Arc Clues Abound as Nations Collide

A thrilling weekend lies ahead with cracking meetings at Doncaster, Leopardstown and Chantilly providing a glut of top-class action.

Highlights include the St Leger, the Irish Champion Stakes, the Matron Stakes, an Irish St Leger, the Prix Vermeille, Prix Niel and Prix Foy. Not only are these sensational events in their own right, but the impact of such races will be felt in betting markets down the line, especially that of the Arc, with many leading contenders set to test their credentials for the French showpiece.

Idaho is all the rage for the St Leger at Doncaster. And if an impressive winner, as many expect, it would come as no surprise to see him taking his chance at Chantilly in October. Three of Aidan O’Brien’s four Leger winners went on to have a crack at the Arc, though Milan’s fifth place finish proved to be the best performance.

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There had been much debate over where dual Derby winner Harzand would end up this weekend, with options at Leopardstown and Chantilly. However, Dermot Weld finally decided to send his Derby hero to compete in the Irish Champion Stakes, where he’ll meet, among others, his stablemate Fascinating Rock. The likelihood of rain seemingly sealed the deal, with Weld needing ‘safe’ ground for his mighty colt.

The 10-furlong trip is an interesting sub-plot for this undoubted powerful stayer, and whether he has the ‘toe’ to cope with speedy types that may include the Guineas Heroine Minding, and French Derby winner Almanzor, remains to be seen. Indeed, any number of the field possess the ability to win on Saturday, and enhance their credentials as a serious Arc contender. Both Sea The Stars and Golden Horn took this race prior to their successful October French raids.

Over in France the Prix Niel is likely to see the return to the track of Sir Michael Stoute’s Midterm. The one-time Derby favourite sustained an injury when running disappointingly in the Dante Stakes earlier in the season. Owner Khalid Abdullah's racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe speaking earlier in the week said: “Midterm has been going nicely at home and has various options in the coming weeks. As it stands, his primary one at the moment looks like being the Prix Niel on Sunday. Because he is running in an Arc trial does not mean we are thinking of running him in the Arc itself, but on the other hand we're not saying he can't either.”

Midterm is one of a number of fascinating contenders for the Prix Niel, with Japanese Derby winner Makahiki set to test himself in Europe for the first time. The Japanese love a crack at the Arc, and have come famously close to lifting France’s most famous race. Yet another son of Deep Impact, this fella will look to impress, whilst obtaining valuable track experience.

Zarak runs for the home team, and will provide a decent form-line having twice chased home Almanzor this summer, including when a close second in the Prix du Jockey Club. A strong performance here is likely to seal the colt’s place in the Arc, with the Aga Khan already holding a powerful hand, thanks to Harzand. Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre, last won the Arc with Zarak’s mother Zarkava, and this lightly raced colt may well improve further for this step up in trip.

With French, Irish and Japanese challengers coming together in various events, this will be not only a thrilling weekend of racing, but a hugely informative one.

Class Shines Through at Newcastle & Curragh

It proved to be a ‘Blue Day’ at Newcastle on Saturday, with Godolphin landing the John Smith’s Northumberland Plate thanks to a scorching finish from the Charlie Appleby trained Antiquarium.

Connections are going through a purple patch at present, though few would have given Appleby’s four-year-old much hope at the furlong pole with Brian Ellison’s Seamour seemingly streaking clear. Local trainer Ellison, born in Newcastle, must have thought his dreams were coming true, but just as victory seemed assured, James McDonald found daylight on Antiquarium and the gelding quickened in the style of a class act.

Travelling in midfield throughout the contest, the winner hit traffic problems two furlongs from home, and for a moment looked unwilling to go for a gap. Nevertheless, when he finally hit top gear, the response was devastating. By the time he hit the line he had actually won with a fair amount in hand. Appleby's assistant trainer James Ferguson said: “James has given him a fantastic ride. There was a moment of worry halfway up the straight, but with the benefit of hindsight we can say we weren't panicking. There's a £100,000 race for him at Goodwood, so we'll look at that. He'll be as effective back on turf.”

