Guillaume Macaire: aiming Bel La Vie at the Grand Steeple-Chase de ParisPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Macaire hoping for Grand gesture from Bel
Preview: France, Saturday (2.40pm BST)
Auteuil: Prix Ingre (Group 3 Chase) 2m6f, 5yo+
WHEN picking up the award for champion jumps owner at the recent Cravaches d'Or ceremony, Xavier Papot admitted that winning a first Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris had become something of an obsession for his family.
If the blue and green diamond silks are to be first past the post in three weeks time, then by far the likeliest horse to be carrying them to glory is Prix Troytown winner Bel La Vie (Guillaume Macaire/Bertrand Lestrade).
The seven-year-old had his rivals strung out at big intervals in the Troytown but Macaire is refusing to get carried away.
"The sole aim is the Grand Steep in three weeks so the main thing is that he runs well without having too hard a race," he insisted. "I'd like to see it rain because I think he's better in deep ground. I don't see the trip either tomorrow or in three weeks being a problem, he's bred to stay."
With the Grand Steeple-Chase once again brought forward and the calendar correspondingly condensed, Bel La Vie finds many of his chief rivals for glory on May 19 in opposition here.
Mid Dancer (Christophe Aubert/Sylvain Dehez) belied his 12 years and record-equalling three wins in the great race when producing a sprightly effort over hurdles on his comeback, just going down to another Grand Steep' contender Lagunak (Yannick Fouin/Jeremy Da Silva).
Dehez was an interested spectator that day owing to suspension but is now free to resume the partnership.
Jean-Paul Gallorini told journalists at a recent press event for the Gras Savoye-sponsored Grand Steeple-Chase that he expected to have as many as four in the race.
The veteran trainer saddles three potential candidates here in Shannon Rock (David Cottin), Quarouso (Nathalie Desoutter) and the improving Dragon Mask (Jonathan Nattiez).
The Papot family also have a second string in Ozamo (Philip Peltier/Jonathan Plouganou), who makes a rapid return to action having slipped-up on the flat during Wednesday's Prix William Head.
Also on Saturday (12.30pm BST)
Auteuil: Prix Jean Stern (Group 2 Chase) 2m5½f, 4yo
Representing the same connections as Bel La Vie later in the afternoon, Vanilla Crush (Guillaume Macaire/Bertrand Lestrade) will almost certainly go off the shortest price favourite in any of Saturday's trials, after a scintillating performance three weeks ago in the Prix Fleuret.
That was the Martaline gelding's first venture into group company but his trainer wasn't the least bit surprised by a five length defeat of stablemate Storm Of Saintly (Ray Lee O'Brien).
"He's a very good horse and he backed up what he'd done in his previous races last time," reflected Macaire. "The only problem with him is he tends to jump to his right a little but he seemed to go straighter last time.
"He's been very good in training and he's very straightforward really. Storm Of Saintly is probably one step below Vanilla Crush in terms of talent but he's a good worker and, if the ground came up nearer good to soft, that would help him."
The pair had no fewer than four Guy Cherel runners behind them in the Fleuret but, apparently undaunted, the Maisons-Laffitte trainer sends five out in an attempt to wrest back the initiative he held in earlier exchanges among the four-year-old chasers.
Volca De Thaix (Jacques Ricou) is added to the Cherel legion here, having won his last start at Auteuil by 30 lengths.
Of rge Cherel runners that finished behind Vanilla Crush three weeks ago, Laskaline (Cyrille Gombeau) fared best in third, while Chardonnay (David Cottin) might benefit from a more patient ride, having faded into fifth on that occasion.