Auteuil stages its champion hurdle for four-year-olds this afternoon. Patrick Weaver previews the eight-race card.
"David Cottin's handicapper is related to Graded and Listed winners and will move up to that level if he wins his fourth in a row this afternoon."
It's the race that those who follow French four-year-olds have been waiting for. The favourite James De Berlais takes on Moises Has, For Fun and Grand Messe in the Prix Renaud de Vivier at 13:35. Victory will give the winner bragging rights as the best hurdler of his age going into the new year.
For me, the key form is the Prix Maisons-Laffitte in late September. James De Berlais started favourite, and although he was two lengths clear of For Fun at the line, he was no match for the winner, Seduction.
My tip then ran in a Grade 3 trial for this race, drawing five lengths clear of Moises Has and Grand Messe with For Fun eight lengths back in eighth.
After an inauspicious start - he was unplaced in his first four races - James De Berlais has finished in the first two in all his subsequent contests. One of those defeats, it should be pointed out, was in the Grade 1 Prix Alain du Breil at Compiegne at the hands of For Fun but there was only a short neck between them.
The only horse to beat ultra-game Galleo Conti over hurdles, James De Berlais looks the bet of the day.
Bimbo is Nicolle's best chance of a winner
The three-year-old hurdle earlier on the card is worthy of mention. The Prix Robert De Lipkowski at 12:25 is a shop window for lightly-raced types that may well end up with the likes of Gary Moore, Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott.
Bimbo Has is the overnight market leader despite not having run since May. One of two in the line-up trained by Francois Nicolle, the son of Authorized jumped a little awkwardly on his debut but never gave up when beaten two lengths and a head by Busselton and State Man on his debut.
The first and second are no longer in training in France - State Man going to an Irish trainer for a figure in excess of €150,000. With stable jockey Angelo Zuliani on Bimbo Has, and his younger brother Luca on Haut Les Coeurs you would have to fancy the favourite.
There was plenty to like about Kerlaz Cze on his debut over today's course and distance. He was in the first four down the back straight, jumped the second-last in second position and remained three or four lengths behind the winner, Hurrick Des Obeaux, with High Vocation six lengths back in fourth. It is impossible to quantify that run, as the race was for horses that had not previously run over hurdles. Kerlaz Cze ticked several boxes, though, and could well go one better here.
Let Me win has finished unplaced at Auteuil since winning a minor race at Cholet. Barbadin was well behind Haut Les Coeurs when the pair made their hurdling debuts in the Prix Emilius last month.
The more I looked at the race the more it seems to be between Bimbo Has and Kerlaz Cze, with Haut Les Coeurs the best each-way option.
Suroit should remain unbeaten over fences
I've steered clear of handicaps the last six months but once in a while there's a progressive runner that catches my eye. Suroit in the Prix Cacoa at 13:00 is one such.
David Cottin's six-year-old is related to Graded and Listed winners and will move up to that level if he wins his fourth in a row this afternoon. He is unbeaten in 2020, winning a handicap hurdle at Vittel in August before scoring over fences at Compiegne and Auteuil.
He has been put up 8lb for his most recent win from Drop Flight and Embrun D'Oudairies but I would expect him to take his record to three from three over fences.
Punters will be saved by the Belle
The Prix Sytaj at 14:50 is a Grade 3 chase for fillies and mares that have not won €100,000 this year.
The top weight, Amour Du Mathan has won nearly a quarter of a million in her first two seasons, but only 66k in 2020. She is the classiest in the line-up but her recent Listed win by a neck from Happy Monarch ended a losing sequence of 13 that included three falls.
She has little to fear from the fourth, Ferronniere, but the three four-year-olds at the bottom are worth a close look.
My tip Belle Promesse has won three of her last four, two of them at Auteuil. The latest was by four and a half lengths from Polidayana Laujac who takes her on again. And Golden Park would have a massive chance on her third to Le Berry and Magrudy in the Grade 3 Prix La Perichole back in July. Unfortunately for her connections, that was something of a one-off. In her three subsequent races she has not finished within 30 lengths of the winner - that includes the Prix Pierre et Jean-Marie Mercier won by Belle Promesse.