Christophe Soumillon: punched the air in celebration at Saint-CloudPICTURE: getty images
Soumillon sneaks up
rail to win Criterium
Report: France, Saturday
Saint-Cloud: Criterium de Saint-Cloud (Group 1) 1m2f, 2yo colts & fillies
CHRISTOPHE SOUMILLON once again showed that touch of daring which makes him so beloved of French punters, when coming home in splendid isolation up the stands' rail to score on Prince Gibraltar.
Hartnell produced another step up in form to finish best of the visitors in third for Mark Johnston, with the Aidan O'Brien-trained Mekong River fourth.
Soumillon sat some 15 lengths off the pace set by the two raiders in last place aboard Prince Gibraltar, with just the eventual second Bereni Ka for company.
Heavy ground is often a signal for the field to run wide on the turn for home at Saint-Cloud but, while his eleven rivals followed the more normal path, Soumillon swung the chestnut son of Rock Of Gibraltar across the track before powering up the rail, punching the air as he crossed the line.
"Up the straight I could see the others were all getting tired an I had so much horse under me," said an elated Soumillon, who six days earlier made a rare and winning appearance over hurdles at Auteuil.
Asked whether the heavy ground was important to Prince Of Gibraltar, he added: "It's difficult to know about next year because this can be a hard race for two-year-olds but, I think he'll be a very good horse on any going."
"I think he'd have won whatever course he'd steered," reflected Rouget, who only took over care of Prince Gibraltar from Alex Pantall a few weeks ago. "He has frightening acceleration and he clearly handles soft ground, it's a wonderful victory."
Johnston admitted that he hadn't spotted Soumillon's escape act to begin with and had thought Hartnall and Joe Fanning were comfortably in front inside the final two furlongs.
"Joe said he was travelling so well that he went from quite a way out, which I'm sure is the right thing to do with this horse," he said. "He's come from a much lower level to show he's a Group 1 horse and the sky's the limit next year."
Mekong River helped to cut out a pretty serious pace and stayed on well for fourth, with Seamie Heffernan reporting: "He ran hard and fast last week on testing ground and it might have come a little bit quick but, he's run a very good race."
Arguably the happiest connections were those surrounding the only filly in the field, Bereni Ka, who picked off all but one of her rivals under Tony Piccone.
"We were hoping for maybe fourth and Tony rode her to save her for the end but, as it's turned out, she's only been beaten by a very good horse of Jean-Claude Rouget's," said an elated Yohann Gourraud, who was sending out his first starter in a Group 1 only two years after quitting the saddle.