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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 05 Jun 2021 |

There is a little known predecessor to the 'Entente Cordiale' of 1904. It took place in 1836 when the French decided to institute a new race at Chantilly over 2500 m. for three year-olds and named it the Prix du Jockey Club as a tribute to the ruling body of the English racing ! The race is still run and is widely recognised as the French Derby. It has been run over different distances and due to various exigencies such as the Revolution and wars it has been staged at Versailles, Moulins, Maisons-Laffitte, Longchamp, Auteuil and Le Tremblay. There are some years when it was run under a different name and a few when it was not run at all. For about 75 years now, it has been run at Chantilly though from 2005 onwards its distance has been brought down 2100 m.   


Chantilly is to France what Newmarket is to England. Located about 40 kms. to the north of Paris in the Oise valley, it is the principal horse training hub in France with over 2500 Thoroughbreds housed in its precincts. Like Newmarket, it has a racecourse which hosts two Classics. While Newmarket is the home to the two Guineas races, Chantilly has the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) and the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby). As such, in one respect Chantilly is also akin to Epsom which holds the Oaks and Derby. And, if Epsom is known for its salts, Chantilly lends its name to its famous cream and lace.

The Track

The track at Chantilly is in far more verdant surroundings than the bleak, featureless expanse of Newmarket. It is an elongated oval, completely flat and has a few chutes as well as a long, diagonal joining the homestretch to the backstretch. The imposing structures of Grand Ecuries and Chateau de Chantilly provide a splendid backdrop. It is a right handed course lying between rivers Nonette and Theve, the water table is high and the going has give in it more often than not.

The Trends

The twenty renewals of this century have produced just three winning favourites and one joint-favourite. Most of the winners had a starting price in double figures though Sulamani at 20/1 had the highest. (Epsom has had Wings of Eagles, born in France, at 40/1). Fourteen of the winners had won their lead-up race while the other six had found a place on the board. The Poule d'Essai des Poulains, the French 2000 Guineas, has been the most favoured lead-up race with the mile Classic providing six of the winners. The race usually attracts foreign raiders but the locals have held their own; only three raiders -- Shamardal, The Grey Gatsby and Mishriff, all trained in England -- have been successful. There has not been an Epsom Derby winner in the last twenty years with a Dosage Index higher than 2.00 but the Chantilly version has seen two. Former jockey Jean-Claude Rouget has saddled  four winners of the race while Christophe Soumillon has ridden three, his last win coming way back in 2006. Dalakhani and Shamardal, themselves winners of the race. have subsequently sired a Prix du Jockey Club winner. The only stallion to sire two winners of the race this millennium is Chichicastenango who died some years ago in Japan and has no runners this year.

The Conundrum.  What explanation does anyone have for Aidan O'Brien not winning a Classic at Chantilly ? The man who has trained winners of eight Epsom Derbies, nine Epsom Oaks, fourteen Irish Derbies and five Irish Oaks has always gone back empty handed from Chantilly. This has not been for want of trying. 35 Ballydoyle runners have come to Chantilly for the Prix du Jockey Club; two have started as favourites, two have been joint-favourites but all have failed to win.  

The Race This Year 

Nineteen runners have been declared to start including six overseas challengers and it is best to start with them. Because of the pandemic restrictions most of  the rides have gone to French jockeys. The only two foreign jockeys in action will be Martin Harley (Derab) and Colin Keane (Van Gogh), who had reached France early and completed their quarantine. 

Aidan O'Brien's St Mark's Basilica (Siyouni - Cabaret by Galileo) (DI 1.00) is the clear favourite. Having won the Emirates Poule d'Essai des Poulains, Gr.1 and Darley Dewhurst Stakes, Gr.1 on his last two starts, he is in line for a Gr.1 hat-trick. He has so far not raced beyond a mile and is a half-brother to Magna Grecia who won the Qipco Two Thousand Guineas, Gr.1 two years ago. Though bred to stay, his dam Cabaret is yet to  produce a black-type winner beyond a mile. He is bred on the same cross as Sottsass who won this race in 2019 and went on to win the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Gr.1. Sottsass is now a stallion at Coolmore. Shamardal, Le Havre, Lope de Vega and Brametot had won the Poulains enroute to Chantilly. The only Classic winner in the race, he has been quite steady in the betting, shortening a bit to 9/4 from 5/2.