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Appleby analysed the performance on the Godolphin website, saying: “Antiquarium ticked a lot of boxes today, and we were hopeful of his chances. James McDonald has given the horse a fantastic ride. He is a world-class jockey, who has won big races all over the world, and I am delighted that he has ridden a winner for Godolphin in such an historic race. This was the race we had targeted and I think that he will be able to translate this level of form back to turf. The fact that he has now won over this distance also opens up a few options.”

He looks a young stayer with a bright future, and Godolphin have certainly had their fair share over the years. A step up in class is likely with the likes of the Goodwood Cup and the Doncaster Cup later in the season both realistic options.

Ellison was understandably gutted to have come off second best, in a race he would dearly love to win. “Seamour was going too well,” said a despondent looking trainer. “He looked the winner a furlong out. He is a good horse and it's a shame he got caught. At least he has run his race and there is a good race in him.”

Just an hour after the Newcastle showpiece, the Epsom Derby winner Harzand attempted to land his second Derby at the Curragh. And the Epsom form was duly confirmed, when after a terrific tussle Dermot Weld’s colt fought off Aidan O’Brien’s Idaho to win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. The winning distance was just half a length at the line, though the winner always looked likely to hold off the persistent challenge laid down by Ballydoyle’s colt.

After the famous win, Weld said: “A lot of people thought Harzand didn't have speed but he showed today that he had. He's a proper horse and the first two picked up and really quickened. Pat [Smullen] gave him a great ride. It's been a very special day. The horse will have a good break now and will be aimed at the Arc.”

He looks to have all the attributes required for a serious crack at the French showpiece. He travels well through a race; quickens off a strong gallop and has shown that he loves a battle. He has also proved that he can handle any ground conditions. The Aga Khan last won the Arc back in 2008, thanks to wonder-filly Zarkava.

If Harzand was proving himself King Of The Colts, then 24 hours later we were treated to another sparkling display by this summer’s Queen. Minding has been outstanding this term and again looked peerless when romping home in the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes. It’s fair to say that the opposition failed to capture the imagination, but the filly could do no more than win emphatically, and this she most certainly did. The 1m2f trip looked ideal and many will be hoping to see her in the Nassau at Goodwood before a possible shot at the colts in the Juddmonte International at York in August. She’s a class act.

French 2000 Guineas: Zarak to Pounce in the Poulains

On Sunday, the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) is run for the first time in its long history at the Hippodrome de La Touques in the chic town of Deauville on the Normandy coast, writes Nigel Howard. This illustrious race was first run in 1883 and has been won by the likes of Blushing Groom, Riverman, Daylami and Kingmambo.

The last eight runnings have seen the home team victorious with the last overseas winner being Astronomer Royal trained by Aiden O’Brian in 2007. The last winner for ‘les Anglais’ was current super sire Sharmadal in 2005 for Godolphin. He went on to complete the French classic double when lifting the Prix du Jockey Club, the first year that the race was dropped in distance to one mile two furlongs.

A field of thirteen line up for this Group 1 contest which will be run over the straight mile course, the same strip of turf that hosts the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois in August.

Heading up the home team is ZARAK, who carries the famous green silks of the Aga Khan and is trained by Alain de Royer-Dupré. If the race was to be decided on breeding alone, this bay colt would surely win hands down being by Dubawi out of Arc winner Zarkava. He is the first of her offspring to make it to the track and he has a perfect record so far having won both his starts, the first of which was when winning his maiden as a two-year-old at this course back in October

On his seasonal reappearance over the straight mile at Maison-Laffitte in April, he showed a really good attitude, quickening up well under big race jockey Christophe Soumillon to take the lead and then holding the late challenge from GEORGE PATTON in the final furlong.

