As much as I enjoy the winter series at Pau and Cagnes-Sur-Mer, nothing beats the grandeur and excitement of Auteuil and it is always exciting to see that the first meeting is just a few days away. The Spring season builds up to the Grand Steeple meeting in May, but the opening weeks in March can be very informative, especially for the 3 and 4-year-old hurdlers, many of whom will end up being trained in the UK and Ireland. This year’s leading British trained juvenile, Porticello, made a winning debut in the Prix Grandak last April and a look back through the form books will show that so many leading horses had their first venture on to a racecourse in the spring at Auteuil. That list would be endless, Kauto Star, Long Run, Frodon, Footpad, Hurricane Fly, Un Temps Pour Tout….all Cheltenham Festival winners who ran at Auteuil in the earlier parts of their career. This is the breeding ground for the future stars of the National Hunt game and I for one can’t wait to get started. With that in mind I’ve compiled a short list of horses to watch at Auteuil over the coming months.
Hawai du Berlais
Trainer: Arnaud Chaille-Chaille
3 starts, 3 wins. She is probably one of the most exciting 4-year-olds in training in France. Clearly thought to be above average by her connections, she made her debut in the Listed Prix Finot hurdle in September, travelling strongly before putting the race to bed with a decent turn-of-foot in the home straight. She built on that effort when winning her 2nd start, landing the G3 Prix Magne and leading home 4 previous winners in the process. Her season was rounded off by landing an emotional win for the Bryant team by winning the G2 Prix Magalen Bryant by 15-lengths at the November meeting at Auteuil. She isn’t the biggest filly, so could well stay over hurdles, but she looks to be highly progressive and on the balance of her 3-year-old form, a rating of 74.5 seems justified. Her dam was the multiple graded hurdle winner Hilton du Berlais, so it is perhaps not a surprise to see the level of ability that she has shown and for fans of bloodstock, it is also worth noting that her 3-year-old full-sister, Haiti du Berlais, is in training with Yannick Fouin.
4-year-old Gelding (AQPS)
Trainer: Patrice Quinton
A fascinating 4-year-old who runs in the double green of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. Having made an impressive debut when winning an AQPS bumper at Argentan last August, he has already developed into a leading hurdle prospect. He won the Prix Isopani at Auteuil on his first hurdles start, the same race that his connections won with Bristol de Mai in 2014 and built on that with a smooth success on his final start in the Prix Lusignan in October. The 2nd placed horse from the Lusignan, Infra Rouge, has won on his next start at Pau to boost the form and Intense Raffles has surely shown enough to suggest that he can make his mark in pattern company in 2022. A strong travelling son of Martaline out of Nicky Henderson’s Cheltenham Festival winning mare Une Artiste, he has a lovely pedigree and looks ideally suited to the style of racing at Auteuil.
Latino Des Isles
Trainer: Arnaud Chaille-Chaille
Only out of the first 3 once in his 8-starts, Latino Des Isles has developed into a top class juvenile chaser over the course of 2021. His 2nd place finish in the Listed Prix Stanley hurdle in May reads very well as the winner, Paradiso won a Grade 3 on his next start, whilst the 3rd and 7th have also gone on to win over fences. After a couple of “Novice” runs over fences, he got his act together to win the Listed Prix Noiro chase in October before signing off his campaign with a career best effort to land the Grade 2 Prix Congress at the November meeting. He won that race by 20-lengths, cantering away from his rivals in the closing stages in a manner that would suggest there could be even more to come this year.
Trainer: Jean-Philippe Dubois
The only older horse to make the list, it is fair to say that Grand Art has taken his time to show the best of his ability. His connections have tried a range of options with him, mixing both hurdles and flat racing to try to coax out the raw ability that he showed when winning a 12-furlong maiden at Clairefontaine in 2019. In the latter half of 2021, the penny seemed finally to drop. After a solid 2nd in a handicap hurdle at Clairefontaine in August, he produced 2 top class displays to win a pair of Listed Handicap hurdles at Auteuil in September and October. The better ground seemed to suit his strong travelling style and his raw flat speed will always make him dangerous when he tracks the pace. He is best forgiven his last effort when he finished 7th at Compiegne, where the Heavy going was never in his favour and as we head into the Spring season, there should be several more opportunities for him to showcase his talent.
Trainer: Daniela Mele
The final horse for the list is more of a hunch. When watching a seemingly quiet meeting at Angers in February, the winner of the 4-year-old hurdle that day, Solness, really caught the eye. On debut, he travelled very strongly throughout the contest and quickly took control of the race as they turned for home, going away to win by 10-lengths. The final circuit time, as well as the closing sectionals from the 3rd last to the line were exceptional and you won’t find too many 4-year-old debutantes who get a time form rating of 120. He falls into the “could be anything” bracket and it will be very interesting to see how he fares on his next start in better company at Auteuil. He is a half-brother to the very talented Solway, who ran in the same colours and won 4 times at Auteuil, if he can get close to Solway's peak rating of 77, he will give his connections some very good days in Paris.