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By Anil Mukhi | 04 Jul 2020 |

In pre-Covid-19 times and in those years when the features fell on consecutive days, once Epsom’s Derby Day concluded, there would have been a large contingent of trainers and jockeys heading to France for the Sunday Prix du Jockey-Club programme at picturesque Chantilly, on the outskirts of Paris.Depending on the strength of that card, a group of committed members of the racing public would also have joined them on the journey. Due to current restrictions, this is not the case this year. Very few – notably Irish jockeys Seamie Heffernan and Emmett McNamara – will make the trip from Epsom this time around. 

Normally, this meeting would have been taking place in early June but now it is the height of Summer and the temperature is set to be a rather warm and cloudy 25 degrees or so. No further rain is expected and the ground should be good. The track at Chantilly has been carefully manicured and the grass has been mowed to a depth of 10 cm. False rails have been used these past few days in order to ensure that some 10 metres of fresh ground on the inside has remained pristine for the big day when, of course, the fence will be removed.

Despite the logistical difficulties, France-Galop has managed to put together well-filled fields. A nine race programme has been framed, commencing at 13:20 Central European Time (4:50 p.m. in India). The centrepiece, the 2100 m. Gr.1 Prix du JockeyClub-French Derby, is set for 3:10 p.m. local (6:40 p.m. in India) and has 17 declared. Already a Classic winner for Godolphin and trainer Andre Fabre in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains-French 2000 Guineas, Victor Ludorum (by Shamardal) bids fair to extend his excellent record. The only blip in an otherwise perfect sequence of wins came on his 2020 seasonal debut, when it is clear he needed the run.

Should Victor Ludorum, with Mickael Barzalona astride, land the odds, he would be emulating his sire as well as his paternal half-brother, Lope De Vega. The last-named is sire of Ecrivain, sporting the famous Wertheimer silks, who had finished ahead of Victor Ludorum in the Prix de Fontainebleau but well behind him on other occasions, including in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, where he ended up last of 9. That colt is part of a two-pronged attack by the Wertheimers, albeit from different stables, the other half of which is Pao Alto (by Intello), the choice of retained rider Maxime Guyon. This is a likeable sort, coming off a hat-trick of victories, and could well be better than his current rating. He is schooled by Christophe Ferland.

That leaves The Summit (by Wootton Bassett), winner of the Fontainebleau and runner-up in the Poulains, to be steered by veteran Olivier Peslier, and the favourite’s stablemate Ocean Atlantique (by American Pharaoh) as the most realistic of the remaining home-trained challengers. The last-named, who sports the dark blue silks of one of the Coolmore partners (Mrs. Sue Magnier), is on the upgrade and will have the services of the rising star of the French jockeys’ colony in Pierre Charles Boudot.

A couple of unbeaten colts add some spice to the mix in the shape of Team Valor International’s Hurricane Dream (by Hurricane Cat) and Port Guillaume (by Le Havre). Both are 3-from-3 but those victories came against lower-calibre opposition.

Interestingly there is an overseas challenge made up of a pair from Aidan O’Brien’s complex in Co. Tipperary in Ireland and one from John Gosden’s Clarehaven Stables in Newmarket, England. The former team is made up of the well-exposed Fort Myers (by War Front), with Emmet McNamara up, and Order Of Australia (by Australia), with Seamie Heffernan in charge. Their schooler may know more about them but in public at least neither has shown enough to warrant a following. On the other hand, Gosden’s ward is more interesting – Mishriff (by Make Believe) has shown 5 to 10 lbs. improvement at every start and the form of his last runaway win in the Listed 10 fur. Newmarket Stakes has been franked by the subsequent triumph of the distant runner-up, Volkan Star (by Sea The Stars). Ioritz Mendizabal picks up the ride on Prince Faisal’s homebred.

Forty-five minutes later, at 3:55 local (7:25 p.m. in India) comes the Prix de Diane-French Oaks over the same course and distance as the Prix du Jockey-Club. Two studmasters in India will be following the event very closely as a pair of the principal contenders are half-sisters to their young stallions. The objects of their focus are: 

• the current favourite Alpine Star (by Sea The Moon), whose half-brother Tenth Star holds court at the Mebajeona Stud in Muktsar in Punjab. After her smashing Coronation Stakes win, she looks hard to beat. Stephane Pasquier takes the mount on the Niarchos hope from Jessica Harrington’s yard in Ireland.

• the improving Fancy Blue (by Deep Impact), whose half-brother Smugglers Cove prowls his paddock in the adjacent Ganga Nagar district of Rajasthan. Who would have imagined a few months ago that Donnacha O’Brien would one day rely upon Pierre Charles Boudot to deliver the goods in a Classic?

A pair with other ideas and hopes of their own could just as easily win. One of these is Aidan O’Brien’s Tattersalls Irish 1000 Guineas victress, Peaceful (by Galileo), as gorgeous an individual as you will ever see. She would make Heffernan’s impending isolation more palatable should she score. The other is the untapped volcano, Raabibah (by Sea The Stars), whose talent has bubbled to the surface a couple of times this year with molten effect on her opponents. Hamdan Al Maktoum’s homebred is in the very capable hands of Jean-Claude Rouget, who once again relies on Christian Demuro to punch her home. 

Beaten just a nose in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches-French 1000 Guineas last month, Speak Of The Devil (by Wootton Bassett) has never been out of 1-2 and stakes a strong claim. If Mickael Barzalona scores earlier on Victor Ludorum, he could pull off a dream double here.

Fast forward to 3:35 p.m. British Summer Time (8:05 p.m. IST) on Sunday and racegoers are in store for a rare treat as the now six-year-old racemare Enable (by Nathaniel) kicks off her 2020 season in the Coral Eclipse Stakes (10 fur.) at Sandown. Of course her ultimate target is a third win in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris in October, an honour that just evaded her in 2019 when she was runner-up. Unlike her six rivals, all of which have seen action in 2020, she resumes after an absence of 273 days. That said, she is well and raring to go according to all reports. John Gosden is a master at preparing horses to display optimum ability on the targeted date and Frankie Dettori is dominant on the big occasions. However, it’s worth remembering that her handler has pointed out that she will come on for the run, which means she is vulnerable.

In the “Arc”, one of the beaten brigade was Ghaiyyath (by Dubawi), eased to finish a faraway tenth once his chance had gone. Since then the Godolphin standard-bearer has won both his starts, a Group 3 event at Meydan in February followed by a terrific hatchet job in the Gr.1 Coronation Cup last month at the expense of Anthony Van Dyck and the great stayer Stradivarius (by Sea The Stars). Any signs of weakness from the favourite will see him go for the jugular. Tactically, Charlie Appleby’s ward will probably make the running under William Buick.

Not to be discounted are Coolmore’s Japan (by Galileo) and Magic Wand (also by Galileo), who have done enough to merit consideration. The Japanese-bred and trained Deirdre (by Harbinger) has something to find on form but will have the services of champion jockey Oisin Murphy to aid her in that quest to excavate a little more.

Unfortunately, the progressive five-year-old Lord North (by Dubawi) – a stablemate of Enable – has been withdrawn as he is being targeted for the Juddmonte International next month. His absence is a pity as the lightly raced gelding – with only 9 starts in 4 seasons – showed himself to be a rare talent last time out when trouncing serious opposition in the Gr.1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.