That form looks rock solid as GEORGE PATTON, who re-opposes on Sunday, had previously beaten subsequent Group 1 winner Robin of Navan at this course as a two-year old. Trainer Jean Claude Rouget’s son of War Front looked green as he put his head in the air when asked for his initial effort but then found plenty to push ZARAK all the way to the line. The experience is sure to help him and he looks a leading player on Sunday.

Rouget boasts a strong hand this year as the Pau-based handler fields two other smart colts in the form of ZELZAL and TAAREEF. The former, owned by Al Shaqab Racing, opened his account on the all-weather track at Deauville in March beating the same owners’ Qassem by an effortless six lengths. The son of Sea The Stars then went to Chantilly where, again on the sand, he quickened impressively under big race partner, and the owners’ retained rider, Gregory Benoit, to win by an easy four lengths.

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ZELZAL’s form at first glance looks difficult to assess but interestingly, on a line through Qassem, we find that that horse was three lengths adrift of Qatar Dream in a race at Lyon-Parilly last year and Qatar Dream was in turn one and a half lengths behind ZARAK when he won his maiden as a two-year-old.  Although It might be unwise to rely too heavily on this form line, especially when comparing two very unexposed animals, it does put ZELZAL slightly ahead of ZARAK. However, the fact that ZELZAL has yet to run on turf would not be in his favour and adds to the list of unknowns regarding this horse. The bookies are finding it difficult to separate the two and they are both trading at around 4/1.

The Prix de Fontainebleau at Chantilly in April saw the return of Rouget’s other representative TAAREEF who would also have solid claims based on his good second behind DICTON in that Group 3 contest over a mile. The form was given a timely boost on Tuesday when the third placed horse, Almanzor, also trained by Rouget, romped home in a Group 3 at Chantilly over 1m2f. He now heads to the Prix du Jockey Club in June. TAAREEF finished well in the Fontainebleau and the Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned son of Kitten’s Joy would seem to represent good each way value at around 16/1, especially as his handler is expecting him to step up considerably on that performance at the weekend.

The winner, DICTON, was one of two horses supplemented for the event; a decision that was probably made much easier for connections after the performance of Almanzor. The son of Lawman made it four wins on the bounce and a first group winner for his Italian trainer, Gianluca Bietolini, in France. DICTON was originally in the ownership of Wertheimer et Frère and trained by Freddie Head but his current handler bought him out of a claiming race last year for the meagre sum of €22,317 and he has not stopped improving. He might have benefitted from being race fit in the Prix de Fontainebleau but he quickened well in the final 100 metres to secure victory and he is obviously still on the upgrade. He seems to be indifferent to underfoot conditions having won on heavy and good ground and this might be in his favour should the skies open at the Normandy track.

A potential yard stick between the English and French Guineas could be established by the performance of either ATTENDU or MOON TROUBLE who both finished behind Newmarket third, Ribchester, in the PRIX DJEBEL at Maison-Laffitte back in early April. Ribchester was eventually disqualified for having caused interference and indeed ATTENDU was quite badly hampered that day so did well to hold on to third. The form of the race was obviously given a fillip by the performance of Ribchester so ATTENDU, trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias and owned by Wertheimer et Frère cannot be lightly overlooked. The Freddie Head-trained MOON TOUBLE, a son of Lope de Vega, was running on well towards the end of the race so he too could have place claims.

Carlos Laffon-Parias and owner Wertheimer et Frère are doubly represented with the inclusion of ALIGNEMENT, a son of Pivotal and winner of a minor event at Fontainebleau in April. Although the second has gone on to score nicely since at Maison-Laffitte, this is obviously a major step up and he would not make the short list.

Looking to secure an astonishing seventh win in the race is the master French handler, Andre Fabre. His JIMMY TWO TIMES, a son of French sire Kendargent, is an intriguing entry as he has been campaigned solely over sprint distances until now. His last effort saw him finish second behind British raider, Quiet Reflection, in the Group 3 Prix Sigy over six furlongs at Chantilly. Karl Burke holds Quiet Reflection in very high regard and is aiming the filly at the top Royal Ascot sprint races. The fact that Fabre is running him here catches the eye and therefore he has to be considered.