Van Gogh (American Pharoah - Imagine by Sadler's Wells) (DI 0.21) was holding his ground in the Epsom Derby. He is one of the five Ballydoyle runners scratched at the last moment and is being switched to Chantilly to give Aidan O'Brien another option. By an American Triple Crown winner out of a mare who won the Vodafone Epsom Oaks, Gr.1, he is regally bred. He is the most experienced runner in the field and will be seen under colours for the tenth time on Sunday. On his last start as a two year-old, he won the Criterium Internationale, Gr.1 at Saint-Cloud in heavy going. His two starts at 3 have been in the Guineas at Newmarket and Curragh. He finished in the ruck on the Rowley Mile but showed remarkable improvement to be third behind the battling Bolger pair of Mac Swiney and Poetic Flare at Curragh. Perhaps, he had come for a run or that the going suited him in Ireland. He has so far not raced beyond a mile but the extended trip suits him on pedigree.

Last year, John Gosden won the race with Mishriff who had bagged the Newmarket Stakes, L on his previous start. This year, Gosden comes with Megallan (Kingman - Eastern Belle by Champs Elysees) (DI 1.50) who split the winner Hurricane Lane and the third-placed High Definition in the Al Basti Equiworld Duabi Dante Stakes, Gr.2 on the Knavesmire at York. Like the favourite, Megallan's sire is a miler. His dam won the Lord Weinstock Memorial Stakes, L at Newbury over 2000 m.; more importantly, she is a half-sister to Golden Horn with whom Gosden won the Derby. How Hurricane Lane fares at Epsom on Saturday will definitely impact on the support Megallan receives on Sunday at Chantilly. His stable-mate Derab (Sea The Stars - Concentric by Sadler's Wells) (DI - 0.07) did not race at two and graduated from the maidens on his third start over a mile this year. He runs in the colours of the Late Mr. Khalid Abdullah of Juddmonte, one of the staunchest supporters of the game over the last forty years or so. John Gosden is assisted by his son Thady, training partnerships now gaining a bit of momentum abroad.  

Soon after El Drama (Lope de Vega - Victoire Finale by Peintre Celebre) (DI 0.27) had won the Listed Dee Stakes at Chester, his connections had hinted that he could head for Chantilly rather than Epsom. On pedigree, it certainly appears the right option. His sire, grandsire (Shamardal), damsire and Youth, the sire of his third dam, are all winners of the Prix du Jockey Club. Though Lope de Vega won this race, the average winning distance of his progeny is only 8.8 furlongs. There is, however, enough stamina in El Drama's bottom half of the pedigree for him to be competitive. He has raced four times so far, winning both his starts on turf. He is a resident of Roger Varian's Carlburg Stables at Newmarket and he adds punch to the overseas challenge.

One overseas runner, who may not augment the overseas firepower but is still interesting is Royal Word (Wootton Bassett - Monarquia by Danehill). He comes from Prague where he has won two races including the Velka Jarni Cena, L,  the Czech 2000 Guineas. France is where the Wootton Bassets are at their best. The stallion himself was unbeaten at 2 winning five races including the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, Gr.1 and has subsequently sired Almanzor who won this race. Wootton Bassett has since been acquired by Coolmore. 

Turning now to the home team. The Aga Khan's Makaloun (Bated Breath - Makana by Dalakhani) (DI - 0.33) has won five of his six races so far. His first two wins were over seven furlongs; he won a Listed race at a mile and his two Gr.3 victories came at Chantilly -- where he has not been beaten -- over nine furlongs. He has won on good ground as well in heavy going and other shades in between. He is trained by Jean-Claude Rouget who has won the race four times in the last twelve years. That's a lot of plus points. The fly in the ointment, though, is his sire Bated Breath, an accomplished sprinter who never raced beyond six furlongs. The average winning distance of the progeny of Bated Breath is 7.1 furlongs but he has produced Worth Waiting who won the Prix Minerve, Gr.3 over 2500 m. Lightning will have to strike again if Makaloun is to become Bated Breath's first Gr.1 winner. The Aga Khan has won this race six times previously, including with Dalakhani, the damsire of Makaloun. The Aga Khan also has Saiydabad (Blame - Sarkiyla by Oasis Dream). Saiydabad did not race at 2 but has reeled off a hat-trick at 3 under Christophe Soumillon. The jockey, though, has preferred to ride Makaloun.

