Mid Dancer is following the same path as he did last yearPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Mid Dancer on return mission at Auteuil
Preview: France, Saturday (1.35pm BST)
Auteuil: Prix Ingre (Group 3 chase) 2m6f, 5yo+
IT SAYS plenty about the task facing those that line up for the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, that the serious last prep race is both significantly shorter and, by grade, the least prestigious of four trials on Saturday's card.
Nobody wants to leave their chances behind three weeks before the main event.
It's a preparation which worked to perfection 12 months ago for the evergreen Mid Dancer (Christophe Aubert/Sylvain Dehez), when landing the Ingre before going on to return to the summit of French jump racing after a three year interval.
Aubert is following the same strategy this time round, with Mid Dancer finishing second over hurdles three weeks ago.
"Tomorrow isn't the main target," said Aubert on Friday. "He's back over the big fences at Auteuil for the first time in a while, so there's no particular pressure tomorrow, as long as he has a good trip round with no problems."
Age defied promise last season when Mid Dancer got the better of Rubi Ball in the Grand Steeple, and the 11-year-old faces another young pretender on Saturday in the shape of Net Lovely (Emmanuel Clayeux/David Berra).
Since Clayeux switched his sights to chasing with the six-year-old daughter of Network, Net Lovely has rattled up a flawless sequence, most recently when denying Parigny by three quarters of a length in the Group 3 Prix Robert de Clermont-Tonnerre at the beginning of last month.
"It's a big test for her tomorrow," admitted Clayeux. "I'll decide on the Grand Steeple after tomorrow. There's no decision yet but if she runs well she could take her chance."
Clayeux also has the consistent Rhialco (Christophe Pieux) as a useful second string in the race, who after a rare lapse in jumping in the race won by Net Lovely, atoned with an excellent third behind Pistolet Rouge in the Prix Troytown.
"He's building up slowly, he won't be at 100 percent tomorrow, because for him the Grand Steeple is definitely his objective," confirmed Clayeux.
Jean-Paul Gallorini is also double-handed with Remember Rose (David Cottin) and Quarouso (Nathalie Desoutter), both of whom are likely to be well-supported in an open-looking race.
Also on Saturday
Auteuil: Prix Leon Rambaud (Group 2 hurdle) 2m3½f, 5yo+ (2.40pm BST)
The Grande Course de Haies [French Champion Hurdle] isn't run until June 10 but this represents a major stepping stone for two of France's leading candidates to keep the prize at home.
Formosa Joana Has (Jean-Paul Gallorini/Sylvain Dehez) has looked extremely impressive in two starts at Auteuil this season, having previously confined her dominance to Enghien.
Last time out in the Prix Hypothese she finished six lengths ahead of La Segnora (Yann Porzier/Frederic Ditta), but that remarkable mare is likely to be have come on plenty for her first jumps start since December.
The most intriguing addition to the mix is Nikita Du Berlais (Robert Collet/Cyrille Gombeau).
The best of her generation at three-years-old over hurdles, Nikita Du Berlais spent eighteen months on the sidelines, before returning with two recent wins in lower grade events this spring.
Auteuil: Prix Jean Stern (Group 2 chase) 2m5½f, 4yo (2.08pm BST)
Saint Palois (Jacques Ortet/David Cottin) remains the heir-apparent in the four-year-old chasing division, although his unbeaten sequence of five almost came to an end in the Prix Fleuret over course and distance.
On that occasion Ucello Conti (Guillaume Macaire/Jacques Ricou) got within a length of Saint Palois, which marked a significant improvement on the pair's previous encounter three weeks earlier.
A big field for the race which serves as the main Quinté betting race of the day could add a degree of uncertainty to proceedings, but granted a clear round these two set the form standard by some way.
Auteuil: Prix Amadou (Group 2 hurdle) 2m3½f, 4yo (1.00pm BST)
Only seven runners line up here, but quality is assured.
The first three home from a pulsating Prix de Pepinvast reoppose, having been separated by only a nose and a neck last time.
The finishing order that day was Blingless (Jehan Bertran de Balanda/Christophe Pieux) followed by Usual Suspects (Guy Cherel/Cyrille Gombeau) and Esmondo (Guillaume Macaire/Bertrand Lestrade).
Blingless will no doubt try to do things the hard way once more from the front with likely favourite Esmondo ridden for a turn of foot.
Among the others it would bedangerous to rule out the improving Wonderful Charm (Tatiana Puitg/Ervan Chazelle) from calculations.