Grand Steep' clues come thick and fast at Auteuil
Report: France, Friday
Auteuil: Prix Murat (Group 2 Chase) 2m6f, 5yo+
WHILE reigning champion Mid Dancer was being readied for his comeback half an hour later in a conditions hurdle, Farlow Des Mottes (Francois Nicole/Benoit Gicquel) announced himself as a serious contender for the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris crown in six weeks' time.
Having proved himself one of last season's leading four-year-old chasers, Farlow Des Mottes has bridged the difficult generational gap this season and ran down the brave Pibrac to score by three lengths.
"He was faultless and Benoit rode the race to the millimetre," said an ebulliant Nicolle.
Pibrac threatened to give his younger rival plenty to think about after Philip Carberry launched him clear of his field with a mighty leap at the big open ditch in the back straight.
The pair still had a 10 length advantage turning for home but, despite battling all the way to the line they were reeled in by Farlow Des Mottes.
Nicole said: "I was a little worried when Pibrac got away because he is a serious horse but, once mine had jumped the double barriere (second last fence), I knew he'd win."
Quarouso stayed on eyecatchingly on his seasonal reappearance to finish third under Nathalie Desoutter, who was herself only having a second ride since breaking her ankle at Pau in February.
Also on Friday
Auteuil: Prix Arthur Veil-Picard (Hurdle) 2m3½f, 5yo+
Every bit as informative with regard to the Grand Steeple-Chase was the duel between Mid Dancer and Lagunak up the Auteuil straight.
In the end it was last season's winner of the Group 1 Prix La Haye Jousselin, Lagunak (Yannick Fouin/Jeremy Da Silva), who just got the better of the struggle but connections of both the principals can claim a degree of satisfaction.
"Last year we missed the big race because he lacked a bit of experience but this year, all being well, the Grand Steeple-Chase will be his target," said Fouin.
The Prix Ingre back over fences in three weeks time is the logical next stop for both Lagunak and Mid Dancer, who will then attempt an unprecedented fourth success in the French equivalent of the Gold Cup.
"He doesn't run like a 12-year-old, he's remarkable," said Herve Barjot, representing Mid Dancer's owners Pegasus Farms.
"As always the target wasn't to have him at his best today but to bring him on and, if all goes well of course it will be the Grand Steep - but he directs us."