As for the overseas contingent, top of that list has to be THE GURKHA, supplemented for the race by Aidan O’Brian and preferred over Bravery, who he removed from the field at the final declaration stage. THE GURKHA comes into the race on the back of a nine length win at Navan and he went straight to the head of the market for this classic contest and now shares favouritism with both ZELZAL and ZARAK. The son of Galileo is obviously talented but with only two runs under his belt remains totally unexposed, if a little inexperienced.

The all-conquering John Gosden is represented by CRAZY HORSE, who is unbeaten in two starts, the last of those being the Group 3 Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury. He comes here without a run this term but Frankie Dettori takes the ride. Any move in the market would be an obvious positive but that aside, he is difficult to assess.

Godolphin entry, BIRCHWOOD, brings more substantial form to the table having been extensively campaigned last season. He has yet to race this season, but we know the son of Dark Angel has talent having finished a close third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on his last start at Keenland. He was not exactly a leading light on British shores last year but his Keenland run deserves some credit. He could run a place.

With a great race in prospect, the result should certainly help clarify the overall merits of the male classic generation. Three unexposed horses head the market, all trading at around 4-1, so backing the favourite might even reap a decent reward on a reasonable investment.

Of all the trials run over the last few months, I can’t help but return to the performance of ZARAK at Maison-Laffitte. Christophe Soumillon rode the horse with supreme confidence and he really knuckled down to his task when asked to quicken. Alain de Royer-Dupré wisely stated that “He is not yet Zarkava” but he said it in such a way that suggests that he could be.

Of the others, TAAREEF looks the value bet at 16-1 each way but he would not want it soft. Also JIMMY TWO TIMES from the Andre Fabre stable must be considered. A win for DICTON would make a great headline having been bought out of a claimer and in the event of heavy ground, he must have a winning chance.




Found targets elusive Boussac – Arc double

The wonderful Zarkava

The wonderful Zarkava

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe has been dominated in recent years by fillies and mares. Five of the last seven renewals have gone to the fairer sex.

All eyes will be on Treve this weekend, as she goes for a historic third success in Europe’s most prestigious race. An excited Criquette Head-Maarek spoke yesterday of her heroine: “I feel she's better than last year and, for me, she's back to her best, that's for sure. The turn of foot she has is incredible.” Of the prospect of winning her third Arc the trainer added: “It will place her on top because no horse has ever done this before. I do agree if she wins three Arcs she will be the greatest.”

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But Treve isn’t the only female hoping to upset the boys at Longchamp. Aidan O’Brien is pinning his hopes on Found to add to her Prix Marcel Boussac victory at the meeting last October. If successful, she would be following in the hoof-prints of two more outstanding French fillies.

The Prix Marcel Boussac started out in 1969, giving juvenile fillies their own Group 1 event on Arc day. Then known as the Critérium des Pouliches, the race was won in 1972 by the outstanding Allez France. Bred in Kentucky, she was purchased by Daniel Wildenstein and was the springboard for his racing operation. In a stunning career which brought success in the French 1,000 Guineas, the Prix de Diane, Prix Vermeille and the Prix Foy, she had her finest moment when winning the Arc at Longchamp in 1974.

In 2007 another French filly took the Boussac en-route to an undefeated seven race career. Zarkava was to become one of the modern day greats, returning to Paris in 2008 to become the first filly in 15 years to win the Arc. Turning for home, she looked in trouble, trapped behind a wall of horses. However, the calmest man in France, Christophe Soumillon, manoeuvred her into the open and she galloped her way to a famous victory.

Not only wonderfully talented, Zarkava was incredibly powerful for a filly, with a deep chest and huge shoulders. Her popularity in France was quite incredible, affection only rivalled in recent times by the mighty Treve.

