Our man in France Jason Kiely previews Sunday’s Paris Grand Steeple Chase card at Auteuil.
MULLINS OFFER TO MAKE HISTORY
Only one foreign raider has been placed in the race since Fred Winter and Mandarin won it in 1962 – Captain Christy who has been trained in Ireland since 1975.
With that in mind, credit must go to Irish coach Willie Mullins, who has stubbornly supported the race in recent years without success. This year though, the Closutton maestro saddles up arguably his most realistic chance in the race, two-time Chelteham Gold Cup winner, Al Boom Photo.
Racing in France for the first time since crashing on his debut at Moulins in 2015, Al Boom Photo is the spearhead of a trio formed by Mullins which includes Free Of Port and Rachael Blackmore’s mount Saint of the Burrowwho finished fifth in the race in 2019.
Failed in the Irish and English equivalents this season, Al Boum Photo will face fifteen rivals in Sunday’s 6,000m (3m 6f) showpiece and is the choice of stable jockey Paul Townend.
With its riders often unmasked by the complexity of the atypical obstacles (including a 5.5m wide water jump), the Mullins gelding’s show jumping will be put to the test today, but although Al Boum Photo is 10 years old, he is the highest rated horse the trainer has fielded for the race and looks a credible challenge for the local team, led by the pair of Guillaume Macaire Will-o’-the-wisp and jem salt.
Franco De Port made a victorious debut on the track in 2019, but the Gr.1-winning gelding looked it over on Sunday after struggling to see the trip to the Grand National of Ireland.
Fifth in this race in 2019 when he was just six years old, Burrow’s Saint, owned by Rich Ricci, looks like a lively underdog for jockey Rachael Blackmore. After riding 7th-placed Ajas in last season’s race for Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer David Cottin, the heroic rider looks set for a better spin on the legendary fences this time around and could be a surprise in the race -suit for €820,000.
DURKAN AND HOBSON TAKE RISKS
Chartering new territory with his first-ever rider in France, Irish trainer William Durkan saddles the winner of the Midlands Grand National from Uttoxeter Garish colors for the Grand Steeple Chase of Paris.
An endurance specialist, the eleven-year-old would become the oldest horse to win the race since Mid Dancer in 2012, but strictly on numbers the Listed winner ridden by Conor Orr argues against it.
Fervent supporter of French races, British trainer Richard Hobson sends his stable star Lord of Mesnil, who has contested a handful of races at the track. Although experienced on the fences, Lord Du Mesnil has little chance in the feature film, with Hobson’s chances of having a winner more likely to come from St. Xavier first.
Best bets of the weekend | Irish 1,000 Guineas Day at Curragh and Sunday Series at York
FRENCH HAND HELD BY MACAIRE
The French challenge is led by the duo formed by Guillaume Macaire from Will-o’-the-wisp and the five-year-old salt gem. The latter has been extremely impressive throughout the winter months and is one of the leaders of his generation, but the five-year-old is struggling on his first attempt at this race and he is perhaps more suited to the renewal of 2023.
Feu Follet, meanwhile, has been seasoned for several seasons and finished third in this race two years ago. Undefeated this season in two rounds, Feu Follet promises to be the first French hope for Sunday’s show and if successful, then his trainer Guillaume Macaire will become the greatest handler in history with seven victories. The champion trainer François Nicolle in the saddle four in the race, glory, Eddy de Balme, Starlet from Mesnil and the five-year-old Niko has.
Nicolle is yet to win the Grand Steeplechase de Paris and despite saddled up with four riders, the Royan-based manager has struggled to hit the target again this term even though they would all hold strong place claims, with Niko Has the most interesting.
Among the animated outsiders, let’s mention the duo formed by Emmanuel Clayeux Arthel’s Stakeedited by Charlie Deutch and Gexthe choice of champion jockey James Reveley.
VERDICT 15.00: 1. FEU FOLLET 2. AL BOUM PHOTO 3. SEL GEM 4. NIKO A
GROUP ONE ACTION
Gr.1 reserved for four-year-old pursuers, the Prix Ferdinand Dufaure (16.15) is a very influential stage on the French calendar.
Master Minded and Long Run have both finished second in this race in past years and this year’s contest seems to be right up there in terms of quality. Twelve runners head to the post for the €350,000 chase, which is expected to be contested between the trio of The Scheme, Latinos He is and Guillaume Macaire Impressive.
Undefeated on the fences until his last start, Latino Des Isles was the ante-post favorite for this race until his recent loss to filly La Manigance. The filly trained by François Nicolle looked supernatural in the victory that day and it is difficult to envisage a reversal of the rankings.
Rain-softened ground may hamper the pair, who enjoy high cruising speeds and could offer a chance to Impressive, who have run well in defeat all season and could do well here.
VERDICT 16.15 1. THE SCHEME 2. LATINO DES ISLES 3. IMPRESSIVE
HAWAI TO STAMP CLASS
Coach Arnaud Chaille-Chaille’s team has been in great shape in recent months and the coach has been able to saddle Berlais Hawaii in his first Gr.1 in the Prix Alain Du Breil (16.50). Ridden by Pierre Dubourg, who appeared on the match sheet on Saturday’s card, Hawai Du Berlais dropped the colors of the Gr.1 winner Kyrov the last time.
A winner in four of her six starts, the well-bred filly is a specialist around Auteuil and if she produces a similar performance she should again have Kyrov in her wing mirrors.
impregnable was a very impressive last term for coach Gabriel Leenders and could be the selection either way in a very open race for the standings.
VERDICT 16.50 1. HAWAI DU BERLAIS 2. KYROV 3. IMPREGNABLE
LOTS OF INTEREST IN THE UK FOR THE OPENING
The first race on the card, the Prix Marechal Foch (or French Foxhunters) sees twelve amateur ridden horses go to the post, with plenty of British interest.
The recent winner of Kempton and Ludlow by Oliver Greenhall and Josh Guerriero Geskill returns to his native France. Formerly trained by Francois Nicolle, the gelding looks superbly placed by connections and should be tough to beat for jockey Toby Wynne, who was on board at Ludlow.
The above St. Xavier also holds a premium chance in the race for Richard Hobson and is one of the highest rated horses in the business, while Sophie Leech saddles Two Taffs with her daughter Roisin in the plate.
Always a supporter of British racing, trainer Emmanuel Clayeux has secured the services of Paddy Mullins, who runs Mr Dream and Freddie Mitchell, who is on board Gaillard Magazine.