Pride has speed to burn for Rohaut
FRENCH and other continental European trainers have become a little more selective in recent seasons when it comes to sending challengers to Royal Ascot and the 2019 visitors look set to be one or two down on numbers compared to some years, though far from short on quality. After scoring three times in 2017 the French drew a blank last year, although City Light came close for Stephane Wattel and owner Jean-louis Bouchard in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, failing by a short head to reel in Merchant Navy. That was arguably the highlight last year for the son of Siyouni, who had been on the go on the allweather and didn’t quite maintain the same level of performance in three starts later in the season. Wattel has planned a lighter campaign this year and a racecourse gallop at Dieppe has been the trainer’s solution to the lack of a suitable prep races for his stable star over six furlongs. City Light went lost on his comeback at Maisons-laffitte in a near match with Inns Of Court, a colt who has shown himself to be of Group 1 quality on his best days, notably when just missing out in the 2017 Prix Jacques le Marois and the Prix de la Foret last October. Those runs were at a mile and 7f respectively, but the handsome son of Invincible Spirit has good form in the book at six as well, and Andre Fabre pulled no small rabbit out of his magician’s hat when dropping Inns Of Court back for a first start at the minimum trip to land the Group 2 Prix du Gros-chene. A rematch with City Light in the Diamond Jubilee is now on the cards and he is a fascinating contender, though marginal preference is for Wattel’s campaigner given his course form. Inns Of Court was one of the few Group-race winners on French Derby day not to break any records, although he can be forgiven as the Gros-chene only attracted five runners. Fabre will also be hopeful of having a major say when it comes to the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, after deciding to reroute easy Prix Ganay winner Waldgeist to Ascot in preference to a defence of his crown in the Grand Prix de Saint-cloud 11 days later. Most of his best form before the Ganay was over 1m4f, but that comment is also true of main market rivals Sea Of Class, Masar and Crystal Ocean, with the first two scheduled to be make their seasonal debuts. City Light’s co-owner, Isabelle Corbani, already has experience of the track through the visits of Signs Of Blessing and that classy sprinter’s trainer, Francois Rohaut, is set to unleash another speedy product of Invincible Spirit this year, Big Brothers Pride, who won the Group 3 Prix Sigy almost without coming off the bridle. A half-sister to the talented Polydream, Big Brothers Pride put some decent British-trained yardsticks in True Mason, Vintage Brut and Barbill well and truly in their place at Chantilly over 5½f in early April. Since being elevated to Group 3 level in 2015 – the same year the Commonwealth Cup was introduced – the Sigy has produced both Quiet Reflection and Sands Of Mali. With Qatar Racing owning a 50 per cent share, Ascot was always her likely destination and, having seen all the proof of her class he needed at Chantilly, Rohaut has opted not to run her back since that run, instead building her up at home. There is no doubt she has the talent to be a player in either the Commonwealth Cup or the King’s Stand Stakes, but Rohaut has stressed the decision will be left until the likely shape of each race is known, as well as what underfoot conditions might be like. Big Brothers Pride seems adaptable with regard to ground but looked a slightly doubtful stayer over 6½f earlier in the year, so unless it comes up really quick, it could be worth chancing her against her elders over the shorter trip in what looks quite an open King’s Stand, a race for which her lack of experience is compensated for in the 33-1 on offer. That said, the eclipse of Calyx means the Commonwealth Cup looks a less frightening contest than previously, and 16-1 is a far from accurate reflection of her chances should connections take that route. If kept to her own age group in the Commonwealth Cup she could come up against the Fabrice Chappet-trained Pizzicato, who like City Light in 2018, was a winner at Lingfield on Good Friday. AT THE other end of the distance scale, the Gold Cup also looked to be heading across the English Channel 12 months ago when Vazirabad loomed up on the shoulder of Stradivarius, before the Aga Khan’s gallant grey went