Seven Days: Bring on the Classic Trials 

Stephanie Nigge and Tony Piccone with Deutsches Derby entry Mister Gatz | Scoop Dyga

I love Paris in the springtime, sang Ella Fitzgerald, and I'm pretty sure it was a thinly-veiled reference to her secret passion for heavy ground three-year-old maidens at Saint-Cloud.

What Classic clues may we glean there? Well, maybe none. But I liked the look of Narkez (Fr), who gave his rivals a six-length walloping in the Prix Comrade last Tuesday, picking up where he left off after winning at Clairefontaine last October. Bred by Nurlan Bizakov under his Sumbe banner, the colt represents that magic Siyouni (Fr)-Galileo (Ire) cross, though let's face it, Galileo mares work well all over the place. Narkez, trained by Andre Fabre, has helped to give his owner a great start to the season following the Listed win of Charyn (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) in the Doncaster Mile. 

One person who is entitled to love Siyouni more than most is Peter Brant, who celebrated his first European Classic victory when Sottsass (Fr) won the Prix du Jockey Club before going on to deliver the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe for Brant as well. We're looking forward to seeing his first runners emerge this season, but in the meantime Brant looks to have another decent prospect by Siyouni on his hands in the form of Louise Procter (Fr). Trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, she became the second TDN Rising Star of the week for her sire when remaining unbeaten in her third start in the Prix du Belvedere at Chantilly on Thursday. She looks smart and has the entries to match. 

Making Dreams (Ire) (Make Believe {GB}) kept up her trainer Karl Burke's great strike-rate in French stakes races by winning the G3 Prix Penelope by six lengths on her seasonal debut at Saint-Cloud. She is another who should enter considerations for the Classics, as should the Prix Caracalla winner Mister Gatz (Fr), who was born in the spring in which his sire Adlerflug (Ger) died. The flashy chestnut colt was somewhat reminiscent of his father as he bowled around the lush Parisian turf looking like he was having a mighty time before putting his head down to stride clear of the field by five lengths. Trained in Deauville by Stephanie Nigge for a collection of owners which includes his breeder Mathieu Boutin and Gerard Augustin-Normand, Mister Gatz holds an entry for the Deutsches Derby. 

O'Shea Shines on Dubai's Big Day

Of course last week, or more specifically Saturday, was really all about the Dubai World Cup meeting at Meydan which could certainly be considered a triumph for internationalism. The trophies for the eight Group races were shared between horses trained in America, Ireland, Hong Kong, Japan, France, Britain and Dubai (x2).

It was also a great advertisement for keeping classy horses in training beyond the age of three. The winners of the five Group 1 contests were aged between five and seven, with Jerome Reynier's Dubai Turf winner Facteur Cheval (Ire) (Ribchester {Ire}) being the youngest of those, and the wide-margin Golden Shaheen winner, the former Russian-trained Tuz (Oxbow), enjoying his finest hour as a seven-year-old on his fourth appearance on Dubai World Cup night. 

Tuz and the Dubai World Cup winner Laurel River (Into Mischief) won their races in a manner which must still have their trainer Bhupat Seemar and jockey Tadhg O'Shea blinking in disbelief. By six and a half and eight and a half lengths respectively, they each set a new record for the winning distance, with Laurel River, who broke from the outside gate, overturning that held by Dubai Millennium (GB) for 24 years. 

O'Shea, now 42, has been champion jockey in the UAE 11 times and he is in pole position to claim his 12th title this season. But despite that consistent success, the Irishman had a sole Group 1 victory to his name until Saturday.

A modest and loyal grafter, O'Shea praised Laurel River's owner Juddmonte for keeping him on the horse, saying, “They could have any jockey in the world on him and they kept the faith with me. I'll be forever indebted to them.”

Juddmonte didn't need any other jockey to claim a second Dubai World Cup after Arrogate's victory in 2017. O'Shea, bold from the outset from the number 12 stall, simply rode his rivals ragged and very much deserved his night in the spotlight. 

The Auguste Enigma

The last three winners of the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) were all in action over the weekend, with Shahryar (Jpn) a good second in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic, which also featured the last two Japanese Oaks winners Liberty Island (Jpn) and Stars On Earth (Jpn), while Do Deuce (Jpn) was not beaten far when fifth in the G1 Dubai Turf. Lest we think that Japan is completely depleted of its best runners during the big meetings in the Middle East, then look no further than Sunday's G1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin. It featured last year's Japanese Derby and 2,000 Guineas winners, Tastiera (Jpn) and Sol Oriens (Jpn), along with Geoglyph (Jpn), who beat Equinox (Jpn) to win the Guineas in 2022, and the G1 Shuka Sho winner of that same year, Stunning Rose (Jpn).

