Racing returns to Auteuil this Wednesday for the start of the Autumn series. The summer jumps have kept National hunt fans going and to be fair, it looks to have been an above average year at Clairefontaine and Dieppe, but now that the racing returns to Paris, the quality increases as we begin the long road to the big autumn targets in November.
Racing kicks off at 12:05 with the Prix Melanos, a Listed handicap hurdle for the 4-year-olds. For some reason France Galop have changed the conditions for this race for 2021 and the handicap now has a floor rating of 62 (the equivalent of 136) and as a result we have ended up with a field of 4. Hurrick des Obeaux is top rated at 69.5 and he has certainly achieved more than his rivals, including a Listed win in the Prix Miror here in May and was last seen finishing 2nd to Raffles Face in the Grade 3 Prix Questarabad in June. Even though he has to give away upwards of 10lbs to all 3 of his rivals, in such a small field, where the race is likely to be tactical, I think he may have the class to get away with it. The level of form he has shown would suggest he is amongst the best 4-year-old hurdlers in France and a repeat of either of his 2 performances over this course and distance in the spring could be enough to see him home.
However, I think this race will be a match between proven ability and potential, as the biggest danger is likely to be the bottom weight Hucello, trained by Francois Nicolle. After just 4 starts, he is the least exposed and he absolutely bolted up in a handicap hurdle at Clairefontaine in July, winning by 8-lengths in a decent time. The 3rd has won since to boost the form and in receipt of 6.5-kilos from Hurrick des Obeaux, he could well prove up to the task. With a fitness edge on his rival, I think he is worth chancing and I will be amazed if he doesn’t prove to be better than an official rating of 63 by the end of 2021. It would be a lazy bet to consider the 2 of them in a reverse forecast, but I really cannot see the other 2 runners having the ability to feature here, though the likely cramped odds could well restrict any profit on that type of bet. For that reason, I think it is worth chancing the potential with Hucello.
At 1:25 we have the Prix Weather Permitting, which is the first 3-year-old chase to be held at Auteuil in 2021. All of the runners are newcomers to fences and although they omit the water jump in front of the stands, the big fences of Auteuil still represent a stiff test for these Juveniles. As a rule, I don’t tend to part with any of my hard earned money in these 3-year-old chases, but that won’t stop me watching this and making copious notes for the future. The likes of Impressive (Lageneste & Macaire), Latino Des Isles (Chaille-Chaille), Ironman des Places (Nicolle) and Royal Margaux (Cottin) looked well above average when they ran over hurdles in the spring and I would imagine that there will be plenty of winners to come out of this race this autumn.
At 2:35 we have a 4-year-old steeplechase over 2-miles and a furlong and my strongest fancy on the card runs here in the form of Le Plougastellen. Trained by Gab Leenders, he has won 3 of his 4 career starts and fits into the “could be anything” bracket. He was last seen winning a similar race at Clairefontaine in July, by 11-lengths, producing the best time figure of the day in the process. The French handicapper already rates him at 63, so he looks to be fairly treated at the weights and with so much scope for improvement, he is the horse who excites me most on the opening day.
The most fascinating race on the card comes at 3:10, where we have a hurdle race for the 4 and 5-year-olds. It’s not a race I would want to have a bet in, there is a lot of potential improvement amongst the 9 runners and the vast majority will probably have bigger targets than this over the coming months. However, I do think that the 5-year-olds have the edge over their younger rivals and there is no doubt in my mind that Gardez la Monnaie is the best horse in the race. A winner of a Listed Chase on his last start at Dieppe, his profile is that of a horse who is better over fences than hurdles, especially when you consider that he actually finished behind his main rival here, Want of a Nail, when they met in a Grade 3 hurdle here in the spring. His record over fences is 212111 and I have no doubt that this is likely to be a prep run for some of the bigger targets over fences later in the year, but it will be interesting to see how he goes here against some quality hurdlers, with a view to backing him next time once he returns to chasing.
My final selection on the card is definitely a "solid option" kind of pick, but I am very keen on the chances of Montys Saga in the final race at 4:55. This is a handicap hurdle for the older horses over 2-miles 2-furlongs and it could be argued that he is the best horse in an average field. However, I think there is more to it than that and as a 5-year-old, he is far less exposed than most of this line up and so he could well prove better than a current mark of 52. Carrying top weight won’t be easy, but his recent form is considerably stronger than most of his rivals and I think he could be up to it. On his most recent start, he finished 2nd to Chella Speed in a handicap hurdle at Vittel on 9th August, given that Chella Speed was a very impressive winner of a chase at Moulins on Monday evening, it could definitely be argued that Montys Saga is well treated here as he is able to run off the same mark that he did at Vittel and I would be disappointed if he doesn’t at least finish in the frame.