Chantilly: How Big Can The Rock Get?

Big Rock | Scoop Dyga

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Chantilly offers its riposte to Epsom's Derby jamboree on Sunday as the 183rd edition of the G1 Qatar Prix du Jockey Club welcomes France's new star of the middle-distance division, Big Rock (Fr) (Rock Of Gibraltar {Ire}). Initially slow to develop into the barnstorming character he has become, Yeguada Centurion's homebred would be an emotive winner for Christopher Head in the week that his beloved grandmother Ghislaine passed away.

Introduced this year by Head in this track's Prix du Chene des Trois Freres handicap on the Polytrack in February, Big Rock has hardly had a customary build-up to this 10 1/2-furlong Classic since leaving Mathieu Brasme. As he subsequently bulldozed his way through the Listed Prix Maurice Caillault again on the Polytrack here in March, ParisLongchamp's G3 Prix la Force in April and the G3 Prix de Guiche which has come to serve as Chantilly's course prep for this, no rival has come within respectable distance to him at the finish.

For Head, the journey from that day in February to a potential second stable Classic has been a surprising and remarkable one.

“He takes his racing so easily and his last piece of work was much better than the ones he did before his prep races,” he said this week. “There is the question of the distance, but we know that his powers of recovery have been good racing over 1800 metres and we'll soon find out. My relationship with Aurélien Lemaître stems from the days when he rode for my father and we've always had a very good rapport, but we never thought we'd get this far. It's incredible. I'm delighted to be having this adventure alongside him.”

The Flame Still Flickers

Pascal Bary knew all about how to win the old “French Derby” when it was run over the true Derby trip of a mile and a half, collecting five renewals including the last staged over that distance in 2004. He has one of the new re-modelled versions courtesy of 2023's first-season sire Study Of Man (Ire) and looks for a second via Jean-Louis Bouchard's unbeaten TDN Rising Star Feed The Flame (GB) (Kingman {GB}). He was supplemented following his defeat of the subsequent G3 Prix Hocquart winner First Minister (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and fellow TDN Rising Star Silver Crack (Fr) (Cracksman {GB}) in ParisLongchamp's Prix de Ferrieres over slightly further than this trip in April, a race which stands up to any inspection as a valid trial despite lacking black-type status.

“When it came to entering our horses in the Prix du Jockey-Club, I never envisaged Feed The Flame

coming under orders,” Bary admitted. “He's physically an impressive colt and, in common with many horses with his physique, he has taken time to find his feet and the penny dropped very late in his case. He is familiar with Chantilly racecourse, as he trained there before his debut and he made a return trip there last Tuesday. I've tried to give him enough time between his initial first two races and the Jockey Club, even if he won without having to force his talent in them.”

Pursuing The Classic Double

Since the Jockey Club trip was shortened in 2005, four colts have completed the double after taking the G1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains and Jaber Abdullah's Marhaba Ya Sanafi (Ire) (Muhaarar {GB}) bids to follow suit on contrasting ground. Trainer Andreas Schutz is happy that he will stay and said, “The longer trip will perhaps help him. I'm very happy with the way he's developing, both mentally and physically.” Behind that peer in the ParisLongchamp Classic was the disappointing favourite American Flag (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}), who is bred to stay this trip and who may have an ace up his sleeve. “In the lead-up to the French 2000 Guineas, we were too laid-back,” trainer Yann Barberot said of Malcolm Parrish's G3 Prix de Fontainebleau winner. “The longer trip can only be a plus for American Flag and he has every chance. In his last piece of work, he was in a relaxed frame of mind–he can be a bit of a rascal, but he is very focused and very diligent.”

The Rouget Triumvirate

It is never wise to rule out a runner from Jean-Claude Rouget's stable, but in truth only one of his three-strong representation this time is unexposed and that is Serge Stempniak's Listed Prix de Suresnes winner Ace Impact (Ire) (Cracksman {GB}). Talked of in glowing terms following that impressive success over 10 furlongs at this circuit, he is the pick of Cristian Demuro but Rouget is keeping faith with the beaten Prix de Guiche runners Padishakh (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}), a TDN Rising Star, and Rajapour (Ire) (Almanzor {GB}). “You have to draw a line under the last performances of Padishakh and Rajapour in the Prix de Guiche, as the ground was too testing for them,” he said.

Classic Action At Dusseldorf

Sunday also sees the G2 Wempe 103rd German 1000 Guineas at Dusseldorf, where Godolphin's Dream Of Love (Ire) (Shamardal) will be a warm order bringing 1000 Guineas form to the party. Her form with that Classic's heroine Mawj (Ire) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}) in Dubai and with Friday's Oaks third Caernarfon (GB) (Cityscape {GB}) in last year's Listed Montrose Fillies' S. sets the standard. Mohamed Saeed Al Shahi's G2 Prix du Calvados winner Wed (Fr) (Profitable {Ire}) needs to bounce back to that form after two off-the-board efforts, which also applies to the pick of the home team on paper, Gestut Fahrhof's G3 Zukunfts-Rennen-winning TDN Rising Star Habana (Ger) (Kingman {GB}).

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