If you are wondering why Tom O'Brien is not riding at Aintree or Wincanton this Saturday, he is in Paris. Not shopping or on vacation but to ride Thyme Hill in the Grade 1 Grand Prix d'Automne at 14:50.
It's a while since his boss Philip Hobbs had a runner in France. Not since 2013 and 2014, in fact, when Balthazar King won back-to-back runnings of the Cross Country de Craon.
It's a long way from West Somerset to Auteuil and Hobbs would not be sending his stable star on the 920-mile round trip unless he thought he was in with a fighting chance of coming back with the £140,000 first prize. He only has to finish to cover his travel and entry costs as there is over £7,000 for coming last of seven.
The seven-year-old has won first time out each season - a bumper at Worcester, and Grade 2s at Chepstow and Newbury - and he closed his latest campaign out with victory in the Grade 1 Ryanair Stayers Hurdle on good to soft at the Aintree Grand National meeting.
The opposition has a huge advantage as they all know Auteuil well. Horses for courses? There are six of them headed by L'Autonomie who has won 15 of her 20 starts at the Paris track. The only time she ran elsewhere was when an Auteuil meeting was switched to Compiegne last year because of Covid, and she won that Grade 3 by a wide margin.
One of her few defeats was in this race last November when she jumped poorly - unusual for her - and trailed in 12 lengths behind Galop Marin and Paul's Saga who fought out the finish.
That race was a tough one for the first two home. Neither has won since. and on four occasions - in March, April, May and last month - they finished five lengths or more behind L'Autonomie.
Last time out in the Prix Carmarthen, they had to settle for third and fourth, as Folsom Prison came between them and L'Autonomie. The runner-up was getting 4lb that day; this weekend they all meet on level terms.
Sophie Leech runs Zurekin, who is unlikely to trouble the market leaders but will no doubt run his usual honest race. The five-year-old has won two valuable handicap hurdles and £140,000 since his shrewd owner James Finch claimed him for the equivalent of £14,000 15 months ago. He's always worth a look in lesser company but more likely to finish nearer last than first in this hot contest.
L'Autonomie should get her 16th career win at Auteuil but Thyme Hill each-way makes sense at the odds.
Hashcup Collonges has valuable course experience
The Prix Coq Gaulois at 12:23 is a novice chase for four-year-old non-thoroughbreds. In France penalties are based on prizemoney won, rather than wins, so Hashcup Collonges gives 4lb despite never having won over fences.
Hopi Blue, Havanea, Honoris Causa, and Harpon d'Oudairies have won novice chases at minor tracks while Happy Joy won a claimer here at Auteuil over two miles a month ago.
I suggest going with Hashcup Collonges who was three lengths ahead of Hunter Grey when the pair were placed over course and distance last time out.
Latino ticks the right boxes
The next is something we don't have in the UK - a chase for three-year-olds. We have not had that many juvenile hurdles in England this season, but in France they teach them to jump a lot earlier and all eight runners were hurdling earlier this year.
The Grade 2 Prix Congress at 12:58 is worth £170,000 and has been won as often as not by Guillaume Macaire in the last 12 years. The former champion trainer doesn't have a runner on Saturday but he will tell you that ideally you should go into the race with a horse that has won over fences at the track.
His last winner, Edward d'Argent, picked up a penalty for winning the Prix Noiro the previous month - the very race that Latino Des Isles won last time out.
The son of Martaline put in a round of faultless jumping to score by four lengths from Coup De Coeur, with Magic Marvel 14 lengths further back in fourth. Singapore Trip came home last of the six to finish.
Coup De Coeur's stablemate Iniesta Du Gouet has gained his limited jumping experience at Compiegne, winning once and coming second to Iceo Madrik, who has since let the form down badly on his return to that track.
Latino Des Isles should gain a second win over fences if he jumps as cleanly and confidently as last month. He looks the best bet on the card.
Hip hip Hawai
The Prix Bournosienne at 13:33 is a Grade 2 hurdle for three-year-old fillies, two of which are unbeaten - Hawai du Berlais and La Manigance. Preference is for the former, owned by the stud that sponsors the race, and winner of a Listed and a Grade 3 at Auteuil.
La Manigance's victories have come in lesser events at Compiegne and Le Lion d'Angers.
La Boetie is officially rated best of those with handicap marks. She had steadily progressed over the course of her first five races, winning and coming second in Gr3 contests. She let her supporters down badly last time, though, coming only sixth of seven in the Grade 2 Prix Georges de Talhouet-Roy.
Maybe she was unsettled by being the only filly, and will revert to her previous good form back against her own sex. I'm not prepared to forgive her that run, though, and think Hawai Du Berlais will make it three wins from three starts.