The action in Paris switches from the Flat to the jumps this weekend. Patrick Weaver homes in on the French Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup...
"The Worlds End looks a decent bet to be placed. If the favourite doesn't last home, Tom George's runner could well win."
There are two championship races at Auteuil this weekend. The Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil has top billing on Saturday, the Grand Steeplechase de Paris is the feature on Sunday.
Both races are usually run in the late spring but, because of Covid-19, they were rescheduled for this month. That could mean we are in for a shock result but champion trainer Francois Nicolle has given his leading fancies an adapted preparation and is happy with their wellbeing.
L'Autonomie has the class if not the stamina
His L'Autonomie is understandably favourite for the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil at 16:00. She has won her last eight races, including the Grade 1 race for four-year-olds in November which she won by 18 lengths - the Prix Renaud du Vivier. The only horse to finish within three lengths of her in those races was El Gringo who takes her on again.
The majority of the 11 runners have yet to run beyond three miles, and that includes Nicolle's wonder mare which has not raced beyond two miles, six. There is a stamina doubt about the favourite, but she has never fallen and would wipe the floor with these over her optimum trip of two and a half miles.
There are three Brits in the line-up, best of which would be The Worlds End. Trained by Tom George and ridden by Adrian Heskin, he moved on to a rating of 156 after beating L'Ami Serge just under three lengths in the Marsh Hurdle at Ascot with Agrapart a further two lengths back. L'Ami Serge won the French Champion Hurdle back in 2017 to put that success in some sort of context.
The Worlds End's Wetherby win was a bit special
Another thing going for The Worlds End is that he has won first time out each of the last two seasons. His win from Unowhatimeanharry in a Grade 2 at Wetherby last autumn was a bit special, in that he made all over three miles, jumped well and stayed on strongly. Qualities he will need to pay for his trip over.
The Nick Williams-trained Agrapart was rated 161 at his peak early in 2018 but he is a no-hoper in his current form. He is willing enough but has lost his sparkle, finishing fourth in his last four Graded hurdles.
David Pipe's Ramses de Teillee looks an equally ambitious entry. A winner of a trio of novice hurdles over three miles last season, his official rating of 149 puts him 7lb behind The Worlds End. That figure may flatter him, though, as his wins came in five-runner races. When we last saw him in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, he was left for dead two flights from home and finished tailed off.
It is possible that large fields don't suit him.
Given the likes of Galop Marin, Paul's Saga, and Porto Pollo have all been chasing L'Autonomie's shadow the last 12 months, The Worlds End looks a decent bet to be placed. If the favourite doesn't last home, Tom George's runner could well win.
Bannister could go one better for Reveley
George has secured the services of James Reveley for Bannister in the Prix Mid Dancer at 14:50.
A rare two-year-old runner for the Cotswolds trainer 12 months ago, Bannister has since run four times over hurdles, winning by 20 lengths at Southwell last month. Reveley took over from Johnny Burke for his latest run at Compiegne, electing to make all but getting caught 100 yards from home and going down by a neck.
The winner, Martator, had not previously won a race, so the form is nothing out of the ordinary. However, it is an astute entry by George as this race is for juveniles that have not won over €17,000 over hurdles and Bannister (€14,761) has won more than any other runner.
Reveley will give it a good go from the front and be hoping Lord Du Nord and Hortelao Has, the first two home in a race at Bordeaux recently, don't catch him.
Carri on in the same vein
Sunday's Grand Steep at 15:25 features the first four home in last year's race: Carriacou, Bipolaire, Roi Mage and Roxinela.
It's a race that has eluded Francois Nicolle in the last decade and, in addition to Bipolaire he fields Poly Grandchamp and Figuero.
Any of the six could win. It would be a surprise if one of the other five were placed.
Carriacou is not favourite because he has not won since the last renewal of this race in May of last year. This, though, is one of the few races in France over three miles six, and his five thirds in the meantime have been over shorter trips - four of them over less than three miles.
Bipolaire stayed on well enough when passed by Carriacou after the second-last when favourite for the last Grand Steep. He has since finished 17 lengths clear of Carriacou in the Grade 1 Prix la Haye Jousselin with Poly Grandchamp and Roxinela even further back.
His recent run over hurdles here at Auteuil was simply a prep race for this weekend - even though he was 11/10 to win it. There is no denying he has a huge chance, given he has three Gr1 wins on his CV.
Bipolaire's stablemate Figuero gets a 4lb age allowance and is at the top of his form. He doesn't float my boat, though, as he has only one Gr1 success to his credit and has not raced beyond three miles.
James Reveley won this in 2018 aboard On The Go. His mount was five at the time and had such a hard race that he didn't run for nearly two years.
He had a couple of runs here in the spring and two last month at Compiegne, the latest behind Roi Mage and Poly Grandchamp. It would be great if he could bounce back to something like his 2018 form but on recent evidence, he is at least a stone off it. Guillaume Macaire is a past master at bringing horses back, though, and he has taken three of the last four runnings with Reveley on all his winners.
SATURDAY: Back The Worlds End Each-Way in the 16:00 at 4/1
SUNDAY: Back Carriacou Each-Way in the 15:25