QUEEN’S JEWEL TO SPARKLE AT CHANTILLY?
Writes Nigel Howard
Unlike the UK where the Derby is the major Classic headline act, for France it’s the Prix Diane (French Oaks) that takes top billing. Some 40,000 racing fans are expected at this year’s renewal in what, once again, promises to be a highly competitive international event. Seventeen declared runners from four different countries (France, England, Germany and Italy) go to post.
The Prix Diane is effectively France’s answer to Royal Ascot and with the weather expected to be fine, the place will be awash with picnickers in their super chapeaux and summer finery, watching the female classic generation strutting their stuff on the track.
Run at Chantilly over 2100 meters (1m2½f), this beautiful racecourse lies in the shadow of the great Chateau and looks on to Les Grandes Ecuries built by Louis, Prince de Condé in 1719. The racecourse, opened in 1838, was given a major face lift in 2011 and now boasts a new parade ring, panoramic restaurant and the only all-weather track in the Paris region.
Leading the market is the unbeaten Freddie Head-trained QUEEN’S JEWEL, owned by Wertheimer & Frere and therefore in the same ownership as current world beater, Solow. By Pivotal, she racked up her third straight win in the group 1 Prix Saint-Alary over 2000 meters (1m2f) at Longchamp at the end of May. She took that event very easily and looks a cut above most of her French counterparts. She is obviously very talented and is a worthy favourite but makes little appeal at a very short price in a race where much of the opposition is still unexposed.
In search of better value then, and supplemented at the cost of €66,000, is the unbeaten PHYSIOCRATE. This homebred daughter of the globetrotting Doctor Dino won impressively when stepped up in grade at this course and distance last time, quickening up well when asked for her effort to win by a length from fellow supplementary entry, DESIREE CLARY. She herself beat German contender NIGHTFLOWER on her previous start whilst NIGHTFLOWER has herself franked the form when winning the Group 2 Diane Trial at Hoppegarten. Although the form is difficult to assess, it looks solid enough. PHYSIOCRATE, trained by the owner/breed’s son Henri-François Devin, will obviously have to improve again but seems to have plenty of scope and is an interesting proposition at around 10/1.
Another likeable filly who has shown progressive form recently is SAINTE AMARANTE. Trained by Yves de Nicolay, this daughter of Le Havre finished down the field in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches but stepped up on that performance at Compiegne next time in the Listed Prix Melisan over 1m2f. She seemed to relish the longer trip and her trainer was obviously impressed as he has decided to run here after a break of only nine days. She might not be good enough to win but has strong each way claims.
Winning trainer last year with the very smart Avenir Certain, Jean-Claude Rouget cannot be overlooked and he saddles MOJO RISIN and STAY THE NIGHT in search of his fourth win in six years. The former is a highly regarded daughter of Lope de Vega and she took the Listed Prix Caravelle over this distance at Toulouse back in April. She remains unexposed and her trainer is quietly confident. She must be seriously considered. The latter, STAY THE NIGHT, was beaten on her last start by another of today’s runners, LITTLE NIGHTINGALE, at Saint Cloud in the Group 3 Prix Cleopatre. That form was not done any favours when the second, Al Naamah, struggled in The Oaks, finishing a distant eighth. The winner of the Cleopatre, LITTLE NIGHTINGALE, by Muhtathir, only just got home but was found to be in season after the race. Thus, it is possible that she is better than that bare form looks.
Crossing the channel are two horses with Classic form already under the saddle. Fresh from lifting the first two places in the Epsom Derby, John Gosden presents the York Musidora Stakes winner STAR OF SEVILLE. She was nearly knocked off her feet at Epsom in the Oaks and was eased right down after that interference. She would not have won but would have finished much closer. This 1m2½f trip looks more her cup of tea as does this easier track so assuming she is fully recovered from her Epsom exploits, should run well. However, her task hasn’t been made any easier by being drawn 15 of 17 which means Frankie Dettori will have to be at his very best to get her home.
