We have reached the halfway point of the Flat season at Cagnes-Sur-Mer, and this is the 3rd “recap” that I have written and by far the shortest. French Racing is my “thing”. I like the program book, the fact that the sport doesn’t revolve around handicap marks or one week of racing in March or June. This Sunday afternoon saw a dilemma in the Mills household, as the Irish Champion hurdle clashed with the Grand Prix de Pau and the 10-runner Grade 3 in the South of France won, getting the big screen whilst the Irish Champion was relegated to the phone. (A brief look at State Man would leave me thinking he was impressive but won’t beat Constitution Hill next month). Youtwo Glass was an impressive winner of the Grand Prix and despite a late gamble on the winner, the 10-runner field had been 7/2 plus for most of the day, with 7 trainers providing the 10 horses going to post for the seasonal highlight at Pau. The premise of “less is more” is fully supported by the French National Hunt program, but I am digressing a little from Cagnes and whilst there are lots of positives, French racing has its own issues, and my biggest negative is the pace races are run at.
Prix Sky Lawyer
One of the feature races this week was the Prix Sky Lawyer, a 3-year-old trial that produced Pretty Tiger in 2021, but the 2023 renewal turned into a bit of a farce. I was really looking forwards to this race, not least because Amelielympique had been declared by Jerome Reynier (see related articles), but with only 4 runners going to post the alarm bells were ringing that this might not turn into the trial that it usually is, and so it proved. The race was run at a crawl and the winner, Al Barq, who has won his last 3 starts on the PSF, was able to pick off the early leader Harry Way in the closing stages. The race had a familiar feel to it, as the lack of true pace meant that it turned into a 2-furlong sprint in the home straight, a fact backed up by a finishing percentage of 113% for the last 600 meters. Al Barq will get the credit for the win, but I have no doubt that he has benefitted from a couple of cute rides by Jean-Bernard Eyquem, who doesn’t get the credit he sometimes deserves and looking back on his earlier form, he has yet to prove himself capable in a truly run race. He will most likely be shorter in the markets than he should be next time. By contrast, both Amelielympique and Mqse De Maintenon were given an almost impossible task by giving the leaders 4-lengths or more in a slowly run race and their closing sectional times suggest that they were the best horses in the race.
Enough of the negativity. Let’s move on to the 3-year-old maidens where we saw a couple of interesting winners who could well be worth following in the weeks to come. Tell Me Why had run a solid debut behind Black Falcon on debut and he delivered on that promise to win at the second time of asking on 30th January. Fabrice Vermeulen has already had 11 winners from his first 50 runners this calendar year and his son of Shalaa never really looked like getting beaten on Monday. Having settled behind the pace, he picked up readily when asked in the closing stages and whilst the form in behind can be questioned, he did it well enough to suggest he should be capable of winning a Class 2 race on his next start.
The second maiden winner to add to the notebook is Yes Zara, who won a filly’s maiden over the extended 10-furlongs on the Turf. Despite finishing 11th on debut, she had made a good start to her career in a Deauville maiden in December that has worked out extremely well and she improved on that effort when winning at the 2nd time of asking. Travelling in Mid-Division, she made sustained progress by coming wider in the home straight and stayed on well through the line. As has become customary, the race was steadily run, but despite a finishing speed of 109%, she was able to get herself on terms and always looked like the winner once doing so. Neither Yes Zara nor Tell Me Why have suggested that they are likely to develop into Group 1 horses for 2023, but they both look like winning races, especially in the early months of the year before some of the bigger guns appear.
Prix Des Iles Des Embiez
I wouldn’t normally get overly excited by a Class 3 conditions race, especially not one for horses who have never placed in pattern company and have not won above this grade in the last 12-months. However, for the winner of this race, AGADOR, I will make an exception. As a 4-year-old, making just his 4th career start, he has clearly had his issues, but the fact that Jean-Claude Rouget and White Birch Farm are persisting with this son of Caravaggio speaks for his potential and to be fair to the horse he has won 3 of his 4 starts. His winning time of 2:17.20 is 3s faster than any other horses has run over 2,150m so far this season and he travelled like a good thing before readily putting the race to bed at the 2-furlong pole. The 2nd placed Cuncerto brought some solid form to the table and adds a bit of context to this performance. If he is over the issues that have kept him away from the track, we can assume that there is further improvement to come and he looks the horse most likely to make his mark in a higher grade from this weeks action.