French Provincial Diary

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Ballet Russe was named a ‘TDN Rising Star’ at Compiegne | Scoop Dyga

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In this ongoing series, Tom Frary highlights recent notable performances at France’s provincial racecourses.

France’s provinces have turned a corner now that spring has enveloped the country, putting the grind of winter behind everybody and firmly out of mind. In the South, the average temperature in March is in the mid-teens and it was warming up near the Camargue as Nimes staged a card on Mar. 17 which may have featured a future mover and shaker. Not far from the city’s Roman temple known as the Maison Carree and its ampitheatre, the L’Hippodrome des Courbiers hosted an assortment of locals to watch Martin Schwartz’s 3-year-old filly Olympic Games (Fr) (Olympic Glory {Ire}) in a hurry to get her head in front at the first attempt. Scooting around the right-handed circuit showing a fluent stride hugging the rail, the bay may be one of the best to emerge from the palm tree-adorned “Rome of France” famed for its place at the forefront of the denim revolution and a favourite of Hemingway’s. On April 24, she went to nearby Marseille-Borely and after being held up in rear this time won a competitive race for its type with authority, finishing under a hold from Marion Lanave, another female jockey given sacred opportunities by Jean-Claude Rouget.

Interestingly, four days later Lanave was handed a further chance to shine by Rouget in the small Midi-Pyrenees course of Auch, this time on one of His Highness The Aga Khan’s homebreds. While it was a minor contest with a flag start at one of France’s most modest venues–there is no running rail for what constituted the home straight this time–won by the moderate performer Kineta (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}), there was more than a touch of finesse in her all-the-way success and it is clear that Rouget is unsurprisingly a keen spotter of riding talent.

At the end of March, the right-handed test of Mont-de-Marsan presented the ideal stage for Alain Jathiere’s homebred 3-year-old filly Volksha (Fr). Yet another winner for France’s stallion on the rise Le Havre (Ire), she proved in a different class to her rivals before heading east to Toulouse to capture the Listed Prix Caravelle on Apr. 23. She has already outdone her well-connected dam Balashkova (Fr) (Montjeu {Ire})–from the immediate family of Ballydoyle’s G1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner Recital (Fr) also by Montjeu–who ended up with Chad Brown, and who is to say that the States does not also beckon for this representative of the Simone Brogi yard? Brogi, one of the new enterprising brigade of Italian-born handlers making their trade in France, was another who benefitted from a Rouget apprenticeship and this is a first black-type success for the fledgling trainer who, according to his old boss, is a great cook.

Of the juveniles, Haras de Colleville’s freshman sire Galiway (GB) was off the mark via his daughter Galiciana (Fr) at Bordeaux-le-Bouscat on Mar. 29. Fittingly, she carried Guy Pariente’s silks with the owner-breeder ever keen to support his own stallions which was also demonstrated at La Teste de Buch Apr. 12 as his homebred 2-year-old filly Show Kena (Fr) became the latest winner for his star sire Kendargent (Fr). La Teste sits near the Cote d’Argent’s freakish and imposing Dune du Pyla and picturesque town of Arcachon and is overlooked by the Landes forest, lending it a large dose of atmosphere. At the similarly picturesque Lyon-Parilly on Apr. 4, the deadly Con and Theresa Marnane-Matthieu Palussiere axis struck with the first winner for another first-season sire. This time it was the colt Ask Me Not (Ire) by Rathasker Stud’s Anjaal (GB) who beat the subsequent winner Love Vega (Ire) (Lope de Vega {Ire}) under another up-and-comer in Clement Lecoeuvre.

“Lyon is a fair, top-class track and a particular favourite, no doubt,” Palussiere says. “I also like La Teste, Marseille-Borely even with its bend, and the lesser tracks like Le Lion d’Angers, Bordeaux-le-Bouscat and then there is Dieppe and St Malo. We go everywhere. It is sometimes possibly the easier option to go to those type of tracks and being a little yard we have no option. Clement is an experienced jockey and a good one, very reliable and strong with a good head on his shoulders.”

Situated near the famous Catholic site of Lourdes, Tarbes sits north of the Pyrenees National Park with its Napoleonic stud farm, Les Haras, its central draw. Its beautiful right-handed nine-furlong circuit is the oldest track in France that still operates, having been founded in the early 19th century and is a bit like England’s Chester in reverse. Close to Pau, it is understandably a favourite of Rouget and he sent a potentially smart 3-year-old filly there on Apr. 8 in His Highness The Aga Khan’s Shafia (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}). Soon in front, she tanked along with Jean-Bernard Eyquem just a passenger as the debutante navigated around the gold course and was always in control in hand as she disposed of her rivals. Her family features the G1 Irish Oaks and G1 Prix Vermeille heroine Shawanda (Ire) (Sinndar {Ire}) and she could run at Angers on May 11.

At Tarbes again on Apr. 21, another Aga Khan-Rouget filly of the Classic generation in Semariya (Fr) (Archipenko) kicked off a stable treble alongside Claudio Marzocco’s colt Ferblue (Fr) (Motivator {GB}) and Coolmore’s filly Visage (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}). The latter is a daughter of the G1 Irish 1000 Guineas and G1 Irish Oaks third Just Pretending (Giant’s Causeway) and her all-the-way 5 1/2-length defeat of fellow Rouget-trained Silver Seam (Fr) (Dark Angel {Ire}) over 11 1/2 furlongs offered abundant hope that she could be a name we are repeating later on in the season. Her impressive display came two days before Compiegne–which is not strictly a provincial track even though it does not enjoy the same status as its Parisian neighbours–staged a ‘TDN Rising Star’ performance from another Michael Tabor colour-bearer in Ballet Russe (Ire) (Camelot {GB}).

Bordeaux-le-Bouscat in the Gironde was opened in 1836 and has subsequently undergone many changes of ownership, but its position in the French racing calendar is a relatively important one. Its Apr. 7 card saw yet another Rouget 3-year-old filly shine in Haras Voltaire’s newcomer Alzire (Fr) (Shamardal) who handled her first experience at the right-handed venue with a degree of comfort. At La Teste May 8, she backed up that impression with an impressive follow-up under one of Rouget’s more promising claiming riders Guillaume Trolley de Prevaux who sits in the season’s top 25 at present and is a name we will all hear a lot more of. Alzire is a €400,000 Arqana August Yearling Sale graduate who has a stellar pedigree, being a granddaughter of Ballydoyle’s champion Peeping Fawn (Danehill) whose September (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) made such an impact for that stable two years ago. Descended from Blush With Pride, she is one of the burgeoning crew racing in the colours of Thierry Gillier, founder of the Parisian fashion label Zadig & Voltaire. Back there 22 days later, Gerard Augustin-Normand’s 3-year-old gelding Morsan (Fr) (Rajsaman {Fr}) backed up the powerful impression he had made on debut at Mont-de-Marsan when outclassing his rivals over six furlongs. The bay homebred from the family of blue hen Coup de Folie (Halo) is one of those who has pushed trainer Didier Guillemin into ninth in the trainers’ table with 29 successes from 43 individual runners.

Back at Lyon-Parilly on Apr. 27 there was another glimpse of promise from the 3-year-old filly Channel (Ire) (Nathaniel {Ire}), a Francis-Henri Graffard trainee who had run into the Coolmore-Fabre project Secret Walk (Ire) (Dansili {GB}) on debut at Saint-Cloud the previous month. The way the product of the famous Kilcarn Stud nursery went through the 11-furlong race under hand riding suggests she may be one of the many stakes performers to emerge from the provinces in 2019.

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