Henrythenavigator faces stern test in Moulin
3.20 Longchamp: Prix du Moulin (Group 1, 1m, Live on ATR/RUK)
A TOP-CLASS field is out to thwart Henrythenavigator as he attempts to claim his fifth Group 1 win of the season in the Prix du Moulin - but the ground and draw represent bigger worries to Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle team.
The superstarmiler must overcome the widest draw in stall 11, while there looks sure to be more give in the ground than isideal for a colt, who was twice beaten on soft as a two-year-old.
Although recent evidence suggests there might not be much of a disadvantage in an outside post, a wide draw here has traditionally been considered unfavourable as the field must keep straight for the first 200 metres before a right turn on the long descent into the straight.
Potentially a greater worry, though, is the ground. The going at Longchamp on Saturday registered 3.3 (or good to soft) on the penetrometer, with sunny periods -plus the odd shower - forecast ahead of the Qatar-sponsored Moulin.
Paris-Turf suggested the official description might not be totally reliable, reporting the ground as 3.8 (or very soft) for Friday's meeting.
Although they will be racing on a fresh strip of ground, any further deterioration in conditions would surely raise doubts about Henrythenavigator's participation, although O'Brien said on Saturday that the plan was to run and attempt to add another Group 1 victory to a list already including both the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas, the St James's Palace Stakes and the Sussex Stakes.
Among Henrythenavigator's chief rivals are three star fillies in Goldikova, Darjina and Natagora, who meet again after filling the first three positions in the Prix Rothschild (ex-d'Astarte).
If the favourite has the benefit of a likely pacemaker in Honoured Guest, he is by no means alone in that as both Goldikova and Natagora also have stablemates alongside to do the donkeywork.
Soft ground would not hinder Goldikova, who represents Freddie Head, a trainer having his best-ever season. She was not flat out in the Rothschild, and the two fillies behind her would not appreciate any deterioration in the ground.
Darjina's trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre also saddles Sageburg, who did not show his best when beaten by both Darjina and Natagora this season.
Natagora's presence sets up a clash of the Newmarket Guineas winners as she runs in her third Group 1 event in five weeks after the Rothschild and the Jacques le Marois, where she was runner-up to Tamayuz.
British-based trainers are responsible for a pair of talented colts in Paco Boy and Lovelace.
Impressive Hungerford Stakes winner Paco Boy is on a hat-trick, having suffered his only defeat in five starts this term when not getting the best of runs here in the Poulains.
Lovelace makes a quick reappearance after winning Germany's top mile race for older horses, the Group 2 Oettingen-Rennen at Baden-Baden on Tuesday.
Alain de Royer-Dupre, trainer of Sageburg and Darjina
"I hope it doesn't rain too much for Darjina. I feel the filly is in better shape than last time at Deauville and she does act extremely well at Longchamp.
"Sageburg was a little fresh last time out in the Jacques Le Marois and I've done my best to correct that situation. This colt has a lot of class and I just hope he can find it on this occasion. Cut in the ground won't hamper him in anyway."
Aidan O'Brien, trainer of Honoured Guest and Henrythenavigator
"The plan is to run Henrythenavigator but the ground is currently working against us so we'll have to see. We wouldn't want soft going and we blamed similar ground for it when he was defeated on twooccasions - he was very impressive in his two races before he ran on testing ground for the first time. But we're very happy with him since Goodwood and everything has gone well since he ran the last time. He hasn't a good draw and the ground won't be ideal for him, but he's in good form."
Mark Johnston, trainer of Lovelace
"Lovelace came out of the race in Germany very well and he did it so easily - you wouldn't know he had even had a race. Obviously, Sunday's race looks very good but my horse is in the form of his life so it is definitely worth a go. He has had well-documented problems with stalls and, but forthat, I don't think you would have seen him running in handicaps for as long as he has. He really is a serious horse and I'm looking forward to seeing him run again."
Uwe Ostmann, trainer of Forthe Millionkiss
"The horse is very well and in good form but we realise we are taking on very tough opposition."
Richard Hannon, trainer of Paco Boy
"He was very unlucky in the Poulains and that is his only defeat of the season. He has a good kick and was really impressive last time - he has been working well and although it looks like it will be quite soft at Longchamp, he seems to go on anything. Some cut in the ground will be just fine. I don't know if Henrythenavigator will run if it's soft ground but if he does, we're ready to take him on and you don't know until you try."
Pascal Bary, trainer of Sarissa and Natagora
"Natagora has had no problems in her preparation and is in great shape. She just loves racing and I feel she is even better since her last race, which she needed. There should be a strip of decent ground near the rail but I don't want it too soft. The filly has a lot of speed and I feelshe is better suited to the mile at Longchamp than to the straight one at Deauville. I have put in a pacemaker to ensure there is a true pace which there wasn't in the Rothschild."
Freddie Head, trainer of Goldikova and Pas Seule
"We have a good draw and the soft ground won't bother her. She's done very well since the Rothschild and this was always the aim. You can do whatever you want with her in a race and she has a good turn of foot. She is a very special filly."