Jumps action returns to Fontainebleau for the first time in 6 months on Tuesday, with a 7-race card to get stuck into. Situated in the National Park to the south of Paris, this track has its own charm in the forest and is unique in its design and configuration. A figure of 8 for both the Hurdles and Chase courses, it requires a well balanced horse to handle the tight bends and with Very Soft ground forecast, it could take some getting this week. We begin at 10:50 am (UK time) with a Cross-Country chase for the older horses. Always a great spectacle to watch, the Cross-Country track at Fontainebleau weaves through the inside of the track and has some extremely tight bends that some cars would struggle to negotiate, let alone a horse. There is no obvious selection in the 7 runners, but it will still be an entertaining start to proceedings.
At 11:20 we have a Steeple Chase for the 3-year-olds over 3600 metres and although there doesn’t appear to be too much between the principles, I think RISKAYA is the play here.
A winner of her most recent start at Dax on 12th September, she dominated that race and battled extremely well when joined in the latter stages, with the front pair 10-lengths clear of the rest at the line. Having also confirmed that she will handle the softer conditions, she should be able to hold her own in this company. With the very talented Nathalie Desoutter taking off 2-kilos with her claim, Riskaya could prove a tough nut to crack if getting her own way in front. The 2 Francois Nicolle trained runners, Iron des Mottes and Invite D’Honneur are likely to be very popular in the market given the yards current form, but there are reasons to oppose both. Iron des Mottes was an impressive winner on debut at Royan, but was well beaten on his 2nd start at Dieppe in August and although he should improve for chasing, he has yet to show that he can handle soft ground and may need this first outing over the larger obstacles. Invite D’Honneur won over fences at Gemozac earlier in the year and the similar figure of 8 style of track should suit, but he was readily outpaced over hurdles at Lion D’angers last month and is surely vulnerable here as he has weight to give to all of his rivals.
The main danger may instead come from Cuzco du Mathan from the Chaille-Chaille yard. Very highly tried over hurdles in the spring, he ran with credit in pattern company and made a very solid start to his chase career when finishing 2nd at Dax 2 weeks ago. The front 2 pulled readily 30-lengths clear of the remainder of the field and he definitely has the ability to win a race of this nature.
My strongest selection on the card comes in race 4 at 12:25 in the form of VIRGO CELESTIN. A winner of all 3 of his starts to date and is a clear pick in this field. He had to work hard to get on top in the closing stages of his last start at Clairefontaine in September, but in spite of not having the race run to suit his class pulled him through on the tacky ground that day. He is related to the prolific Virginia Desir, who won 11 races for the Macaire team and on breeding alone, this switch to chasing should bring out further improvement and it will be a great surprise if he doesn’t add a 4th victory to his CV under Killian Dubourg.
The obvious danger to him is Editione Speciale, who has won every start he has completed, but that is the issue. His career record reads 2 wins from 5 starts, but he has fallen on the other 3 and would be a risky proposition on chase debut. For that reason, I think the horse for the forecast is Gallipoli, from the David Cottin yard. Placed at Grade 3 level over hurdles in the spring, he made a pleasing debut over fences when 2nd at Lyon Parilly last month and is the solid option to fill the places.
My final selection comes in the last race at 2:17pm, where we have a 4-year-old hurdle over 3550 metres. There are 12 runners in this field, but solid form is certainly in short supply. Perhaps the most interesting runner is Yankee Stadium for the Sophie Leech and James Finch team. Although 0-14 on the flat, he has some solid form in the book to suggest that he is worth his UK Flat rating of 73 and having been claimed out of George Scotts after finishing 2nd in a Ripon Claimer, he looks just the type that these connections will win races with. In a similar vein, the Leech team also have These Happy Daze, who has run 2 nice races at Vittel and Auteuil and should win his fair share of prize money over the coming months. However, the obvious form pick is ILSENSOR from the Francois Nicolle yard. He was in the process of running a big race when coming down at the last in a much deeper contest than this at Auteuil 3 weeks ago (These Happy Daze finished 5th). Whether he would have caught the eventual winner Choral Debelair is debatable, but he would certainly have finished in the places and provided he shows no ill effects for that fall, he could prove very hard to beat in a race that lacks depth.