There are 2 meetings to focus on this Friday, with Vichy and Clairefontaine taking over from the Deauville carnival. Both cards have a lot of decent types on show, in particular in the maiden races, but there are a few horses who stand out for me in the other races.
Fridays first meeting comes from Vichy. We start at 12:25 with an AQPS bumper for the 4 & 5-year-olds. These races fascinate me, as they are the breeding ground for the future stars of the National Hunt game and this looks a decent race for the time of year. 6 runners will go to post but it looks to revolve around the top 3 on the form shown. Hello Ball represents the Gallorini team and is the most likely pace angle in the field. Having had 5 starts, this son of Cokoriko is reasonably experienced and he has run with a lot of consistency, never finishing outside the first 4. He chased home the talented Giga Star at Durtal and backed that up when 2nd last time out at Lion D’angers behind Hart So Big on the 13th May. That sets the standard in terms of form and for an AQPS race it is a decent target to aim at, but I don’t think he has improved on his recent starts and given his front-running style he could be vulnerable to a horse with a better turn of foot, especially in such a small field where it is likely to turn into a sprint for home.
Gazelle de Tracey carries the top weight here. This 5-year-old has won 2 of his 11 career starts and comes from a very good family (his Grand-dam Haldiana has produced 10 winning offspring). He was last seen finishing 2nd in a similar race to this at Cluny in June. He is another to have run to a decent level, but my concern would be that he has looked very one paced. Both his wins have come in deep ground, including when racing over 2-furlongs at Paray-le-Monial in March and it may be that he is also vulnerable to a horse with more raw speed. That horse is likely to be HOOLA HOOP.
A lot of French bumper races tend to revolve around the name Leenders and Gab Leenders looks to have found a great opportunity for Hoola Hoop to add to his tally. A winner of 3 of his 6 starts to date, including one over hurdles, it is interesting to see connections are continuing to pursue his career in these races and he has shown a decent turn of foot to suggest he could be ideally placed to out sprint his rivals if necessary. He won last time out at La Roche Posay, coming clear in the home straight having tracked the pace. That race was run in a decent time, 4-seconds faster than a Flat conditions race on the same card and in receipt of weight from his main rivals, he should be hard to beat.
Race 3 at 1:37 is a Class 2 conditions race for the older horses over the mile trip and is a typical example of the sort of conditions races we see at this stage of the season. With a racing program built around different classes of horse, with a focus more on conditions races as opposed to handicaps, races in classes 2 and 3 tend to be filled with horses with this type of profile. They have run consistently and achieved a mark on or around 40, but they have tried and in most cases failed to make an impact in Class 1 or Pattern company.
7 go to post here and it would be fair to say that the vast majority are relatively exposed at this stage and we have a good idea of their ability. Karmoutcho is the first to rule out, Christophe Escuders 4-year-old has managed to win a lower grade handicap at Marseille on the all weather earlier in the season and his rating of 36 looks fair on what he has achieved. However, that still leaves him some way short of the rest and he has been beaten on all of his 9 attempts in this grade, on the balance of his form he would be a shock winner.
It looks to be a similar story with the 2 overseas runners, Runnymede and Emiliano Zapata. Runnymede is trained in Germany by Sarah Steinberg and he is likely to be a popular choice in the market given his overall record. As recently as June 2020 he won a Group 2 at Milan in Italy and has been running in Pattern company for most of his races since. He was last seen finishing 7th in a Group 3 at Dortmund in June, so this represents a significant drop in grade for him. He isn’t a stranger to French tracks, having broken his maiden at Pornichet in March 2019 and following up in this grade at Lyon Parilly the following month. The concern would be whether he retains as much ability as he showed last year, in 3 runs this season, including when he finished 7th in a Listed race at Paris Longchamp, he has looked like he has possibly lost a yard of pace and that does put me off what is likely to be a relatively short price.
Emiliano Zapata arrives from Poland and although it is hard to assess what that form is worth, he has been well beaten on his 2 starts in France this season and would need to show significant improvement on that form to get involved here.
The official ratings leave just 1-kilo between the remaining 4 runners, but I don’t think it is anywhere as competitive as that may make it seem. Wonder Boy has been on the go for sometime and he did manage to win a small race at Cagnes-Sur-Mer in the winter time, when he beat Alfieri who is also in this line up. He will no doubt improve for his recent run at Paris Longchamp last month, which was his first for 3 months, but his overall record would suggest he is a much better horse on the all weather and he may struggle to give away weight here. Alfieri is now 8-years-old with a career record of 14 wins from 69 starts and any horse with such experience of getting his head in front deserves respect, but, he was beaten in this grade last time out at Aix-Les-Bains and this looks a deeper race, so I will be taking him on. His rider, Angela Daifi is good value for her claim, but I suspect that the Gauvin team were keen to take the weight off to give him a better chance and on his last showing, I’m not sure that will be enough.
Royaumont is much less exposed with just 9 starts so far. Fabrice Chappet has managed to get 2 wins out of him in those 9 starts, although they have both been on the all weather at Deauville and Chantilly in the winter time and the fact he has never made the frame on the turf, is enough to put me off. Especially considering that he finished 5 lengths behind my selection KIHAVAHFUSHI last time out at Chantilly.
Trained by Henri-Alex Pantall, Kihavahfushi has an excellent record in this grade and has run consistently in 2021 to suggest he is more than capable of winning a race like this, as he did at Lyon Parilly on 9th June. The form of that race has been boosted since by the 2nd, Shielding, who won a valuable handicap at Longchamp on his next start. Last time out at La Teste he bumped into We Ride the World, a horse rated 46 who had previously won a “Quinte” handicap on his last start. Trying to beat him off level weights, when he would be receiving over 14lbs from him in a handicap was a step too far, but he was far from disgraced and was only beaten 4 lengths in 4th. A repeat of that run, along with the form he showed at Lyon Parilly and Chantilly on his 2 previous runs should be enough to win this and I have much more confidence about him running his race than most of his rivals.
Fridays other meeting is a mixed card at Clairefontaine which kicks off at 12:45 with a handicap chase. I do need to urge caution when looking at this card as several of the races are for Amateur riders and much like in the UK, the level of ability can vary widely. However, that being said there is one horse that I am really excited to see and that is NATURES COLOURS in race 4 at 2:30. This is a Class 3 Female Riders conditions race for the older horses over 1 mile and Natures Colours stands out for me as the best bet on the card, though we aren't likely to be paying off the mortgage given his likely short price in the market.
He is clearly very fragile, having only had 5 career starts, but he has won 3 of them, including in a Listed race at Deauville on his return from a break in March 2020. He is rated 48.5, which puts him 15lbs clear of the rest of this field and he probably only needs to be 80% fit to win this. His rider Albane Villela-Segui has only had a few rides in public, but one of those was a winner and on the replays I have seen she has looked very neat and well organised. This really should be a “steering job” and it will be a huge shock if he doesn’t take this before moving on to much bigger targets.