French Racing follows a very familiar pattern every year, but it is probably fair to say that if there is a quiet period, then December and January is that time. I really enjoy the winter series at Pau and Cagnes-Sur-Mer, but there is no doubt in my mind that the quality of the racing is slightly lower than at other times in the calendar. This is especially true on the Flat, as it will probably be the end of January at Cagnes-Sur-Mer before we see a truly top class horse again. For that reason, it is now fair to say that we have seen most of the 2022 talent and if there are some unraced stars in France, they are likely to remain unraced until next season.
I like this time of year, it is nice to have a period where I can slow down, work on some notes and ease the workload. I have notes and time comparisons for just over 2,000 races this year and with so much to sift through, it is important to decide what needs to be kept or re-evaluated. I don't bet on Heavy ground. After 3 years of doing this full-time, it has become very clear to me that Racing on deep ground is not my area of expertise and so whilst I will watch the racing in the winter, I am very unlikely to get involved financially. That leaves me with plenty of time to rewatch some of the races and horses that have caught my eye, to check on form lines and to start to build a picture of some of the horses that I want to look out for next year.
France has a Tote Monopoly and whilst that does wonders for prize money and the general funding of the sport, it does tend to give the Racing a program a very "here and now" kind of feel. The lack of Antepost markets means that there is not as much focus on the top level races as there is in the UK and Ireland and as such a lot of the exciting types can be somewhat forgotten over the winter months. Hence the idea for this series. It can be a long winter if you're not a fan of small field graded Jumps races or Heavy ground, so I have put together this mini-series of 5 once-raced winners to give us something to look forwards to in 2023. There is a somewhat scientific approach to the way the these are written, but I try to apply as many facts as possible to the work I produce and I prefer that approach to purely offering an opinion.
HARFANG - 2YO Colt
Trainer: Jean-Claude Rouget
Owner: H.H. CHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN KHALIFA AL THANI
Breeding: Siyouni x Vorda (Orpen)
Winner 2YO Newcomers Maiden at Deauville - 6f Soft - 18.10.2022
Breeding: 425,000gns Yearling at Tatts Book 1 Oct 21. Half-brother to 4 winners, including Listed winner Saiga (rated 41k). Dam multiple Group winner, including G1 Cheveley Park stakes in 2013.
Form: Drawn widest of 5 runners, reared leaving stalls but soon recovered to lead. Ran along stands rail, shaken up at 2-furlong pole and quickly asserted under hands only ride, won by 2.5-lengths. Race was 3s slow than 2YO Fillies Listed over same C&D, but smaller field and pace did not lift before 600-metre point. Came home in 11.12 and 11.50s (eased last 15-yards) furlongs, faster than Secret Angel who won the Fillies Listed. Placed horses have not run since, but first 3 were 9-lengths clear of the others.
Comments: Sent off at 10/11 in the International markets, he was clearly well thought of prior to this debut and despite some greenness in the stalls, he quickly put this race to bed. It is very hard to accurately assess how much he achieved on debut, as the horses in behind have yet to run since and with such a small field, we were never likely to see him fully extended. A son of the 2013 Cheveley Park Stakes winner Vorda, he came into this race with a big price tag around his neck but his connections will have been delighted with his professional attitude and the ease with which he quickened and asserted his superiority in the final 2-furlongs. We will probably learn a lot more about him when he returns in the Spring, but he made a good impression in the Parade ring and delivered on the track, so it is very hard to knock him at this stage.
After the race Jean-Claude Rouget told Jour de Galop “The colt won very easily, that's what he achieved! He started a little earlier than we expected, but he grew in the spring and we gave him time to do so. We saw him maturing nicely and so we decided to start him off. However, I don't think he was fully finished today. He's a well-bred colt, a handsome horse with a good attitude”.
I think he is likely to develop into a decent miler, but whether he will prove a Classic horse is difficult to assess. With more experience needed, it would not surprise me if we saw him at Cagnes in February, a meeting his trainer often uses for his better 3-year-olds to get them started.