much to the successful 22 years of the Shergar Cup, the latest edition of which at Ascot on Saturday was won by the women’s team headed up by Hayley Turner and starring Nicola Currie and French sensation, Mickaelle Michel.

Any boost to prize money is welcome though an initial look at the type of trainer capable of compiling a team of 30 is obviously one for the already-haves rather than wishful-thinking have-nots.

But say a Newmarket trainer has an 80-rated horse that might be running for a £5k or so first prize in the normal run of things, it can be in line for a £25,000 first prize in the Racing League. Thirty-six handsome prizes among the thousands of embarrassingly unrewarding ones only fix one leak while water continues to escape from the rest.

Just three highlights at York – the Juddmonte, Yorkshire Oaks and Nunthorpe – carry Group 1 status, but that still exceeds Ireland’s single Group 1 in the month, the Phoenix Stakes, staged yesterday at The Curragh.

There were two more Group 1 races across Europe yesterday, the Grosser Preis von Berlin over a mile and a half at Hoppegarten and Deauville’s Prix Maurice De Gheest over six and a half furlongs. That was the first of four races at that level during Deauville’s holiday season, but throughout the month the programmes are of a higher quality than anything we have here as Chantilly goes to the seaside.

There is a received understanding that good sprinters in France scarcely exist, its proponents pointing to the UK domination of the Prix de l’Abbaye on Arc Day each year. Only four French-trained horses have won the five-furlong dash in this century, namely Imperial Beauty (2001), Marchant D’Or (2008), Whizz Kid (2012) and Wooded last year.

When the three home-trained sprinters/seven-furlong horses lined up for the Maurice De Gheest yesterday, they were respectively on offer at 9-1, 92-1 and 69-1 in face of potentially strong opposition not just from the UK and Ireland but also the Wesley Ward-trained Golden Jubilee promoted winner, Campanelle.

That filly ran an awful race, finishing last, while Starman, winner of the July Cup at Newmarket last month and the 9-5 joint favourite with the Ward filly, ran third, to two of the home team. Well behind was an assortment of Group 1 and 2 winners and the recent Wokingham hero, Rohaan.

But at the head of the race, a relatively unheralded horse that had won each of his previous six races this year stormed away from the field to win comfortably. Marianafoot, a six-year-old entire, owned by his breeder M Jean-Claude Seroul, was making it eight wins in a row since mid-December and was providing another reminder of the talent of his 35-year-old trainer, Jerome Reynier, who is based in Marseille.

Reynier has been training in his own right for eight years and in 2020 climbed into the top ten trainers’ list in France for the first time, owing much to the exploits of another six-year-old, Skalleti, also owned by M. Seroul.

He had a Deauville win over an under-ripe Sottsass, subsequently winner of the Arc, and this year has won four in succession including two Group 1 races at home and in Germany.

Reynier is a self-confessed racing nut who recalls that, aged 14, he used to make little contribution in his classroom as he was usually busy studying bloodstock sales catalogues. Little wonder that he was a winner of a Godolphin Flying Start award in 2008. A period as a bloodstock agent buying for his father, also a racing fanatic, preceded his taking the plunge eight years ago.

The €300,000-plus first prize (including owner’s premium} strengthens his place in fifth in this year’s trainers’ table and he is in rarefied company.

Leading the charge in his customary private battle with Jean-Claude Rouget is Andre Fabre with 78 wins worth €3.9m from 130 horses. Rouget has 97 wins from 131 horses and trails Fabre by close to €300k in prizes. Fabre provided yesterday’s runner-up, the filly Tropbeau, who, unbelievably given her connections and her fourth in last year’s French 1,000 Guineas, was the 92-1 chance mentioned earlier.

The Maurice De Gheest was the twelfth Group 1 race to be contested in France in 2021 and Aidan O’Brien has won five of them from 11 horses. That is enough to put him just behind third-placed Frank Rossi who has needed 135 horses and 68 winners to keep his nose in front of the Ballydoyle maestro, now fine-tuning his York team which will include St Mark’s Basilica and Snowfall. Jerome Reynier, still in his mid-30’s, is a very solid fifth and destined to go higher with the top two no doubt feeling the long-term draft from behind.

The Brits played a minor role in France but two big wins for Newmarket stables in Germany and Ireland proved that if the races aren’t to be found at home, “have horsebox, will travel” is still the mantra.

