The French Derby has attracted five runners from England and Ireland. Patrick Weaver previews the Chantilly card and fancies the favourite's stablemate for Classic glory...
"St Mark's Basilica's wins make him the clear form pick, and you wouldn't oppose him over a mile. This is over 10 and a half furlongs, though, and he could be vulnerable at the longer trip."
Going with Group 1 winners in Group 1 races has worked fine for me over the years. There are three in tomorrow's Qatar Prix du Jockey Club at 15:00 - the Aidan O'Brien pair St Mark's Basilica and Van Gogh and Frederic Rossi's Sealiway, France's top staying two-year-old last year.
St Mark's Basilica is a Derby rarity in that he lines up with a two-year-old and a three-year-old Group 1 on his CV. He won the Dewhurst last October and the French 2,000 Guineas last time out - Normandy Bridge was seventh and Sealiway eighth. Those wins make him the clear form pick, and you wouldn't oppose him over a mile.
This is over 10 and a half furlongs, though, and he could be vulnerable at the longer trip.
Two that have more obvious staying pedigrees are Van Gogh and Normandy Bridge.
The pair were the first two back in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud last autumn, a Group 1 over a mile on heavy going. Van Gogh crucially got a clear run, led a furlong and a half out and won comfortably by four lengths. Normandy Bridge led into the straight and fought back to get second when that had looked unlikely a furlong out. Neither will want for stamina in the Derby.
There were no Gosden runners in the Derby at Epsom but John and Thady saddle two in the Chantilly colts' Classic - Derab (Juddmonte) & Megallan (Andrew Oppenheimer). Presumably, all involved believe their colts have a more realistic chance over the French trip than 12 furlongs.
Magellan has ducked a second meeting with Hurricane Lane by going to Paris. He was second to the Godolphin colt in the Dante at York. A creditable effort and a career-best on his step up to 10 furlongs-plus.
Derab's star is in the ascendancy. A half-brother to Enable, he has made steady progress in maiden and novice company in the hands of Martin Harley and tackles his first Group race. He could easily be placed.
The fifth raider - and you would have thought the weakest of the three from Newmarket - is Roger Varian's El Drama. He won a soft Derby trial at Chester and I think his limitations will be exposed in this company.
Soumillon has picked the right Aga colt
Christophe Soumillon will have had the choice between the two Aga Khan home-breds - Makaloun a winner of two Group 3s and placed in a Group 1, and his up-and-coming stablemate in the same ownership, Saiydabad.
The former French champ knows both well and must think Saiydabad is not the equal of his mount.
Jean-Claude Rouget also sends out Cheshire Academy. Owner, trainer and jockey, Cristian Demuro, won the race in 2019 with Sottsass, which went on to win the Arc.
Cheshire Academy and Pretty Tiger went past the post together in their Derby trial at Longchamp, the Prix Noailles - Cheshire Academy maintaining his unbeaten record thanks to the stewards who rightly placed Pretty Tiger second after causing interference.
It wouldn't be a surprise if either won or was placed, whereas it would be a major shock if a complete outsider were to figure in the finish.
I'll go with Van Gogh to give Irish champion jockey Colin Keane his first Group success for Aidan O'Brien. A nice spare ride to pick up, if ever there was one.
Of those at double-figure odds, Normandy Bridge appeals each-way at 20/1.
Bellissime looks out of her depth
The Prix de Sandringham at 14:15 rarely goes to an English-based raider and it would be a major surprise if Kevin Ryan were to win it with Bellissime.
She made all when sent off favourite for a minor race at Chelmsford in March, after which she was put in her place at Newmarket by Bellosa and Fundamental. Bellissime hasn't raced on ground this soft, or over a mile, so is likely to struggle.
The winner, as likely as not, should come from the recent 1,000 Guineas at Longchamp. Kennella and See The Rose excelled themselves that day, belying their respective SPs of 96/1 and 47/1 by figuring in a four-way photo for second place. There was only a head and a short head between the two of them with Silvestri running way below expectations back in 10th.
Mickael Barzalona takes over from Vincent Cheminaud on See The Rose, so the Andre Fabre filly could get the better of a renewed tussle with Kennella.
The Group 2 Prix du Gros-Chene at 16:50 was due to feature two runners from England, but Lazuli is a non-runner, leaving Karl Burke's Lady In France as the sole UK representative.
She ran twice at Longchamp last season. In the Prix du Petit Couvert, a trial for the Prix de l'Abbaye, Lady In France was third to Air De Valse with Coeur De Pierre a neck behind and Tour To Paris three lengths back.
In the l'Abbaye itself, she was fourth ahead of Air De Valse, Batwan and Sestilio Jet. Can she get her head in front where it matters this time? Probably not, as Chantilly is something of a specialist's track but you could do worse than back her each-way.
Louliana can bag a first Listed success
Nick Littmoden runs Monsieur Beaulieu in the Prix Marchand d'Or at 17:25 - a Listed race for three-year-olds over six furlongs that haven't won a Group race. Given there are four Listed winners in the line-up, it is no surprise that the recent Vichy maiden winner is an outsider.
The quartet of Listed winners comprises
Last time out though, Urgent Appeal was behind Louliana and Frontgate in the Prix Texanita over course and distance. With Louliana on the up, she should again come out on top.
Lightning to strike in the last
There are two interesting runners in the Prix Aly Khan at 18:00, a classified race for horses rated up to 80.
Among the five rated 77-80 in this amateur riders' contest are Gypsy Whisper and Middleham Park Racing's Ventura Lightning.
Both were rated 90 when racing in the UK in 2020, so have done well to qualify. Gypsy Whisper won two seven-furlong handicaps at Sandown for David Menuisier last summer. Ventura Lightning won a six-furlong sprint at Newcastle as recently as January for Richard Fahey.
The weights favour horses like Gypsy Whisper that haven't won much prize money since early December, so she has a solid each-way chance. However, as the race is over six rather than seven furlongs, Ventura Lightning could well outpace her and is the tip.