Clairefontaine plays host to the best of Fridays action in France with a mixed card consisting of 6 races on the level before the jumpers take over with a chase and 2 hurdles in the late afternoon. As the summer season at Clairefontaine rolls on the pace map is becoming clearer, on the flat course, you simply have to race prominently and there is no doubt that the golden highway to aim for is along the stands rail, with over 60% of the races held here in 2021 being won by horses who ran the final furlong within a width or two of that precious rail. For that reason, I have tried to focus my flat selections on horses that I believe will be ridden prominently and so will have the best chance of getting across from the home turn.
We begin at 12:45 with a trappy looking 3-year-old maiden. It’s interesting to see that Olivier Peslier has been booked for the ride on the newcomer, Princely Gift, but his pedigree doesn’t leap off the page as a first-time out winner and as the yard aren’t renowned for winning debutantes, I think he is worth passing over. There are 3 runners with experience that I think we need to focus on, It’s Magic, Angel and Woof. It’s Magic finished 2nd in a maiden at Compiegne back in June, where he was beaten by over 4 lengths. At the time, the winner, Crafter, looked to be a very smart Godolphin recruit and this could well have been considered a very positive debut by It’s Magic. However, Crafter was well beaten on his next start and the form of those in behind has proved to be disappointing, which leaves me with some doubts over the level of form It’s Magic actually showed.
Angel is definitely a player in this race. He finished 2nd in a newcomers race at Dieppe 3 weeks ago, pulling well clear of the rest of the field with the eventual winner Partenit. That form has yet to be tested, but the time was very good for a maiden race and as Angel raced fairly prominently throughout, he has probably achieved the most of the 3 runners. My only concern with Angel would be the overwhelming thought that he should have won that race. The winner seemed far from straight forwards and appeared to run around somewhat on the run in, so that with the rail to help, I would have expected Angel to pick him off late on, but he didn’t. Instead he seemed content to follow the winner and whilst that may be a harsh assessment of the first race of his career, it does raise some doubts for me, especially given that he is likely to be quite a short price. With doubts over the other 2 runners, I think it is worth taking a chance on Woff.
This 3-year-old son of Zoffany is the first offspring of Wandering, a Listed winner who also ran in the famous Wertheimer silks. Woff finished 3rd on debut in a maiden at Compiegne on 2nd July. Having been drawn wide, he struggled to get cover in the early stages and certainly covered more ground than most of the field. Once they turned in, he had too much to do but kept on nicely to run through the line, beaten 3 lengths. On that evidence, this extra furlong should suit, as should the smaller field which should allow him a more prominent racing position and he may well be a touch of value to get off the mark at the second time of asking.
The obvious selection on this card comes in Race 3, where we have another maiden for the 3-year-olds and Vrigny looks as close to a certainty as you are likely to find in the whole of 2021. Stephanie Nigge clearly thinks the world of this filly as she has been very highly tried so far this season, with two 4th placed finishes in Listed races and a decent run at Group 1 level when she finished 9th in the Prix Saint-Alary, beaten around 10 lengths. This is nothing more than a class horse picking up a weak maiden to reward her connections faith and as I write this on Wednesday evening I do accept that there is every chance that Vrigny will be a very short price. Having priced the race to 100%, I would make her a 1/3 on chance, so it may be worth looking at the early prices nonetheless in case any of the bookmakers choose to put their head above the parapet. It will be an enormous shock if she doesn’t get the job done, with Aer Turas the most likely to chase her home.
The feature race is at 2:30 with a Class 2 staying race for the older horses. Max La Fripouille is a horse that I have a lot of affection for. He is a very game front runner and produced a career best when winning a similar contest at Compiegne in July. That’s a big statement to make about a 9-year-old, but I was really taken by how well he saw out the trip and the form in behind has worked out quite nicely, with the 3rd horse, Folamour, finishing 2nd in a Listed race on his next start. However, whilst there are lots of positives, the presence of another confirmed front runner in this field, Palus Argenteus, does temper my enthusiasm as I could see the 2 of them taking each other on in front. As a 4-year-old, Palus Argenteus has far fewer miles on the clock, but his overall profile would suggest that he doesn’t quite have the class to win this, even in receipt of 3-kilos, but I think he is likely to make life difficult in front and may well set the race up for a closer.
That closer could well be Mister Nino. On his 2020 form, he would win this easily. He developed into a very decent stayer last year and ended the campaign by finishing 5th in the Prix Royal-Oak, behind Subjectivist and Princess Zoe. He returned in April at Chantilly when he finished 6th in a Listed race before he ran very poorly in a Class 2 race at Saint-Cloud in May. He travelled strongly in the Saint-Cloud race, but didn’t seem to be able to quicken in the soft, tacky ground and was certainly not asked for everything when it became obvious that his chance had gone. Given a break since then, he returns here in a winnable race and I would expect Christophe Soumillon to get him nicely settled behind the leaders, which could be the ideal place to be given the likely battle for the lead. He is very well treated at the weights and I’m more than prepared to believe that his connections will be able to bring him back to the form he showed this time last season.
The final 3 races on this card are over obstacles and my last selection runs in the first of these races at 415, where we have a Chase for the 4 and 5-year-olds. The two 5-year-olds do have weight to give away, but Sambana du Berlais definitely deserves respect. He won a chase off a similar mark here in September 2020 and was also a winner on his last start when he took out a claiming hurdle at Dieppe in July. He won that hurdle race by 20-lengths and although the form hasn’t really worked out, the time was decent and I think he deserves to be favourite for this race.
However, occasionally I spot something in a race that I don’t think anyone else has seen and that always encourages me to back a horse next time out, so I can’t overlook Taballera. She made her comeback from a 4 month break when finishing a close 2nd in a Claiming chase over this course and distance at the end of last month. Having travelled extremely strongly, she looked to have the race won, but in my opinion, her jockey made an error and didn’t ride her out to the line and as such she was picked off by the fast finishing Heros des Mers. Bought back by her connections for €14,700, she returns here to try again, this time under James Reveley and given that she is currently rated 1.5-kilos lower than she was when winning at Maure-de-Bretagne in February, I am confident that she has the ability to win a race of this nature and makes amends for the mishap last month.