Sir Mark Prescott sent two of Kirsten Rausing’s home-bred fillies to Hoppegarten, a track bought in 2008 by an old acquaintance of mine Gerhard Schoeningh. He was based in England around the turn of the century and, after asking me whether I could introduce him to Sir Henry Cecil, had some nice winners with him.

Hoppegarten, in what was the old East Berlin, is the only privately-owned racecourse in Germany and has been brought back to its former prominence by Gerhard. The big race, the Grosser Preis, went to Prescott’s smart four-year-old Alpinista and Luke Morris who had Godolphin’s Walton Street back in third. Additionally, Prescott’s Alerta Roja finished second in a Listed race on the card.

One of the enduring mysteries of the international breeding business is just how Tony O’Callaghan’s Tally Ho Stud can continue to produce stallions that immediately out-perform what might reasonably be expected.

We all know about Kodiac, now at €65k a pop after producing a string of high-class performers over the past decade, but how about Mehmas? Available at €7,500 last year having entered the stud at €12,500 but, after his first crop ran away with the first-season sire title, he was upped to €25k for this year.

Tally Ho has two interesting first crop sires this year, and both were available at a covering fee of €5k. Cotai Glory is far and away the leader in his division with 18 individual winners. Heading his list is the brilliantly-fast Atomic Glory, already twice successful with ease in a Group 3 and then Group 2 in France for Kevin Ryan. Atomic Glory looks an obvious favourite for the Prix Morny (G1) later this month at Deauville.

Tally Ho’s other €5k bargain is Galileo Gold, Hugo Palmer’s 2000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes hero. Palmer acquired his son, now called Ebro River, for Galileo Gold’s owners Al Shaqab for 75,000gns out of Tattersall’s Book 2 last October. Yesterday the owners collected almost double that when Ebro River landed the aforementioned Group 1 Phoenix Stakes as a 12-1 shot having looked short of top-class in recent runs at the major summer meetings.

Both stallions will assuredly be moving up into the Mehmas bracket for the next covering season and with sons Roger and Harry nowadays adding youthful energy as well as brilliant talent-spotting to the legendary skills of Tony and his wife Anne, John Magnier’s sister, Tally-Ho will be on top for many years to come. They repeatedly find new stallions that suit the sort of owners and breeders who like two-year-old winners! Who doesn’t?

- TS

Marianafoot foils Starman and company in Maurice de Gheest

Marianafoot extended his winning streak when taking the Group One Larc Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville.

The Jerome Reynier-trained six-year-old cut through a top-class field of 12 to take the six-and-a-half-furlong contest at 11-1 under Mickael Barzalona.

Tropbeau, a 150-1 chance, was second, with Ed Walker’s July Cup hero Starman (15-8 favourite) finishing third on the very soft going.

Successful in 2017 and runner-up in 2019, the Kevin Ryan-trained veteran Brando again showed his liking for the race with a gallant fourth.

Reynier said: “I’m so happy, we’ve been aiming for this race for a few months. We were planning many different things beforehand, we tried him over a straight course back in April at Chantilly, but that was just a Listed race and it was a pretty weak race compared to this Group One level.

“In between he has won two Group Threes and this is above expectations, we are delighted with the horse as he just seems better than ever – a bit like Skalleti.

“We were very sad not to be able to race him last year because of his injury in Qatar, but now he’s come back as a six-year-old better than ever. We’re just so happy and we don’t know where he’s going to stop, it’s an amazing story.”

Marianafoot’s run now stretches to eight consecutive victories, and more big days could be ahead.

Reynier said: “He’s entered in the Prix Jacques le Marois in seven days’ time, but we are going to see how he copes with this race.

“We are aiming for the Prix de la Foret on Arc weekend and then maybe the Breeders’ Cup at the end of the year.”

Starman’s owner David Ward pointed to underfoot conditions being against Starman, whose Newmarket victory had come on good to firm ground.

He said: “Starman was beaten by the ground. We will have to travel outside Europe at some point to find ground that suits him.

“He still ran well, despite the conditions not being to his liking. The jockey confirmed our impression. On good ground, he’s a different horse.”

Wesley Ward’s Campanelle lost all chance at the start, having fly-leaped as the stalls opened and almost knocking Frankie Dettori out of the saddle.