And so on Sunday, Found will try and complete the Prix Marcel Boussac – Arc de Triomphe double, and thereby emulate those two famous fillies, Allez France and Zarkava. She defeated Ervedya at Longchamp a year ago, but has only won once in five starts as a three-year-old. A length behind Golden Horn in last month’s Qipco Irish Champion Stakes, she looks likely to renew rivalry with Gosden’s outstanding colt.

The Arc trip is something of a question mark, though O’Brien appeared hopeful when speaking on Sunday, saying: “I suppose her dam (Red Evie) was a miler, but she's by Galileo who is usually a big influence for stamina, so you'd think and hope she'd stay, but you can't guarantee it until they do it. She loved Longchamp last year and we said if everything went well we'd give her an easy enough spring and train her for the Arc for the second half of the season and that's what we've done.”

With history in the making, this weekend’s Arc is set to be one of the most thrilling for many a year.

Top-class European action with Treve the Star of the Show

Wonder-Filly Treve

Wonder-Filly Treve

A truly stunning weekend lies ahead with high-class European racing from Longchamp, Leopardstown, the Curragh and Doncaster.

The English Derby winner Golden Horn will look to get his season back on track, when running in the Irish Champion Stakes. Yet again there has to be a slight worry over conditions with rain forecast to arrive overnight. Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle may well prove his sternest challenger with the weather likely to again scupper the mouth-watering clash with Gleneagles.

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Over the channel the French Derby winner New Bay is set to step-up in trip for the Prix Niel. He faces a major test in the form of Grand Prix de Paris victor Erupt. Connections of both will be hoping the race proves a perfect prep with the Arc just around the corner.

The Irish St Leger takes place at the Curragh on Sunday along with a whole host of top-class juvenile events including the Moyglare and the National Stakes. Whilst at Doncaster on Saturday, the final English Classic takes place when a field of eight assemble for the Ladbrokes St Leger Stakes.

But it’s at Longchamp on Sunday that the undoubted star of the show steps back on the track. The wonder-filly Treve runs in the Qatar Prix Vermeille as she continues her preparation towards a bid for an unprecedented third Arc victory in October. It was very much this same race last year that sowed a seed of doubt over Treve’s ability to add to her first Arc triumph. A lacklustre performance appeared to reveal a horse in decline. However, physical ailments were overcome, and when the big day arrived she once again dazzled.

Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek appears confident of her filly’s wellbeing, when recently saying: “three weeks ago she had a lot of energy when she went back on the turf for the first time and she pulled a lot. The time after that it was the same, she was very free. Today she was a lot more relaxed. It shows me she is getting stronger."

A victory on Sunday would of course be pleasing for connections, but the trainer will have her eyes firmly on that one date in October. Treve faces eight rivals this weekend including Golden Horn’s York conqueror Arabian Queen. David Elsworth will be hoping his filly can build on her stunning Juddmonte International success. Her ability to settle in the race will prove key to her performance.

Aidan O’Brien is represented by his Pretty Polly winner Diamondsandrubies. She flopped at Goodwood in the Nassau Stakes, but had previously beaten Legatissimo, Secret Gesture and Pleascach at the Curragh. She is clearly talented and capable of a huge run. The French three-year-old Candarliya has run up a series of wins and carries the famous Aga Khan silks. Successful three times from the last 10 renewals, the owner famously took the race in 2008 with the stunning filly Zarkava.

Whatever the outcome on Sunday, few will make the mistake of last year, in doubting the chances of Treve when they return for the Arc in October. It’s set to be a thrilling and highly informative few days.

Channon’s Fillies are no ‘Softies’

Newbury Double for Channon

Newbury Double for Channon

A 220/1 double at Newbury’s Hungerford Stakes meeting continued Mick Channon’s current run of strong form.
A pair of juveniles sired by Sixties Icon did the business at extravagant prices on the rain softened ground.

