France Kicks Off the Classic Season

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Victor Ludorum | Scoop Dyga

Constant, blazing sunshine will welcome back Europe’s Group 1 Classics at Deauville on Monday while Berlin-Hoppegarten join in with the first of their own domestic Classics on a day that will be relished by all the racing community. While the G1 Emirates Poule d’Essai des Poulains and Pouliches are an all-French affair in 2020 and the former is missing the country’s leading juvenile of 2019 in Earthlight (Ire) (Shamardal), there are two Group 1 winners engaged to add gravitas to a renewal forever to be marked with an asterisk. Both hail from the Andre Fabre centre of excellence, with Godolphin’s ‘TDN Rising Star’ Victor Ludorum (GB) (Shamardal) having mastered Corinna Baronin Von Ullmann’s Alson (Ger) (Areion {Ger}) when they represented different stables in the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere over this trip at ParisLongchamp in October.

It is the Lagardere which may prove the key to this edition, as Victor Ludorum had 3/4 of a length to spare over Alson, then under the care of Jean-Pierre Carvalho, with the Wertheimers’ Ecrivain (Fr) (Lope de Vega {Ire}) two short-neck margins back in fourth. When the winner and the latter re-engaged over the same course and distance in the May 11 G3 Prix de Fontainebleau, it was hard to escape the conclusion that Victor Ludorum was below-par as he surrendered his unbeaten record to the enterprisingly-ridden The Summit (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) and Ecrivain.

Whereas Victor Ludorum has made that backward step since Arc day, Alson went in the other direction with a scarcely-believable 20-length dismissal of Ballydoyle’s Armory (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in the two-runner G1 Criterium International over seven furlongs at Paris Longchamp later in October. What that heavy-ground form amounts to in this context is hard to gauge, but Armory had been a close-up third in the Lagardere and had looked solid throughout his juvenile campaign as one of the Co. Tipperary outfit’s leading members of that crop. Alson’s half-brother Ancient Spirit (Ger) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) was a similarly dynamic performer who was the impressive winner of the G2 Mehl-Mulhens-Rennen (German 2000 Guineas) in 2018 and if allowed to cut loose on this straight track may be hard to reel in.

Carlos Laffon-Parias believes that Ecrivain could turn the form around from last time, but is wary of a fast surface. “Ecrivain ran very well in the Prix de Fontainebleau. That was simply a prep race and the objective has always been the Poule d’Essai,” he said. “It was an ideal comeback race. The straight track doesn’t worry me, although I hope that we will have good ground that isn’t too quick, as that could damage the horses.”

Away from the Lagardere-Fontainebleau formlines, there is a third Fabre representative in Coolmore’s May 14 Listed Prix du Pont Neuf winner Arapaho (Fr) (Lope de Vega {Ire}) and his inclusion alongside two much higher-profile stablemates speaks volumes. In a renewal in which the late Shamardal’s influence is keenly felt, the bay, who was bred by the Fabres, has an intriguing profile with three wins from four starts but has to significantly up his game. Ecurie Normandie Pur Sang are doubly-represented, but the Christophe Ferland-trained supplementary entry Shinning Ocean (Fr) (Dabirsim {Fr}) stands out following his impressive defeat of the smart filly Speak of the Devil (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) in a conditions event over the usual Poulains course and distance May 11.

If Fabre has set a poser in the Poulains, his duo in the G1 Emirates Poule d’Essai des Pouliches also offer a quandary. Lady Bamford’s rock-solid Tropbeau (GB) (Showcasing {GB}) had the measure of another ex-German-trained barnmate in Tickle Me Green (Ger) (Sea the Moon {Ger}) when they were first and third in the G3 Prix de la Grotte also at ParisLongchamp May 11, but there was much to like about the way the latter stayed on having chased the fast pace more closely. Heike Bischoff-Lafrentz’s G3 Preis der Winterkonigin runner-up was far from a spent force as Tropbeau and the runner-up Dream and Do (Ire) (Siyouni {Fr}) went by her in the Grotte and all the early indications are that last year’s German juveniles are up to this standard.

Frederic Rossi has yet to train a winner above Group 3 level, but it is still early days for the up-and-coming trainer and the G3 Prix Miesque winner Dream and Do would be surprising nobody if she takes the requisite step forward from the Grotte.

“Dream and Do ran well for her seasonal reappearance in the Prix de la Grotte. She was a little fresh and not quite at 100% for the race,” he said. “Before then, the Fabre fillies were the ones to beat, but I think that this Poule d’Essai des Pouliches is quite open. Dream and Do has worked well, has strengthened up, and I think she can run a big race.”

One of the live outsiders is Team Valor International’s Emoji (Ger) (Soldier Hollow {GB}), who was runner-up in the nine-furlong G3 Prix Vanteaux at ParisLongchamp May 14 having won Saint-Cloud’s Listed Prix la Camargo over this trip on heavy ground Mar. 15.

Trainer Francis-Henri Graffard is able to offer an excuse for her defeat last time. “Emoji is in good form. She is in better shape than before the Vanteaux–she worked very average coming into that race and she came into season on race day,” he explained. “She struggled in the straight, I’m convinced that she is a miler. Emoji is a soft-ground filly and it won’t be soft on Monday. However, she’s in great form in the mornings, so we are going to run.”

Cologne’s G2 Mehl-Mulhens-Rennen features one who would arguably been a leading player at Deauville in Darius Racing’s Rubaiyat (Fr) (Areion {Ger}). It is hard to quantify what was the most impressive of his trio of juvenile black-type wins, with dominant displays in the Listed Junioren Preis at Dusseldorf and San Siro’s G2 Gran Criterium coming either side of his dismissal of his high-class stablemate Wonderful Moon (Ger) (Sea the Moon {Ger}) in the G3 Preis des Winterfavoriten at Cologne in early October. In a renewal void of depth, he only needs to repeat the form of his comeback win in the G3 Dr Busch-Memorial over this mile trip at Hoppegarten May 10 to bring the first Classic of the season back to the Henk Grewe stable. If something is amiss, then any of the Dr Busch-Memorial second, third and fourth Zavaro (Ger) (Areion {Ger}), Fearless King (GB) (Kingman {GB}) or Santurin (Fr) (Sommerabend {GB}) can benefit.

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