French Racing Tips: Bank on Ballon to rise to the occasion

Jumping action at Auteuil
Jumping's the name of the game at Auteuil which stages the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, the French Gold Cup

There's more top-class action at Auteuil, with the Grand Steeplechase de Paris top of the bill. Patrick Weaver previews the three Grade 1s and pinpoints the day's best bets...

"Louisa Carberry has campaigned the nine-year-old sensibly since, winning another Grade One the following month and bringing him back to Auteuil for a recognised Gold Cup trial."

There is a top quality card at Auteuil this afternoon, with their equivalent of the Gold Cup taking pride of place.

The Grand Steeplechase de Paris at 15:30 will take some winning. It's three and three-quarter miles on very soft ground, so the final half-mile will inevitably be something of a slog.

The overnight favourite was Le Berry, winner of all seven of his chases from two miles to two miles, six. The only going he knows is very soft and heavy and if he stays the extra mile I can see him winning. It's a big if, though.

On his last start he didn't win as comfortably as you would expect a 1/5 shot to. He got home by a short neck from Feu Follet with Figuero 20 lengths back in third. That was a particularly poor run from Figuero who has finished ahead of Feu Follet more often than not, including in last year's 'Grand Steep' for which Figuero was favourite.

Three of the last seven winners were five years of age, so that shouldn't count against Le Berry. It's the stamina issue that concerns me and I would rather go with a horse that has run in the race before. There's a fair few of them to choose from.

Ballon can claim gold for a second time

Back in October when the Grand Steep was staged five months later than usual, due to Covid restrictions, the first four home were Docteur De Ballon, Figuero, Feu Follet and the winner in 2019, Carriacou. Docteur De Ballon jumped the last in second but was soon in front and went clear to win by five lengths.

Louisa Carberry has campaigned the nine-year-old sensibly since, winning another Grade One the following month and bringing him back to Auteuil for a recognised Gold Cup trial.

On that first run for over four months, Docteur De Ballon finished within a length of Ajas, who was getting 3lb, and 11 lengths clear of Feu Follet.

Ajas is an interesting runner, as he has been on the go since he was a two-year-old and spent 2019 in Scandinavia where he won the Norwegian Champion Hurdle. Since he returned to France last May he has gone from strength to strength. He has contested seven races, winning four and coming second in the others.

He won the Grand Prix de Pau in January over three miles, two and a half furlongs in January and his recent defeat of Docteur De Ballon was better still. He's clearly on the up and should again account for Eddy De Balme who was placed in both races.

With Kevin Nabet on stablemate Le Berry, Rachael Blackmore gets to ride Ajas for the first time.

It is her first ride at the Paris track and some story if she can come home first after being top rider at the Cheltenham Festival and then winning the Grand National.

Carriacou won the 2019 Gold Cup but peaked that day and hasn't won since. James Reveley has been on a learning curve with him, though, and having got to know him he appeals each-way at 14/1.

The only English-based runner is Lord Du Mesnil trained by confirmed Francophile Richard Hobson. He has run nine times at Auteuil without winning but it is only in the last two years, since he last ran here in May 2019, that his career has taken off.

Lod Du Mesnil was runner-up in the long-distance novice chase at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival and this February won the Haydock Grand National trial, before finding the going too fast at Aintree on the big day itself. His heart is in the right place and Danny Mullins is a positive booking.

It's a tough one to call but I will go with Docteur De Ballon over Ajas and recommend Carriacou each-way.

Heloy looks each-way value in four-year-old chase

The Prix Ferdinand Dufaure at 14:50 is for four-year-old chasers and worth €320,000 to the winner. Yet again it has failed to attract a single runner from England or Ireland.

According to the handicapper's ratings, Golden Tweet has 5lb in hand of the other geldings while Queen Du Berlais comes out best of the fillies.

Whereas Golden Tweet gained his wins at Compiegne, Queen Du Berlais' victories have come over Auteuil's fences - one of them in a Grade 3. What muddies the picture is that in the most relevant trial over course and distance when 6/5 favourite, Queen Du Berlais could only finish fourth behind Le Listrac, L'Aubonniere and Heloy Delabarriere.

I've replayed that race a few times and the lead changed hands a few times in the last half-mile. There really is nothing to choose between the four of them. It will come down to jumping ability under pressure.

James Reveley's mount Yes Indeed was getting 6lb and 4lb respectively when he accounted for Hades and Chorail Debelair in another important trial for this race. At level weights, Hades should come out on top but he is not exactly a model of consistency.

Given the overnight prices and the fact he is at the top of his game, I suggest Heloy Delabarriere each-way but if Golden Tweet takes to Auteuil's fences there he is a fair chance he will add to his Compiegne victories.

Triple top on the cards for Nicolle

The €250,000 Grade 1 Prix Alain de Breil at 16:45 is the equivalent of the Triumph Hurdle.

Hermes Baie is understandably slight odds-on, having given Raffles Face 7lb and an eight-length thrashing in the trial last month. Gallipoli, True Tiger and Rachael Blackmore's mount Jeu De Paume were even further back so it would be a surprise were they to figure.

As if having Hermes Baie and Raffles Face wasn't enough, Francois Nicolle also runs the top filly of her age, Starlet Du Mesnil. She steps up in distance and class but is improving and should be placed, in all probability giving Nicolle the first three home.

Bank on Impressive to see off Paradiso

Away from the Grade 1 races, there is one horse that you shouldn't miss out on, Impressive in the Prix Stanley at 13:33.

The unbeaten three-year-old beat his stablemate Tonguetted two and a half lengths on their racecourse debuts at Compiegne in March. He then doubled that winning margin when they were first and second in the Prix Go Ahead here at Auteuil last month.

Paradiso won his only start to date, having beaten Cuzco Du Mathan eight lengths. He is the only conceivable danger and the best each-way option at what looks a generous 6/1 given his stable is in form.

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