It’s cold outside, the tracks are all frozen and unless you’re a fan of the 0-70 handicaps on the All-Weather this hasn’t been a great week for you. Maybe try and look at things from the other side, there were only 3 runners in the Clarence house anyway, everything is being “put away for Cheltenham” like horses have never won at the Festival after a February prep run and over Christmas, following the last cold spell, we had much bigger fields and better racing. Anyway, regardless of how you view the racing situation in the UK, all the clamor over inspections and abandoned fixtures has hidden the fact the European turf season has got underway this week at Cagnes-Sur-Mer in the South of France.
Can we learn any clues from Cagnes? Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes, because trainers like Jean-Claude Rouget and Jerome Reynier love this meeting and target it with their more forward types, but also No, because Andre Fabre hasn’t had a runner at the track in recent memory and many other top connections prefer to wait for the Paris season. In 2020, Rouget debuted both Raabihah (5th in the Arc de Triomphe) and Port Guillaume (G2 Prix Hocquart winner) in the early maidens at Cagnes, so it is always worth watching, but whether we have seen a horse of that calibre this week looks to be a double figure price at least.
I know that he targets the maidens at this meeting and despite taking on his horses on the opening day and getting my fingers burnt, it’s nice to see this theory play out. There have been 6 maidens for 3-year-olds this week and he has won 4 of them. If I had to rank his winners, Iznik and Black Falcon would be the ones who look most likely to have further improvement to come, but I don’t think we have seen a pattern performer in any of those maiden races in truth. I will come to the track bias later in this piece, but there is no doubt that the turf course has favored those racing on the front end and in particular, on the far rail. Cristian Demuro has made a good start to 2023, riding 7 winners already and he has given excellent rides to the likes of Run Ahead, Pouvoir Royal and Black Falcon at Cagnes this week for his boss. This is his time of year, but Rouget has a 34.55% strike rate at Cagnes in the last 12-months, returning a Level Stakes Profit of +19.00 at the International SP and all the signs are that this is going to be another successful stint in the south for the yard, especially if you take the view that their better horses are still to come.
The Turf track has a significant bias, but it’s not in the usual place. In past seasons, especially when the going has been testing, jockeys have tended to explore all areas of the track and have gravitated to the stands rail, but this week it proved to be the opposite. Despite the meeting opening on ground recorded as “Collant” (translates roughly as Very Soft and Tacky) with a reading of 4.2 on the penetrometer, the far side rail has remained the place to be. Three of the Six maiden races have been won by a horse who made all the running and the other winners all raced within 3 lengths of the early lead. It’s a similar story with the Handicaps and Conditions races, even though the bigger fields have made them more truly run affairs. The table below shows the time and speed analysis of the turf maidens and appropriate race comparisons and as you can see, there is a wild variance in the speeds. However, regardless of how truly run the races are, the bias remains with those on the front end who stick to that rail as closely as possible. For that reason, the horse for the tracker this week is ENJOY THE SHOW, who finished 3rd behind Knock On in the Fillies debutantes race on Thursday. The overall time was 6s slower than the Colts and Geldings and at the 3-furlong pole they were travelling at just 47.9km/h, a full 7.1km/h slower than the boys. Having been held up and then forced to switch widest of all, she had very little chance but kept on into 3rd to chase home 2 horses who had a much easier passage and more prominent rides. Sent off the joint favorite for her debut, this daughter of Night of Thunder ran a better race than it may first appear, and Jean-Claude Rouget should be able to find a maiden for her in the coming weeks with the benefit of this experience.
This is my final point to take from the opening week and I don’t intend to comment on the events at Saint-Cloud in October that led to his absence from French racing. Instead, on the week he made his return, I thought it was worth highlighting the outstanding ability that Christophe Soumillon has as a rider. He rode Nighthab to win the Quinte handicap on Wednesday for the Sartori yard and there is no doubt in my mind that this was the best ride of the week by some distance. Tracking the pace, he understood the important of staying on the far side and waited for the gaps to appear before asking his mount for maximum effort to record a 4th win in the horses last 6 starts. He is a rapidly improving type and was very close to being the horse for the tracker, but his riders understanding of the track and the important of not covering more ground by coming wide was the key to this success and both can look forward to a successful campaign in the coming weeks based on this evidence.