Czabo stayed on well to beat Hamdan Al Maktoum’s favourite Jadaayil in the opener. The filly had clearly improved for her debut at Newmarket just a week earlier. Out of a Danehill Dancer mare, she should have no problem stepping up in trip, and is clearly suited by a little give in the ground.

Just a race later Epsom Icon completed the big-priced double when winning the listed Denford Stud Stakes. Another filly that clearly responded to the conditions, she out-fought her three rivals who had all been rated far higher by the handicapper. It’s feasible that the ground became a crucial leveller, however she had previously won at Epsom when a largely dismissed 7/1 chance. She looks sure to progress with age, with Channon saying: “She’s a lightly framed filly. She’s improved with her racing, but is still a little weak. She should get a mile and may get further in time.”

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The famous sire was of course more than capable of seeing out a trip. The winner of the 2006 St Leger, Sixties Icon was a class act, winning eight of his 15 career starts. Coincidently, one of his group victories came in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury. Currently standing at Norman Court Stud in Wiltshire, he has an outstanding record with his two-year-olds, though he’s yet to produce a truly top-class thoroughbred. He is responsible for a number of listed winners including another Channon inmate Chilworth Icon.

The Berkshire trainer runs the famous West Ilsley Stables. The site of the yard which the Hodcott House and its stables stand, actually received a mention in the Domesday Book, with a Ralph de Mortimer named as the original landholder back in the days of the Normans in 1086. Major Dick Hern became a training legend with his spell at the stables between 1963 and 1989. He produced some of the greats, including Brigadier Gerard, Troy and Nashwan.

Channon took over the historic West Ilsley Stables in 1999. In training since 1990, he was following a stunning career as a professional footballer. Few could have anticipated similar success in his new sporting career. Piccolo put him on the map, with victories in the Nunthorpe in 1994 and then the King’s Stand Stakes of 1995.

Numerous group winners followed before Tobougg came along in 2000. Ultimately moved to the Godolphin operation, he had a sensational juvenile campaign winning at Longchamp before taking the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. Sadly for Channon, the rest of his career was spent in the care of Saeed bin Suroor.

It’s probably fair to say that the Berkshire yard has found greater success with fillies and mares. Queen’s Logic , Silca’s Sister, Majestic Roi, Lahaleeb, Music Show, and Samitar are just some of the top-class horses sent out to win at the very highest level.

That’s not to say he can’t produce quality colts. Youmzain is arguably the best horse to ever run for the Berkshire handler. Another of Channon’s that performed better with give in the ground, he won the Great Voltigeur in 2006 as a three-year-old before just failing to beat Rail Link in the Prix Niel at Longchamp a few weeks later. He was then sent to Germany and won the prestigious Group 1 Preis von Europa at Cologne.

Tried at the highest level, Youmzain was agonisingly close to winning the Arc in 2007 when denied in a pulsating finish by Dylan Thomas. He chased home the wonder filly Zarkava the following year and incredibly made it three runners-up finishes in a row, when defeated by Sea The Stars in the Arc of 2009. After that defeat Channon spoke of his stable star, saying: “He keeps finding a good 'un, doesn't he? Last year we were delighted but gutted - and this year we are delighted but gutted again. He’s bumped into two superstars in Sea The Stars and Zarkava. I am very proud of the horse, and everyone at West Ilsley who have done a tremendous job.”

Of his latest crop, Channon’s outstanding performer appears to be the filly Malabar. A promising juvenile, she was fourth in the 1,000 Guineas in May. A couple of fair performances followed at Group 1 level before she won the Group 3 Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes at Goodwood at the end of July. She’s clearly a decent sort and is likely to be tried at the highest level once more, with the Sun Chariot Stakes in October a possibility.

Channon’s as good as any at producing top-class fillies. And when the rain comes and others cry ‘enough’, expect his warriors to produce the tenacity needed to score.