down by three-quarters of a length Persistent niggles have kept Vazirabad off the track since then and trainer Alain de Royer-dupre is trying to get the seven-year-old back for an autumn campaign. As is often the case, the Group 2 Prix Vicomtesse Vigier at Longchamp has been a springboard for most French-trained candidates. Call The Wind ran a curious race, coming on and off the bridle several times before staying on with a hint of promise to be a distant third. After winning last season’s Prix du Cadran the step back up to a truly run two and a half miles could help but Freddy Head seems reluctant to commit to the race with Call The Wind, a Frankel half-brother to the classy With You and We Are. Holdthasigreen had been one of the most consistent older horses in training before the Vicomtesse Vigier and it was no great surprise to see him declared a non-runner for the Gold Cup after finishing only fourth at Longchamp. It could therefore be argued that fourth place represented a disappointing effort but, should he get the green light to travel, he will be a tough enough nut to crack. Even before Longchamp the French challenger possessing the best combination of speed and stamina had looked to be the five-year-old Called To The Bar, a slightly unlucky runner-up to Holdthasigreen in the Prix Royal-oak last October. The manner in which he travelled kindly before sweeping past his rivals to a three-length success in the Vicomtesse Vigier should have announced him as a serious rival to Stradivarius and Cross Counter, so his current price of 16-1 remains something of a mystery. Called To The Bar’s trainer Pia Brandt knows what is required at Ascot, given the yard’s Bathyrhon was beaten only two and a quarter lengths by Trip To Paris when fifth in this race in 2015. Called To The Bar is yet to race beyond 1m7½f but Sven and Carina Hanson’s son of Henrythenavigator, while not guaranteed to appreciate the extra four furlongs strictly on breeding, has been much more relaxed in his recent races, while his third place to Waldgeist at Longchamp over 1m4f last May shows he is anything but a plodder. Andre Fabre looks unlikely to be sending anything other than a slimline squad and the most likely name to join Inns Of Court on the team sheet is Plumatic, who began his reinvention as a miler in the Sovereign Stakes at Salisbury last summer and won a shade more easily than the neck distance suggests when getting the better of Olmedo late on in the Prix du Muguet. His proven stamina at beyond a mile should suit the demands of the Queen Anne and he is certainly capable of getting involved in a division which once again has plenty of people scratching their heads. The fact Persian King was always likely to be aimed at the Qipco Prix du Jockey Club shows the difficult situation Ascot find themselves in with the St James’s Palace Stakes, a race which has found itself in direct competition with the Chantilly Classic in recent years but with a third of the total prize-money. As owner-breeders Alain and Gerard Wertheimer were well stocked in the Jockey Club department, Carlos Laffon-parias looks like sending Shaman to Ascot, after he finished second to Persian King in the Emirates Poule d’essai des Poulains. With a few of those above him in the betting not guarenteed to run it is unlikely that the current 20-1 will still be around come the week of Ascot, while Laffon-parias is not a man who travels for fun. Ultimately his record of fifth in the Prix Jean-luc Lagardere and second in the Poulains suggests he might be playing for a place at Group 1 level over a mile. DESPITE the temptation of stepping up in trip for the Prix de Diane, French fillies have a brilliant recent record in Friday’s Coronation Stakes and Castle Lady looks a prime candidate to continue that trend for Godolphin and Alex Pantall. Having not raced at two when trained by Charlie Appleby, Castle Lady has thrived under the tutelage of Pantall and if anything was idling at the end of the Poule d’essai des Pouliches against the smart Commes. Assuming Aidan O’brien sticks to his post-race plan of sending dual Guineas heroine Hermosa to Chantilly for the Diane then the unbeaten daughter of Shamardal ought to be clear favourite. If there is one horse in France who could give Castle Lady a real race over a mile it is Siyarafina but, having passed her audition over 1m2f in the Coolmore-sponsored Prix Saint Alary, she heads to Chantilly where she can confidently be expected to give Hermosa all she can handle, and perhaps more.