French Racing: Early Season Review

Corine Barande Barbe uncovers another Cirrus Des Aigles

The French flat racing season was truly set in motion on Sunday when GARLINGARI, a five-year-old gelding owned, trained and bred by Corine Barande Barbe, unexpectedly produced a scintillating performance to win the Prix d’Harcourt at Chantilly, writes Nigel Howard from Paris.

A quality field of twelve went to post for this Group 2 event over 1m 2f with some lightly raced four-year-olds leading the betting. Heading that list was the Aga Khan-owned KARAKTAR, favourite for last years’ Prix du Jockey Club but who failed to sparkle after picking up an injury during the race. This was his seasonal reappearance after winning his comeback event, the Group 3 Prix du Prince d’Orange in heavy ground at Longchamp in September. Andre Fabre fielded AMPERE, a son of Galileo and second in last season’s Grand Prix de Paris whilst Mikel Delzangles presented the Qatar Racing-owned MING DYNASTY, a progressive son of King’s Best who had shown his liking for this soft ground when lifting the Group 2 Prix du Conseil de Paris at this course back in October.

GARLINGARI recently showed his own wellbeing when winning the Prix Exbury at Saint Cloud three weeks previously, beating another of the day’s opponents in SUMBAL, a son of Danehill Dancer and a classic prospect himself last year and seemingly open to further improvement.

In the race, KARAKTAR lay just off the pace with GARLINGARI close behind. MING DYNASTY, AMPERE and SUMBAL brought up the rear. Approaching the 400-metre marker, Christophe Soumillon aboard KARAKTAR asked his mount to quicken but it was Stéphane Pasquier on GARLINGARI who willingly took the lead. The son of Linngari, obviously relishing the heavy going, sprinted away from his field to win easily. From the rear, SUMBAL ran on well to take second but he never got near to the winner who won by an impressive three and a half lengths at a generous looking 10-1.

After the race, Ms. Barande Banbe could hardly contain her delight stating, “He’s a super horse who loves his racing. I thought he had a chance but the way he won today was a surprise. He’ll head to Saint Cloud next for the Ganay.” This was indeed a great fillip for the trainer who was perhaps expecting a break from the limelight after the recent retirement of stable star, Cirrus Des Aigles. GARLINGARI has improved beyond all expectations and, given his favoured soft ground, looks the one to beat in the Group 1 Prix Ganay in three weeks’ time.

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Although not able to make the frame, KARAKTAR also remains on target for the Ganay after his team suggested that the High Chaparral colt was lacking race fitness after a long layoff. SUMBAL will head to Saint Cloud, too, whilst MING DYNASTY looks more likely to revert to Classic distances after he ran an eye catching race back in fifth. AMPERE produced a disappointing performance and finished last. His jockey, Mickaël Barzalona, could offer no immediate explanation for his horse’s effort saying, “He was never at the races.”

On the classic front, France has already held a handful of trials including the Group 3 Prix de Force (1m2f), run at Saint Cloud at the beginning of April. Only four went to post but it saw the return of the Andre Fabre-trained CLOTH OF STARS, a son of Sea the Stars and owned by Godolphin. He had finished runner up to the Harry Dunlop-trained ROBIN OF NAVEN in the Group 1 Critérium de Saint-Cloud last year. On paper, the opposition was not in his league and so it proved as he sluiced through the soft ground to record a facile victory. He has clearly trained on and looks an exciting prospect. His main target remains the Prix du Jockey Club in June.


A week later, Maisons-Laffitte staged the Group 3 Prix Imprudence and Group 3 Prix Djebel, the first recognised trials for the French 1000 and 2000 Guineas respectively.

In the fillies’ event, run over a straight seven furlongs, two drew away from the field in the final furlong, the spoils going to SPECTRE, a daughter of Siyouni and trained by Markus Münch, a German handler recently installed in France. In second, the Christiane Head-Maarek-trained, Abdullah-owned, MIDWEEK, whose cause wasn’t helped when jockey, Vincent Cheminaud, dropped his whip in the final furlong.

With the winner heading to the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, it was interesting to hear that Head is planning a trip across The Channel for the daughter of Motivator. The trainer has a terrific record with her fillies on the Rowley Mile, having despatched Ravinella (1988), Hatoof (1992), and Special Duty (2010) to win the Newmarket classic, all of whom made their seasonal reappearances in this race. This was only MIDWEEK’S third career start and she is sure to improve for the experience.

Again over the straight seven furlongs, the Prix Djebel has seen recent winners Charm Spirit (2014) finish fifth, French Fifteen (2012) finish second and Makfi win the English 2000 Guineas in 2010. For this renewal, Richard Fahey sent over RIBCHESTER, a son of Iffraaj and winner of the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury back in September.

Run on typically soft ground, Jack Doyle’s mount finished a good second but was later disqualified and placed fifth after veering violently across the course as Doyle went for his whip. In the event, he badly hampered the Aga Khan-owned favourite VEDEVANI and the Wertheimer & Frere-owned ATTENDU. The winner, CHEIKELJACK, a son of Myboycharlie, avoided any interference and won nicely, although Henri-Alex Pantall, his trainer, spoke of his charge being more of a sprinter than a miler. As a result, he could skip an engagement in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains which will be run over the straight mile at Deauville this year, with Longchamp closed for redevelopment.

Jean-Claude Rouget will be eyeing further classic success this term after he unleashed the mightily impressive ZELZAL on the all-weather track at Chantilly earlier this month. Another son of Sea the Stars and running in the Treve colours of Al Shaqab Racing, the owners’ retained jockey, Gregory Benoit, had to wait for a gap to open approaching the final furlong before the colt sprinted clear of his rivals. The Jockey Club awaits.

ZELZAL’s victory gave Rouget further cause to celebrate as it represented an amazing 6000th career win for the trainer based at Pau in the South-West of France. Rouget spent two formative years with Ian Balding before starting out on his own in 1978 as a dual-purpose trainer. He turned his attentions solely to the flat in 1993 and in 1994 trained a record 242 winners. In that same year Milkom won the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp and thus Rouget became the first provincial trainer to win a Group 1 race in France. In 2009 he landed the Prix du Jockey Club with Le Havre and the Prix Diane with Valyra for the Aga Khan in 2012. He is now established as one of the leading trainers in France, ZELZAL might contribute to this being his best season to date.

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