Finishing fourth to Makaloun in the Prix de Guiche, Gr.3 at Chantilly on his last start was Adhamo (Intello - Foreign Tune by Invincible Spirit) (DI - 0.11). Bred and owned by the Wertheimer Brothers and trained by Freddy Head, Adhamo had won four consecutive races earlier. Placed at Deauville on his first two starts at 2, his trainer took him to the Provinces where he won twice. Then came two more wins at the start of his second year, one at Chantilly and the Prix La Force, Gr.3 at Longchamp. He looked beaten in Makaloun's Prix de Guiche when he was hampered but was still not far behind the winner. Adhamo's trainer Freddy Head has ridden four winners of the Prix du Jockey Club while his father Alec and sister Criquette have trained a few of them. Freddy Head, however, is looking for his first as a trainer.    

Cheshire Academy (Flintshire - Danza Cavallo by Sunday Break) (DI 0.75) is a stable-mate of Makaloun and Saiydabad all three being trained by Rouget. Cheshire Academy is unbeaten in three starts, his first two wins being gained at Pau close to the Spanish border. He then finished a nose second in the Prix Noailles, Gr.3 but was awarded the race following a Stewards Enquiry, the winner having interfered with him. The form of that race gets a good boost because Tokyo Gold who finished fourth went on subsequently to win the Derby Italiano, Gr.2 at Capannelle. Cheshire Academy is from the second crop of the Juddmonte stallion Flintshire who stands in the U.S.A. Flintshire, a consistent 10 to 12 furlong horse, was a Gr.1 winner in France, Hong Kong and the U.S.A. Like Flintshire, the dam of Cheshire Academy also went to the U.S.A. after starting her career in France. A Listed winner in France, Danza Cavallo was second in Flower Bowl Stakes, Gr.1 across the pond. For a while, both Flintshire and Danza Cavallo were stable-mates in Eclipse Award winning Chad Brown's yard. The race which Cheshire Academy got following a Stewards Enquiry was actually won by Pretty Tiger (Sea The Moon - Fast And Pretty by Zamindar) (DI 1.00). The decision made Cheshire Academy's hat-trick possible but denied Pretty Tiger his fourth straight win. As such, Pretty Tiger has a score to settle.

Though they have a long way to go before they catch up with Tom Jennings who saddled ten winners of this race,  Jean-Claude Rouget (4) and Pascal Bary (4) have an impressive record among the trainers with runners on Sunday. Bary's ward Baby Rider (Gleneagles - Gyrella by Oasis Dream) (DI 0.60) won the Prix Greffulhe, Gr.2 on his last start at Saint-Cloud last month. That is exactly the route Bary had taken with Study of Man in 2018. Baby Rider was second on his debut at 2. He has since won three races on the trot. 


That India should have much connection with English racing is as to be expected. Similarly, that it should have hardly any connection with French racing is not a matter of surprise. 

Mr. Edward Esmon, who was born in Bombay, belonged to a Jewish family of Calcutta. Though he migrated to France, he raced prominently in India between the two wars, often in partnership with his brother Sir David Ezra. Among the good horses that carried his white, dark blue sleeves, yellow cap colours were Sans Ame (Viceroy's Cup, King-Emperor's Cup, twice, Eclipse Stakes of India) and Fastnet (Viceroy's Cup). Fastnet returned to France and became an influential sire. Mr. Esmond won the Prix du Jockey Club twice with Hotweed (1929) and Pearlweed, a son of Hotweed, in 1935. Mr. Esmond also imported Short Hand to India but the horse broke down before he could race. Short Hand, later a stallion at the Renala Stud, sired the first Indian Derby winner Princess Beautiful.

Dark Legend had placed third in The Derby run at Newmarket due to World War I. He was imported to India by the Maharaja of Jodhpur who died soon after. Dark Legend was then auctioned and purchased by Mr. J.C. Galstaun who won the King-Emperor's Cup and Viceroy's Cup with him. Dark Legend went back to France where he stood as a stallion and was very successful. His son Duplex won the Prix du Jockey Club in 1934.