Starman primed for Maurice de Gheest challenge

Ed Walker believes July Cup hero Starman could be better than ever ahead of his bid for further Group One honours in France on Sunday.

The Dutch Art colt looked a top-class sprinter in the making after winning his first three career starts last season – and while he floundered in soft ground on Champions Day at Ascot, he made an impressive return in the Duke of York Stakes in May.

Testing conditions at the Royal meeting led to his withdrawal from the Diamond Jubilee, but he proved his Group One quality with a brilliant display on the July Course, and Walker could not have been happier with his stable star ahead of the Prix Maurice de Gheest.

He said: “I can’t wait, to be honest with you. I just wish it was scorching hot over there, but there’s always something to worry about.

“He’s in cracking form and we’re super excited, so fingers crossed.

“Everything has gone very well since the the July Cup. (Judged) on his last piece of work, I think he’s improving, dare I say it.

“He’s in flying form.”

The biggest threat to Starman could be Wesley Ward’s Campanelle.

Campanelle winning the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot
Campanelle winning the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot (Megan Ridgwell/PA)

The American challenger won the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and the Prix Morny at Deauville last summer – and returns to France off the back of doubling her Ascot tally in the Commonwealth Cup.

“She’s there and in good shape and Frankie (Dettori) is riding, so there are no worries,” said Ward.

“I think there are a lot of showers around and that is going to suit Campanelle just fine.

“We’re excited.”

Rohaan is enjoying a fantastic season for trainer David Evans, with victory in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot his fourth of the campaign.

He disappointed behind Starman in the July Cup, but Evans is anticipating a much-improved performance in France.

He said: “He’s in good order and I’d just write off his run in the July Cup, to be honest. He’s better than that.

“Everything was against him – he was probably on the wrong side, we probably made too much use of him, the ground was a bit quick and I don’t think he likes that track.

“I the trip, the track and the ground will suit him much better this weekend.

“It makes a change to be involved these races – it’s a lot easier training a good one than a bad one!”

Ralph Beckett’s Lennox Stakes winner Kinross, the Archie Watson-trained Glen Shiel and Kevin Ryan’s veteran sprinter Brando add further weight to the British challenge.

Irish hopes are carried by Aidan O’Brien’s Lope Y Fernandez, Ken Condon’s Laws Of Indices and Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon.

The latter pair were split by just a head when first and second in the Prix Jean Prat at Deauville four weeks ago.

Condon said: “Everything has been good since the Prix Jean Prat. It’s good he’s had a nice break and he’s been training nicely, so we’re looking forward to heading back over with him.

Ken Condon with Law Of Indices
Ken Condon with Law Of Indices (PA/INPHO)

“I think the ground might be a bit drier than the last time, but he’s versatile ground-wise.

“It’s a very good race, as you would expect for a prestigious Group One.

“We’re happy to having Olivier Peslier riding our horse again and we hope he runs well.”

Of Thunder Moon, O’Brien told Betfair: “We were thrilled to see Thunder Moon get back on track in the Prix Jean Prat at Deauville last time, as his first two runs of the season had been very disappointing.

Joseph O'Brien has high hopes for Thunder Moon
Joseph O’Brien has high hopes for Thunder Moon (PA)

“The drop in trip seemed to help him and he was only just touched off by Laws Of Indices. This even shorter trip should be fine for him and the less testing ground will definitely be in his favour, as we considered taking him out of the Prix Jean Prat on account of the softening ground.

“The better the ground, the better his chance.

The home team includes Marianafoot, who steps up to the top level for the first time following a remarkable winning sequence.

Trainer Jerome Reynier said: “He has won seven in a row and was tried over a straight course back in April at Chantilly and handled it well.

“Six and a half furlongs is a bit of a long trip for the sprinters, but he has won over seven and I think he’s got a good chance.

“This is the logical next step and we’re looking forward to it. It’s a pretty good race and it will be good to try him against this sort of opposition.

“If we can step up onto the podium, we will be delighted.”

Glen Shiel ‘bang on course’ for Maurice de Gheest

Glen Shiel is heading to Deauville next for a crack at the Prix Maurice de Gheest.

Archie Watson’s durable seven-year-old proved he does not need the mud to help him mix it with the best when he was beaten only a little over two lengths by Starman in a fast-ground July Cup.

