This day promised so much. A 10 race card, 7 of which were pattern races and some of the best talent in Europe on show. It certainly didn't disappoint. The feature, the Prix du Jockey Club, gave us a winner who is probably the best 3-year-old colt around and the undercard delivered some performances that suggest we saw several Group 1 winners in waiting too.
Lets start with the Prix du Jockey Club. With a field of 19 going to post, it was never going to be the easiest race to pull apart. There are plenty of hard luck stories, most notably Cheshire Academy, who seems to be everyones eye catcher as he made significant late gains in the closing stages having been forced to drop in from stall 19. He is a classy type who is still learning his trade after only 4 starts, I have no doubt that he will win a Group 1 at some stage and it is probably fair to put a line through this result as the draw left him almost no chance with the way the race panned out. However, the biggest “take-out” from the race for me would be Saiydabad, the eventual 4th. He arrived into this race with an unbeaten record as well and actually ran the fastest time of any horse from the 3-furlong pole to the winning line. Ridden with restraint under Jean-Bernard Eyquem, his rider chose to stay in the pack and wait for the gaps, which came, but far too late for him to finish any closer than 4th. Both hail from the Jean-Claude Rouget team and will no doubt be cleverly campaigned over the coming weeks to get the all important Group races on their CVs for their future stallion prospects.
If St Mark’s Basilica was trained in France, he would be a certainty for every race that he is entered into. A classy type, who travels in a relaxed manner and has the ability to quicken up immediately when asked, he is ideally suited to the French racing style, where the races tend to be steadily run until they quicken 3-furlongs from home. His win in the French Guineas was a perfect example of this, when the lack of pace played to his strengths and he was able to kick for home with ease. It was a similar story this Sunday, though at least they got racing slightly sooner. At present, I think it is fair to say that with the possible exception of Adayar, he is the best 3-year-old Colt in Europe right now, but it will be interesting to see what happens when he does run in the UK or Ireland, where the races are more truly run and his stamina will be properly tested. I think that a lot of credit should also go to Ioritz Mendizabal, who has ridden the last 2 winners of the Prix du Jockey Club and is a jockey riding at the peak of his powers right now. He gave the winner a perfect ride, getting into a prominent position from his low draw, which is not as easy as it may seem and then having the patience to wait for the gaps to appear.
Looking towards the undercard, there were 2 very significant performances that stood out for me. The first was in the Listed Prix la Flèche for the 2-year-olds. This race has unearthed some future stars in recent times, in particular Siyouni and Penny’s Picnic who have gone on to top level success and now stand at stud. This years winner, Dizzy Bizu won’t be going to stud as she is a filly, but she could prove to be a superstar in her own right. As a daughter of first season sire Caravaggio, out of Izzy Bizu, a Listed 2-year-old winner herself when trained by Mark Johnston in 2017, she is certainly bred to be a precocious sprinter. She is now 2 from 2 in her fledgling career, both runs having come over this course and distance. On both occasions she has shown blistering speed and has produced very fast times to back up the form, whilst she is clearly still learning her craft, as she showed by idling in the closing stages, there is no doubt that there is further improvement to come.
This was a quality field, full of previous winners and the fact that Dizzy Bizu was able to win with something in hand bodes well for the future. It is worth noting that the 3 fillies in the line up filled the first 3 places, but they only receive a 3lbs allowance under the race terms, so I don’t think it made a significant difference. On all of the form I have seen so far in 2021, I think it is fair to say that Stephane Wattel has a serious filly on his hands and right now she looks to be the best 2-year-old in Europe. I can’t wait to see her run again, which will most likely be in the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin next month.
Easily the most controversial race of the day was the Grand Prix de Chantilly. On the bare result, the short priced favourite In Swoop delivered the win that he was entitled to. Last years Arc runner up was a clear pick on the form figures and was a worthy favourite. However, given the ridiculously slow pace that was set by the early leader Influx, this was arguably the best performance of In Swoops career. Time comparisons divide opinion, but I find them extremely useful and when we look at this race, it highlights the complete lack of pace shown in the opening mile of the contest. When compared to Thunder Drum, who won the 3-y-o Group 3 Prix de Royaumont over the same course and distance, we can see that In Swoop was a full 12 seconds slower, the equivalent to around 42 lengths. When running the 2 races side by side, the older horses are almost a furlong behind by the time they turn into the home straight.
As a result, it was no surprise to see the race turn into a dash for home. I must admit to having a financial interest in the race, having laid In Swoop in running at the 6 furlong pole. I had him down as a dour stayer, who thrived in deep ground, where his seemingly endless stamina comes into its own and so I thought he was a sitting duck in a race run this slowly. However, his jockey, the legend that is Olivier Peslier, is a wiley old fox and he made what turned out to be race winning move by pushing his mount forwards on the bend before the leaders had the chance to quicken. From there onwards, In Swoop took over and produced an extremely surprising turn of foot that I didn’t know he had. He ran the final 2 furlongs in 10.90 and 11.12 seconds. To put that into context, that's faster than Tahlie, who won the Grand Prix de Sandringham over 1 mile half an hour later. This was the performance of a truly top class horse, winning a race that wasn’t run to suit in a manner that suggests he has the versatility needed to be a 125+ animal.
I must admit that this has completely changed my mind about him going forwards. Now that he has shown he can win with tactical speed as well as stamina, I think he is now the most likely winner of the Arc. He was 2nd to Sottsass last year, in a race that was run in a similar fashion to the Grand Prix de Chantilly. Unlike many of his market rivals, he has been there and done it and certainly has less to prove than the likes of Snowfall and St Marks Basilica, who have yet to prove themselves against their elders and I can’t believe he is still 16/1 for the race.