Mick Channon saddles the other English contender MALABAR, a daughter of Raven’s Pass. She finished 4th at Newmarket in the 1,000 guineas and 9th at the Curragh in the Irish equivalent. This step up in trip might suit her and improvement is expected but it would be a surprise if she were good enough to win this for England a full nine years after Confidential Lady won for Sir Mark Prescott in 2006.
To complete the international round up of the race a mention should be reserved for the Italian contender, SOUND OF FREEDOM. This daughter of Duke of Marmalade, trained by Stafano Botti, finished second in the Italian Derby (Group 2) in May and is dropped back in trip here. It is hard to evaluate that performance and is probably best watched this time round although her trainer remains quite bullish.
In conclusion, it might well be that QUEEN’S JEWEL takes this race in a stroll. Freddie Head is very confident and the filly has solid form to boot. However, as with most Classic contests, others in the race remain unknown quantities and top of that list is PHYSIOCRATE. Of the foreign contingent it is very interesting that STAR OF SEVILLE gets the green light from John Gosden and she might be the one to test the favourite come Sunday.
What the trainers say:-
John Gosden – STAR OF SEVILLE
It was a brave performance at York but at Epsom she was so badly hampered that the race was over 2 furlongs out. Fortunately, she returned home in good shape. The preparation for this race hasn’t been perfect but we’re very pleased with her. The draw could have been kinder but we’re not overly concerned.
Freddie Head – QUEEN’S JEWEL
Her preparation has gone very smoothly and she did a very pleasing gallop on Monday. She has all the qualities of a good horse; she stays, she’s strong and has a great turn of foot. She wouldn’t want the ground too firm though. The draw (16 of 17) isn’t perfect but we’ll cope. On paper, she’s the logical favourite.
Jean-Claude Rouget – MOJO RISIN
She’s been impressive on each of her three starts. She’s a very light filly with a beautiful action. She worked really well against my other runner STAY THE NIGHT 8 days ago.
STAY THE NIGHT – she’s not as good as MOJO RISIN but we’re hoping that she could run a place. She’s got a fine pedigree and is strong physically.
Yves de Nicolay – SAINTE AMARANTE
I shouldn’t have run her in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches where they went too quick for her. The Prix Cleopatre would have been a better option over 2,100 meters. I sent her to Compiegne to get a proper race into her. She is running again after only 9 days but she’s in great form. We wouldn’t want it too firm.
Henri-François Devin – PHYSIOCRATE
We were very pleased with her first two outings and she’s come on a lot for the experience. Her preparation has gone really well. She’s a filly who is adaptable during a race which will be an advantage here with so many runners. We’re very hopeful and her low draw (5) is ideal.
Mikel Delzangles – LITTLE NIGHTINGALE
We were obviously please to win the Prix Cléopatre but were hoping for a wider margin of victory. However, after the race she was found to be in season. She goes on any ground but will have to run to a higher mark than she did at St Cloud to win this, but I’m hopeful!
Mick Channon – MALABAR
She’s in great shape. She ran really well in the Guineas but in the Irish equivalent she was hampered on the turn and was pushed back to last so that is best forgotten. I’m not worried by the distance or the ground and am hopeful of a good run.
Pascal Bary – DESIREE CLAY
I’ve only trained her since her first win at Chantilly. For her first run for me she got to the front too soon and was a bit surprised by the other horse coming at her on her outside. We were all the same happy with that performance and she’s filled out a bit since and comes here with a chance.
Peter Schiergen – NIGHTFLOWER
She was beaten by a good filly on her debut in France and has progressed well since. She’s one of our best horses at home. I only wish the Diane was over 1m4f. The ground won’t be a problem and she’s very relaxed. It’s a big ask but I’m hoping for a good performance.
STEFANO BOTTI – SOUND OF FREEDOM
She is highly regarded and is the best of her generation here in Italy. She showed in her last race that she stays the trip. Furthermore, the ground isn’t an issue and she relaxes during her races. Obviously we’ll have to see if she has the class to win a race like this but I’m not travelling to France for nothing and I’m excited to see her run.
Trainer comments: Paris-turf.com