France's Restart Rewarded With a Class Assembly


Victor Ludorum | Scoop Dyga

Along with New York and London, Paris has earned another, more unwelcome renown of late but on the day that most of the rest of France emerge from their doors closed shut by COVID-19, the Bois de Boulogne bears witness to the first major sporting action since mid-March. Such is the tightrope nature of the industry's predicament at present, it was enough to convince President Macron at the 11th hour to allow racing to take place within the “red zone” which is still under strict lockdown. ParisLongchamp has seen its share of historical shake-ups, but today's glimpse into what is probably only a temporary but no-less dramatic “new normal” will act as another chapter in its epic story.

As Europe plays catch-up on a season that would ordinarily have seen four Classics run their course, the French are wasting no time unleashing their most likely headline acts for the delayed monuments. Chief among them is Godolphin's tantalising prospect and TDN Rising Star Victor Ludorum (GB) (Shamardal), the first of the recently-deceased sire's incredible trio of unbeaten Group 1-winning sons from 2019. His 3/4-of-a-length defeat of the subsequent G1 Criterium International hero and now stablemate Alson (Ger) (Areion {Ger}) in the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere on Arc day came up quick after two outings since the start of the previous month. Now with a winter behind him, the exciting homebred offers the first insight into the depth of his talent in the G3 Prix de Fontainebleau.

Hugh Anderson, Managing Director of Godolphin UK and Dubai, was speaking for all concerned as he reflected on the magnitude of the situation on Monday. “We are delighted that our season here in Europe will start with Victor Ludorum going in the Prix de Fontainebleau on Monday. We very sadly lost his outstanding sire Shamardal last month and it is very appropriate that we will see one of his brilliant 3-year-old colts in action on day one of this season,” he said.

The operation's French representative Lisa-Jane Graffard added, “Andre Fabre is happy with Victor Ludorum and he has really done well in the last six weeks. There will be no hiding places this year, every race is going to be competitive, but it is a pleasure to be able to take part with a horse of his quality. This is the starting point for the year and we will know more about future plans afterwards.”

Re-opposing Victor Ludorum is the Wertheimers' Ecrivain (Fr) (Lope de Vega {Ire}) and Masaaki Matsushima's Helter Skelter (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}), who were fourth and fifth respectively in the Lagardere, and Haras d'Etreham, Riviera Equine and Ecurie de Montlahuc's Mar.  15 Listed Prix Omnium II scorer Pisanello  (Ire) (Raven's Pass).

Fabre, whose juveniles of last term exuded a considerable collective omnipotence, also issues forward Lady Bamford's G3 Prix Six Perfections and G2 Prix du Calvados winner Tropbeau (GB) (Showcasing {GB}) in the G3 Prix de la Grotte. Her unlucky third in the G1 Cheveley Park S. at Newmarket in September puts her at last a step ahead of her peers, despite the obvious potential of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Khayzaraan (GB) (Kingman {GB}). Successful by a cumulative margin of 13 1/2 lengths on her last two starts at Deauville in August and Chantilly the following month, she is from a family that trainer Freddy Head knows well and the owner-breeder's racing manager Angus Gold is keen to see her back in action.

“She is potentially very exciting and if she proves up to it, the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches is what we'd like to do,” he said. “No one really knows where their horses are with fitness and so on, so let's just get started again. She's thrived physically over the winter and has really changed. We had her back at Shadwell for quite a while over the break and she's really lengthened and strengthened. We're up against the Fabre filly amongst others and obviously she's a very good filly, but this filly looked pretty exciting at the end of last year. We were hoping to run her in a good race, but she just banged a joint and we couldn't.”

Speaking of Khayzaraan's group-winning half-sister Tantheem (GB) (Teofilo {Ire}), he added, “Although she was by Teofilo, she was a sprinter so there is plenty of speed in the pedigree but she won twice at a mile so as long as she settles and behaves herself she'll certainly stay the mile. She's going to need it as she hasn't run since September and I hope she doesn't get too keen, as she can be a bit, but I think she is potentially a high-class filly.”

Also in the mix in the Grotte is Haras du Logis Saint Germain's Frederic Rossi-trained G3 Prix Miesque scorer Dream and Do (Ire) (Siyouni {Fr}) and another Fabre runner in the former Markus Klug-trained Tickle Me Green (Ger) (Sea the Moon {Ger}).

The race precedes the return of White Birch Farm's G1 Prix du Jockey Club hero Sottsass (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}) in the G2 Prix d'Harcourt, who is back at that track at which he was third to Waldgeist (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) and Enable (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}) in the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October. He faces three Wertheimer representatives including the G1 Prix Jacques le Marois runner-up Shaman (Ire) (Shamardal) and Nigel and Carolyn Elwes's progressive filly Simona (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}) who took the pre-lockdown G3 Prix Exbury at Saint-Cloud Mar. 15.

Kickstarting the card at the early hour of 10:55 is the G3 Prix de Saint-Georges on the sprint track, which along with the usual cast of speed merchants has also attracted the unexposed Fabre trainee Duhail  (Ire) (Lope de Vega {Ire}). While his most recent second in Deauville's Listed Prix Kistena in July is below the standard required, the fact that Fabre has persuaded Al Shaqab Racing to keep the gelding in training for 2020 speaks for itself.

Adding ballast to the card is the Listed Prix Maurice Zilber and the intriguing Prix d'Escoville, a mile conditions event for 3-year-olds which sees another Al Shaqab performer in the Deauville Polytrack maiden scorer Chorba (Fr) (Olympic Glory {Ire}), a Jean-Claude Rouget-trained half-sister to former 'TDN Rising Star' Spirit of Brittany (Fr) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}).

Whatever the outcome of these important staging posts, all will agree that the mere sight of competitive action at this level is enough in a time of general trepidation.

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