Jump racing resumes in Paris at France's top track for chasers and hurdlers, Auteuil. Racing journalist Patrick Weaver previews the card and has two bets at the provincial tracks...
"The time was relatively slow, but he looked classy nonetheless."
Jumping in May in England does not amount to much but that is not the case in France.
Normally there would be over €2million up for grabs at Auteuil this month, with Willie Mullins sending over Grade One-placed horses at Cheltenham and Punchestown to contest the top races. Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls have also had recent winners at the Paris track.
The current lockdown, though, means only French-trained horses can compete and this weekend's high-value races have been rescheduled.
James Reveley has his first rides of the week and can win the Prix Go Ahead at 13:05.
Looking at the videos of the meeting at Compiegne on March 2, it was interesting to see just how confident he was on Nimes in his three-year-old hurdle, bringing him steadily from near-last to lead in the home straight.
The Guillaume Macaire-trained winner did not draw away, and the time was relatively slow, but he looked classy nonetheless.
There are three others in the line-up that ran before the lockdown in mid-March. Reveley was on the selection's stablemate Yes Indeed which was beaten 12 lengths by Quilixios when sent off co-favourite for the Prix d'Essai des Poulains on the same card.
His time was two seconds faster, so he would have a chance here. There is no reason to think I'm Walkin' can beat him, given he was 28 lengths back in fourth.
Shawnigan is the only runner to have raced at Auteuil, belying his SP of 10/1 when third to Monmiral and Hell Red over course and distance. A Macaire one-two is on the cards, hopefully with Nimes justifying his status as favourite.
The seven that line up for the Grade Two Prix Murat Chase at 13:35 have won over £3 million between them. Yes, the prize money for jumpers in France really is that good.
The winner is likely to come from the three market leaders: Ebonite, Figuero and Carriacou, preferred in that order.
Ebonite has raced seven times here over the last 13 months. His handicap rating has gone up 40lb in that time, thanks chiefly to winning the Prix Xavier de Chevigny and an even better second in the Grade Two Prix Heros XII.
He finished 12 lengths in front of Carriacou here in November, when the pair filled the minor placings behind Bipolaire, and they meet on similar terms, Ebonite getting a mares' allowance.
Carriacou won the French equivalent of the Gold Cup here 12 months ago, with Willie Mullins' Burrow Saint over 20 lengths back. The Irish runner may have been over the top after a tough season, in which case he is a false yardstick, but it was a competitive Grand Steeplechase de Paris nonetheless.
A recent run here over hurdles should have put Carriacou straight for today, but as he is the outsider of the three this is perhaps a second step towards the Gold Cup behind closed doors on June 7.
Figuero has won four of his five chases. He is the champion novice chaser of his age in France, having won the €320,000 Prix Maurice Gillois over today's trip of two miles six in November - a race Carriacou won in 2016. The reason he is favourite is that this race is over his trip, and Ebonite and Carriacou would prefer another half-mile or more.
Lightweight card at Strasbourg
The mixed meeting at Strasbourg running alongside Auteuil is lightweight.
Cross-country fans will want to watch the Prix Ucello Du Lac over the Cheltenham Gold Cup trip at 10:20, but nothing jumps off the page.
Later on the 10-race card at 12:50, there is a four-year-old conditions race on the Flat with two interesting runners, Morning Dew and Dictee.
Morning Dew is having her first race since finishing last in the French Oaks. She had come fourth in a Listed in the spring so ought to go close in this considerably weaker race.
Dictee is owned by retired trainer Criquette Head, who does not need to keep her in training as she has nothing to prove. Her filly has yet to finish out of the first two and would not be lining up if her owner thought she would blot her copybook. On that basis, she is worth a look if supported in the market.
Shannkiyr should take third, judged on his two runs at Vichy last summer.
Bottom weight in her first claimer
Anyone still betting when the last race is run at Salon de Provence at 19:15 should look at Grudge.
Christophe Ferland places his horses shrewdly and this filly has bottom weight in her first claimer. She won a maiden at Pornichet last August and showed she has trained on when sticking to her task to keep fourth place in a 12-runner handicap at Chantilly. She could easily have weakened after racing prominently but did not. In contrast, most of her rivals here will throw in the towel long before the finish
Had today's race been over a mile, she would be a good thing. Over an extra furlong, she is still worth a decent bet.