History would suggest the ground will be softer at Deauville for the Group One on August 8 – but even if the sun shines, Glen Shiel’s connections will head to France full of hope.

“It was a terrific run – we were over the moon,” said Simon Turner, of owner Hambleton Racing Syndicate, on the sixth-placed finish at Newmarket.

“Archie was always confident he’d be effective on quicker ground, and he was proven to be spot on.

“It was a super run – and while we felt he loves soft ground, being marooned on his own probably wasn’t totally ideal, (so) in a race of fine margins he could maybe have been a fraction closer.

“He’s bang on course for the Maurice de Gheest now, and we’re looking forward to running him there and excited about his targets later in the year.

“Six and a half furlongs should be ideal, because he’s such a strong-staying sprinter. It should suit him really well, and hopefully we can go there with confidence whatever the ground is.”

Monday Musings: Charlie Gives Maurice the Blues

Until York next week, there isn’t very much of great moment happening on the racecourses of the United Kingdom, but Sunday in France and Ireland was highly interesting and informative, writes Tony Stafford.

Every year the Prix Maurice De Gheest offers a fascinating mid-season barometer of the relative merits of the classic and older generations. At the same time its 1300-metre (6.5 furlong) straight trip brings together pure sprinters and horses that stay further. Often it’s the latter grouping that comes out on top and so it proved yesterday when the four-year-old Space Blues got the better of a field chock-full of Group 1 performers.

Space Blues is trained by Charlie Appleby who sent the four-year-old over 12 months earlier to finish a staying-on third behind the Martyn Meade-trained Advertise.

Appleby showed great enterprise in bringing him back for this repeat attempt, barely a week after a smart win at Goodwood. The field was headed, form- and betting-wise, by the Andre Fabre-trained but also Godolphin-owned Earthlight, unbeaten in six starts and twice a Group 1 winner in a five-race unblemished 2019 juvenile campaign.

Earthlight had every chance throughout and was moved into contention by Mickael Barzalona in the middle of the track, while Space Blues seemed to be struggling after making a sluggish start close to the stands rails.

But then William Buick could be seen to be manoeuvring him into a challenging position and once he secured a gap inside the last furlong, he breezed through and comfortably held Hello Youmzain and Lope Y Fernandez with the favourite only fourth.

Space Blues began life by winning a late-season Nottingham juvenile maiden over a mile and started out last year over 10 furlongs at Newbury, finishing fourth. Dropped in trip he won two seven-furlong races, a York handicap and Epsom Listed before that initial trip to Deauville.

This year – following a single run in Dubai in the winter - he has moved quickly though the grades, collecting a Haydock Listed; a Longchamp Group 3, and then up one more level for the Lennox Stakes (Group 2) at Goodwood where his turn of foot quickly settled that argument.

His ability to quicken characterised yesterday’s display and I have no doubt that for the rest of the season he will be hard to beat at the highest level at anywhere between six and eight furlongs. Considering his pedigree, it was understandable that initially middle-distance racing was at the forefront of Charlie Appleby’s plans.

The son of Dubawi was bred to Miss Lucifer, a triple winner for Barry Hills, and a daughter of Noverre. Noverre was trained for his first seven races by David Loder, all as a two-year-old when Loder had just re-located to train at the recently de-commissioned Evry racecourse near Paris. Noverre had already won twice before retaining his unbeaten record when coming over to Newmarket for the July Stakes.

In all, his form figures with Loder in Europe were 111212, but the decision to send him to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the end of that year proved unsuccessful, Noverre finishing nowhere: 11th of 14. Sent to be trained at three by Saeed Bin Suroor, he was to win only once more from 14 starts, but that one was pretty good, the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood!

Space Blues enlivened events at Deauville barely half an hour before another exceptional performance, this time by the Jessica Harrington-trained filly Lucky Vega in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh.

This six-furlong race attracted most of the best of the Irish juveniles to have raced so far as well as The Lir Jet, Michael Bell’s Royal Ascot winner. Steel Bull, so impressive when winning the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood was also in the very strong line-up.

Lucky Vega had been caught late on in a recent run at The Curragh by the big outsider Laws Of Indices, but here she had that rival well in arrears as she strode to a near four-length margin in a style that suggests the Matron Stakes must be on her agenda, as well as all the top fillies’ races elsewhere in Europe.

- TS