Deauville 2015 – Racing by the sea!
Writes Nigel Howard
With Glorious Goodwood in full flow, across The Channel the chic seaside resort of Deauville prepares for its own racing extravaganza. With two racecourses, La Touques and Clairefontaine, staging an astonishing 27 race meetings during August plus the world-famous Yearling Sales, Deauville really is the perfect summer location for the racing enthusiast and professional alike.
Of the two Hippodromes, it is La Touques, established in 1864 by the Duc de Morny, that stages the main events with 16 individual meetings and 19 group races up for grabs (nine Group 3, five Group 2 and 5 Group 1). Top billing is reserved for the Group 1, €700,000 Prix Jacques Le Marois-Fresnay le Buffard which was won in stunning fashion last year by the mighty Kingman for the John Gosden- Khalid Abdullah team.
The Jacques Le Marois is run over the straight mile course which was installed way back in 1921. More recently, in 2003, an all-weather track was introduced which boasts a full flat racing programme over the winter. La Touques now hosts more than 50 race days a year making it the busiest race track in France. Other facilities include the equine training centre which generally accommodates 300 thoroughbreds throughout the year but this figure doubles during August when the entire flat racing fraternity migrates to the Normandy coast.
Providing admirable backup during the summer onslaught is the Hippodrome de Clairefontaine. It is located only a few kilometres down the road from La Touques but manages to offer a completely different racing experience with its picture postcard landscape and mixture of flat and jump racing. These meetings must provide some welcome respite for ground staff at La Touques but a visit to the course is highly recommended even though the equine superstars stay up the road.
Sunday will see the start of the Group 1 action with the fillies and mares taking centre stage in the Prix Rothschild, a race won in the past by the likes of Goldikova and Divine Proportions. This year’s renewal offers another chance for the much improved AMAZING MARIA to strut her stuff as she most recently did at Newmarket in the Falmouth Stakes. On Sunday she is likely to encounter similar opposition although this time around she will have to see off the challenge from the Aga Khan’s French 1,000 Guineas winner ERVEDYA and the Andre Fabre trained ESOTERIQUE, who was second to Solow at Royal Ascot on her reappearance, and winner of this event last year. [Esoterique a non-runner, sadly]
A week on and it’s the turn of the sprinters in the Group 1 Prix de Maurice de Gheest won last year by the Richard Fahey-trained Garswood. Run over 1,300 meters (6½f), the race can sometimes be considered as the first leg in a rarely achieved double with the Prix Jacques Le Marois run over the straight mile the following weekend. Only two horses have managed the challenge in recent times namely the speedy race mare Midnight Cloud, trained by Freddie Head and ridden by Thierry Jarnet in 2013, and before her, Whipper, the mount of Christophe Soumillon and trained by Robert Collet in 2004.
This year’s event seems unlikely to throw up such a performer although there is little doubt that if MUHAARAR, recent winner of the July Cup, were to take his chance for Charlie Hills and win, he would surely secure his position as one of the best three year old sprinters we’ve seen for some time. Of the French contingent, the Henri-Alex Pantall trained SON CESIO, winner of the Prix de Ris-Orangis (Group 3) at Maisons-Laffitte at the beginning of July looks a strong contender along with the much improved ROBERT LE DIABLE whose chances would further improve in the event of soft ground.
The Prix Jacques Le Marois, run on Sunday 16 August, is undoubtedly the highlight of the meeting with a true ‘who’s who’ of equine greats on the roll of honour including Lear Fan, Dubai Millennium and current super sire Dubawi to name but a few. This year’s event looks likely to draw a top field with both GLENEAGLES and TERRITOIRES, first and second in this year’s 2000 Guineas declared to run. They could be joined by the likes of last year’s Guineas winner NIGHT OF THUNDER and last year’s French 1000 Guineas winner AVENIR CERTAIN.
An interesting contender and perhaps the forgotten horse of last year is French 2000 Guineas and Breeders Cup Mile hero KARAKONTIE. He is owned by the Niarchos Family which has had an incredibly successful association with this race through the likes of Miesque, Hector Protector and Six Perfections. This would be KARAKONTIE’s first run of the season but Stéphane Pasquier, the owner’s retained jockey, reports the horse to be in good form and on course for his reappearance. Jonathan Pease, his trainer, who retires at the end of the season, knows what it takes to win this race having prepared the excellent Spinning World to lift this prize twice for the Niarchos Family back in 1996 and 1997. He would surely love to sign off on a high and it looks like KARAKONTIE has been specially prepared for a tilt at this illustrious race.
The Group 1 Prix Morny the following weekend puts the spotlight firmly on the two year olds and the race is already in the news given John Gosden’s intention to run Shalaa after he strode to victory in the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood recently. This prestigious prize is often plundered by the Brits and the signs are that this could once again be the case following a poor showing from the home team in the Prix Robert Papin, run at Maisons-Laffitte last weekend. The French generally use that Group 2 as a springboard to the Morny and yet three English-trained horses took the first three places, the winner being GUTAIFAN, a son of Dark Angel trained by Richard Hannon.
He is also declared to run here together with the second, AJAYA, a son of Invincible Spirit and trained by William Haggas. Aidan O’Brien has a number of declared runners including PAINTED CLIFFS, a son of Canford Cliffs, comfortable winner at the Curragh back in Jun; whilst Mark Johnston has declared the runaway Coventry Stakes winner BURATINO. Should they all turn up on the day, the Prix Morny will surely uncover the best two year old seen out so far this season.
With the meeting closing on 30 August, Deauville really is a marathon racing festival that is unrivalled in its format during the flat season. The ground is often a cause for complaint by jockeys and trainers alike but this has been addressed in sorts with the introduction of the all-weather track which is widely used over the month. If you intend to follow the occasion beyond the main events then apart from the big trainers like Freddy Head, Alain de Royer-Dupré, Jean-Claude Rouget and André Fabre, watch out for the local trainers such as Stéphane Wattel, Yves de Nicolay and Yann Barberot. They can often provide good value when it comes to the many handicaps and claiming events on offer.