The French Guineas are just over 1 week away and so with the first Classics of the French season looming large on the Calendar, I decided to do some research into some of the key stats and trends for the 2 big races. The Poule d’Essai des Poulains and Pouliches, or 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas in English terms, are the key races in mid-May and of at the French Classics, they are the races that the home team tend to dominate. Certainly more so than the Prix de Diane and Prix du Jockey Club a month later. I’m not the sort of punter who would only back a horse based on statistics, but I do believe that there is a lot of value to be gained from using the data to find the type of horse that is needed to win a big race. Many stats can be easily brushed aside. My favourites to ignore are those that relate to the starting price of the winner. Only 3 of the last 10 SP Favourites have gone on to win the Poulains, but does that mean that this years Favourite has a 1 in 3 chance? Of course not. He won’t know that he is the Favourite, nor will those horses who line up against him and other than perhaps a minor psychological impact on the jockey riding him, that fact should have very little bearing on the outcome. By contrast, the fact that 9 of the last 10 winners of this race have been drawn in stall 6 or lower could be hugely significant on Sunday, with only The Gurkha seemingly having the class to overcome a wide draw.
For those of you who want to skip to the good stuff, I have put together a couple of slides at the bottom of this piece to highlight the key stats that I find most relevant.
Before getting into this is more detail, I should tidy up some small pieces of housekeeping. The races were run at Deauville in 2017 and 2018 due to the refurbishment work at Paris Longchamp, whilst they were again moved to Deauville in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2020 races also have a bearing on some of the figures as International runners were not permitted, again due to Covid. On to some of the figures then…
The Usual Suspects
If you asked the majority of racing fans outside of France to name 2 French Flat trainers, they would almost certainly name Andre Fabre and Jean-Claude Rouget. The pair have been at the top of the French training ranks for some time and have won 9 of the French Guineas races in the last 10 years between them. It’s not quite as simple as following the pair of them, Andre Fabre hasn’t won the Pouliches since Golden Lilac triumphed in 2011 for example. Jean-Claude Rouget fairs slightly better, with 4 winners of the Pouliches in the last 10 years to add to his 2 winners of the Poulains, but they don't completely dominate the mile division. This year they look to have the best of the French trained chances, with Lassaut (Rouget) and Raclette and Zellie (Fabre).
The prize money debate will roll on in the UK, but the more it does the more likely it is that the number of British and Irish runners visiting French racecourses in search of a better return will increase. That being said, International runners are no strangers to the 2 races, with 40 Colts taking their chance in the last 10 years and 33 Fillies in that time. The Colts have a better record, with 2 winners, The Gurkha (2016) and St Marks’ Basilica (2021), along with three 2nds and three 3rds. By contrast, Teppal (2017) for David Simcock is the only winner of the Pouliches in the last 20 years to have been trained outside of France. UK and Irish trained Fillies have finished 2nd in 5 of the last 10 runnings, so they have been competitive with their French counterparts, but it is a point to consider. If you bet frequently in French races with British or Irish runners, you will notice that there is a significant difference in the prices offered by British bookmakers on these horses in comparison to the PMU. As a result these horses can often be overbet in the UK and it can affect the perceived value on offer.
The other small point that could affect this is the timing of the meeting. It falls between the Newmarket meeting and the Irish Guineas a week later, so it is very hard to peak a 3-year-old for more than 2 of these races. As Poetic Flare showed last year, even with the most hardy and genuine horse, it can be a huge ask. As a result, the international runners who lineup at Paris Longchamp are there because they have a more talented stablemate who has gone to Newmarket or because it is thought that the French race is more suitable for them.
All of the big names have won at least one of these races in the last 10-years. If we were to put a league table together, Cristian Demuro has 4 wins across the 2 races in the last 10 years, Olivier Peslier has 3, whilst Christophe Soumillon and Stephane Pasquier have 2 a piece. A slight note would be that Ryan Moore (The Gurkha 2016) is the only Internationally based jockey to ride the winner of either race in the last 10 years. Paris Longchamp is a unique track and it does require some experience and know how on the run down the hill and through the false straight. Many of the races can be slow to develop and patience is the key, which it would be fair to say that not every jockey realises when they kick on in the false straight.
Every October there is great fanfare as everyone waits for the draw for the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, but in truth, the draw is significant for every race run at Paris Longchamp. The statistics support that, with 9 of the last 10 winners of the Poulains being drawn lower than stall 7, whilst it is 8 of the 10 in the Pouliches. If you get a low draw, it is a much simpler task. Horses drawn low need to go forwards to hold a position. Being caught on the inside behind runners can leave you at the mercy of Lady Luck and the lack of a cut away in the home straight means there are more than the usual number of hard luck stories along the inside rail behind the leaders than anywhere else. By contrast, those drawn wide have a much more difficult dilemma. If you drop in behind runners, you are a hostage to fortune in the hope that the race will be truly run and those in front will come back to you. Alternatively, if a jockey drawn wide decides to try and go forwards, they use up a lot of energy to get into that prominent position, otherwise they risk being caught wide all the way down the hill. There is just over 2-furlongs from the mile start to the beginning of the bend and the descent to the home straight, so there isn’t a huge amount of time to make that decision and get into the right racing position.
The average winning draw is stall 4 for the Poulains and 5.5 for the Pouliches, which highlights the importance of getting a low number. With the vast majority of races over this course and distance being steadily run affairs that develop into a sprint from the 500-metre pole, the preference would always be for a low drawn horse who is comfortable racing on the front end.
Each race is different and that should always be under consideration, but there are a few key trends about the 20 winners of these races since 2012 that I feel are worth noting. 13 of the 20 winners had won on their previous start, the winning habit if you like. On average, the Colts had made 4.2 starts before winning this, compared to just 3.6 for the Fillies, so the need for experience is perhaps slightly more prevalent in the Poulains, where the race can be a little bit more frenetic. Only twice in the last 10 years has the time of the Fillies race been quicker than the Colts (2014, 2021). I have tried to find one of those clever statistics about the breeding of the winners, but have failed to find any significant correlation. There have been 10 difference Sires of the last 10 winners of the Poulains, whilst only Siyouni and Le Havre have sired more than 1 winner of the Pouliches (2 each).
Although this shouldn’t have any bearing on the final outcome, there are a couple of key trends that need to be highlighted for the race markets. Firstly let’s deal with the favourites. In the international markets, there have been 3 winning favourites of each race since 2012. No real surprise there. However, the prices and the understanding of the market varies wildly between the 2 races. 9 of the last 10 winners of the Colts race had an SP of 5/1 or shorter, with only Lucayan (2012) having a double figure price, suggesting that the market generally gets this race right. By contrast, 5 of the last 10 winners of the Fillies race had an SP of 10/1 or bigger, so you shouldn’t be put off by a price in the Pouliches, as last years 66/1 winner Coeursamba proved.
Does this help you to find the winner of a French Classic? I hope so, let me know if it does. For what it is worth I think Lassaut and Rosacea would be my picks for the 2022 races at this stage, but both will need a decent draw before I invest.
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