FRENCH racing’s return will be celebrated Paris on Monday with VE-Day ardour and relief by parched punters. C’est magnifique indeed.
Longchamp, home to the marquee Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe every autumn, is a fitting setting for a trumpeted card of excellence.
Andre Fabre was expected to unveil his unbeaten colt Earthlight, winner of last season’s Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket, and thereafter a leading fancy for the British 2000 Guineas, but an untimely sprained fetlock has put his return on hold.
Fabre has an able deputy in Victor Ludorum, hailed as something a bit special after scooping the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere on Arc day last October.
‘Victor Ludorum looks to be in good form and has really benefited from the fine spring. He will run in the Group Three Prix de Fontainebleau on Monday,’ reports his venerable trainer.
Four quality Group races are pencilled in for the opening afternoon, with Government and police approval granted earlier this week, and the action will be beamed live on the UK’s dedicated racing channels.
French Derby winner Sottsass, last seen chasing home Waldgeist and Enable in the Arc, has been given a Prix D’Harcourt target by trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and takes centre stage.
UK Racing getting back on track?
With France and Germany releasing the hand-brake, expectations are growing that British racing is shortly to emerge from enforced hibernation.
So where to start when evaluating this upcoming troubled and truncated season? Mention earlier of Waldgeist neatly opens up a belated debate ahead of our own domestic Classics, with his half-brother Waldkonig being touted for the Investec Derby at Epsom. A provisional July 4 date has been tentatively mooted for Derby Day, without the public in attendance on the famous Downs.
On serious reflection, it’s time to dust down your betting boots. Punters may well be looking a gift-horse in the mouth because a side-effect of the closure could result in the absence of Irish horses at the likes of Epsom, Royal Ascot and Newmarket in early summer.
Irish horses could be stranded
Europe’s racing authorities are examining whether or not they could be forced in to ‘domestic only’ action, and travel restrictions on racehorses travelling between jurisdictions may have to be enforced.
Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: ‘There’s nothing definite but certainly talking to other racing authorities internationally the idea of domestic only competition is something that is on their minds. It may be something that is a requirement.
“If that were to happen, Ireland would be the country that suffers the most.’
For the likes of Aidan O’Brien, possibly marooned in Ballydoyle with a posse of multi-million pound thoroughbreds unable to boost their stud value through conventional routes, this would be a devastating blow.
O’Brien notched his seventh Investec Derby victory last June with Anthony Van Dyck and again holds a strong hand this term, with the likes of Innisfree, Mogul, Year of The Tiger, Armory and Royal Dornoch boasting lofty reputations.
If they are not permitted to strut their stuff, however, it is surely prudent to start betting stay-at-home British horses as their current odds will collapse in the event of a no-show from across the water.
Value in the Brit contingent?
Ballydoyle’s arch-rivals Godolphin may become the main beneficiaries courtesy of Pinatubo. The Shamardal colt was unbeatable as a two-year-old and earned the highest juvenile rating for 25 years following his nine-length romp in the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh last September.
The Charlie Appleby-trained colt is an even-money shot to lift the 2,000 Guineas and is available at 7-1 for the Derby. The boys in blue have another fancied Derby runner in Saeed bin Suroor’s Military March, unbeaten in two career starts, the latest coming in the Group Three Dubai Autumn Stakes over a mile at Newmarket last October. He has been well found in the market over the winter and is a top-priced 12-1 with William Hill.
John Gosden, Britain’s champion trainer, chose a one-mile novice stakes on the all-weather track at chilly Wolverhampton in December to introduce the aforementioned Waldonig to the public and the colt duly spread-eagled his rivals by nine lengths.
Lowly Wolverhampton is an unlikely jumping-off point for a horse with Classic pretensions but Gosden, always an innovator, followed the same path with Jack Hobbs, easy winner of a Wolverhampton maiden on debut before finding only stablemate Golden Horn too strong in the 2015 Derby.
Waldkonig, a son of outstanding sire Kingman, is currently a best-priced 14-1 for the Derby. Interestingly, Gosden’s team also features Darain, an unraced full brother to multiple Group One scorer Too Darn Hot. Inexperience could prove his Achilles heel at this stage of his career.
Andrew Balding’s Kameko is also at the top end of the ante-post lists and justifiably so on the strength of his wide-margin victory under Oisin Murphy in the Group One Futurity Trophy Stakes at Newcastle. Bet365 are best price at 14-1.
Senior statesman Sir Michael Stoute, a five-time Investec Derby legend, has high hopes for unbeaten pair Highest Ground and Satono Japan, the duo making eye-catching debuts at Leicester and Kempton Park at the backend of last season. They are available at 33-1 and 50-1 respectively.
Finally, hundreds of horses have been exercising daily on the Newmarket gallops throughout the current crisis and my trusty gallop-watcher has been raving about a Gosden two-year-old named Saique. One for Royal Ascot perhaps? You heard it here first.