So much of the Sheema Classic build-up had centred on the clash between Liberty Island and Auguste Rodin (Ire), but the latter, who won last year's Derby and Irish Derby before going on to land the Irish Champion and Breeders' Cup Turf, added to his enigmatic status by finishing last of the 12 runners. 

Don't despair. When 12th in the Guineas on debut last season, Auguste Rodin bounced back to win at Epsom, and he put his last-place finish in the King George behind him to triumph next time out on Irish Champions Weekend. This column, at least, still holds the faith that when he's good, he's very, very good. 

Epsom's honour was however upheld in Sydney over the weekend, where the 2020 Derby winner Serpentine (Ire) claimed his second consecutive stakes win for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott in the G3 Neville Selwood S. 

It's Whitsbury's World

It is important not to get too carried away with the early two-year-old races. Despite the annual hullabaloo over Royal Ascot, nothing really matters until the autumn, right? But it's impossible not to watch the early skirmishes with interest and Whitsbury Manor Stud's Sergei Prokofiev was represented by his second winner from just two runners when Flicka's Girl triumphed at Wolverhampton on Easter Monday. The David Loughnane-trained filly was also bred by Whitsbury Manor and sold, as is the stud's usual practice, at the Tattersalls December Foal Sale for 22,000gns.

Britain's other juvenile race on Monday over at Kempton went the way of Pont Neuf (Ire) (Cotai Glory {GB}), a winner on debut for Eve Johnston Houghton, who also struck with the two-year-old Tanager (GB) (Havana Gold {Ire}) at Chelmsford on Good Friday. 

The trainer has a well established partnership with bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley of Highflyer Bloodstock when it comes to working the sales and the pair has once again unearthed a couple of useful looking prospects for 24,000gns (Tattersalls Somerville) and €22,000 (Tattersalls Ireland) respectively.

Johnson Houghton has made a flying start to the new season with four winners and three placed horses from nine runners since the official 'start of the Flat'.

Jack Came Back

It was announced last week that Ben Curtis, who was been riding at Fair Grounds in New Orleans over the winter, would remain in America for “the foreseeable future” after riding 43 winners and netting more than $1.5 million in prize-money.

Last September, Curtis had ridden his 1,000th winner aboard Merrijig (GB) (Schiaparelli {Ger}) and as that horse resumed on Good Friday, the absent Curtis was replaced in the saddle by Jack Gilligan, who has recently returned after a decade in the US and now has Curtis's former agent Simon Dodds representing him.

Merrijig was the first of two winners for Gilligan from three rides on Good Friday, and the jockey struck again 24 hours later on his sole ride at Wolverhampton. 

Not to be confused with the Irish conditional of the same name, Gilligan was born in Newmarket but left Britain at the age of 17 with his parents Pat, a racing writer and trainer, and Vicky, a barn foreman at WinStar Farm. With more than 400 wins in America, including two Grade III victories aboard Silver Dust (Tapit), he has been making the most of the opportunities handed to him since returning to his home town.

There are not many names in the jockeys' table with a better strike-rate than Gilligan so far this year. He is currently operating at 20% winners to rides. Backing all of his 45 mounts would have yielded a profit of almost £43 to a £1 stake.

Pecheur Swaps Roles for Rottgen

German Classic-winning jockey Maxim Pecheur retired at the end of last season to succeed Markus Klug as the trainer at Gestut Rottgen near Cologne. He had previously ridden Windstoss (Ger) (Shirocco {Ger}) in the famous Rottgen colours to win the 2017 G1 Deutsches Derby. The colt was trained by Klug, as was Pecheur's G1 Preis der Diana winner, Diamanta (Ger) (Maxios {GB}), for Gestut Brummerhof. 

Pecheur is clearly adjusting well to his new role at the historic training centre and he could well have a Derby contender of his own this year after his first runner, Anspruch (Ger) (New Bay {GB}), won on debut at Cologne on Monday. The Rottgen-bred colt is out of the Group 3 winner Anna Katharina (Ger) (Kallisto {Ger}).

 

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