Stars aims to shine again in familar surroundings
Preview: France, Sunday (4.45pm BST)
Auteuil: Gras Savoye Corporate Life Prix la Barka (Group 2 Hurdle) 2m5½f, 5yo+
IF MID DANCER is the reigning king of Auteuil over fences then Thousand Stars (Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh) has a record every bit as impressive over hurdles, having twice won the Grande Course de Haies (French Champion Hurdle) as well as this race 12 months ago.
Mullins sends able support in the shape of last season's runner-up Zaidpour (Paul Townend) as well as So Young (David Casey) who has a six length verdict over his stablemate from this season's Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran.
Celestial Halo (Paul Nicholls/Daryl Jacob) almost certainly paid for his great effort when second to Solwhit in the World Hurdle last time out at Cheltenham.
The Anglo-Irish assault is completed by Saindor (Tom George/Paddy Brennan), whose regular visits to Auteuil have included a defeat of Grand Steeple-Chase favourite Bel La Vie last autumn.
France's two leading hurdlers, Gemix and Saint Du Chenet, both miss the Barka to wait for the Grande Course on June 10.
However Saint Du Chenet's trainer Marcel Rolland fields three here, with both Saindor's recent conqueror Lord Prestige (Jonathan Plouganou) and Le Tranquille (Regis Schmidlin) having legitimate claims to being the best of the home defence.
Also worth noting will be the market confidence behind Nikita Du Berlais (Robert Collet/Cyrille Gombeau), who makes her seasonal re-appearance and was second to Thousand Stars in last season's Grande Course, despite not really seeing out the extended trip
What They Say
Willie Mullins, trainer of Thousand Stars, Zaidpour and So Young
"Thousand Stars was good in his last couple of runs at Aintree and Punchestown and that's the sort of form I like to see him going to Auteuil in. It's a place he always runs a big race at and we're hoping he will do once again. Zaidpour ran a good race in the event last year and seems in good form at home so I'm happy enough to let him take his chance too, while So Young has been working well and we figured it was worth going with him because of that as this is his last opportunity to race for a big pot for quite a while."
Marcel Rolland, trainer of Le Tranquille, Lord Prestige and Libaute
"Le Tranquille goes back to hurdling after things didn't work out over fences and it's a discipline he has performed well in previously. Lord Tranquille has been very well since his last run and I think the ground will suit him. Libaute might find this level a little hard but we don't really have any alternative engagements for her.
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Celestial Halo
"We've always schooled over French-style hurdles so he's done that all his life. He was second in a Champion Hurdle and he's been second this year in the World Hurdle so he's got speed and he stays, this trip is ideal for him."
Tom George, trainer of Saindor
"He's come on quite a bit for that run and he's in good form. He's got the local knowledge and he's a very fresh horse, it's only his second run of the season."
Also on Saturday
Auteuil: Prix Questarabad (Group 3 Hurdle) 2m3½f, 4yo
WITH the French four-year-olds all taking turns to beat one another this spring, this seems an ideal opportunity for one of three runners from the Willie Mullins yard to lay down a marker ahead of the Group 1 Prix Alain du Breil next month.
Diakali is the choice of Ruby Walsh, having backed up his fourth in the JCB Triumph Hurdle with a Grade 1 win at Punchestown.
Blood Cotil finished behind Diakali on both those occasions, while Viconte Du Noyer (David Casey) was a promising third on his debut for Mullins at Punchestown having taken some notable scalps on his last start for Thomas Trapenard here last Autumn.
Mullins reported: "Diakali has the best form in the book, however, the other two have experience in Auteuil which will be a great help and you couldn't rule them out."
Le Grand Luce (Jean-Paul Gallorini/Nathalie Desoutter) emerged as the latest generational leader in the Prix Amadou, while Extreme Cara (Guy Cherel/Bertrand Thelier) won the Group 1 Prix Cambaceres in November on his most recent start.
Auteuil: Prix Ferdinand Dufaure (Group 1 Chase) 2m3½f, 4yo (3.40pm BST)
The day's other Group 1 could prove to be a rematch between the first two home in the Prix Jean Stern three weeks ago.
On that occasion a stellar round of jumping made the difference for the diminutive Victoire Des Borde (Francois Cottin/Philip Carberry), who held off hot favourite Vanilla Crush (Guillaume Macaire/Bertrande Lestrade) by a neck.
Macaire appeared confident of revenge earlier this week and will also be represented by Storm Of Saintly (Vincent Cheminaud), a faller in the Jean Stern.
Macaire said of Vanilla Crush: "He wasn't really asked too hard to go and catch the Cottin mare [Victoire Des Borde] last time as, with only three weeks till the Group 1 we wanted to keep him fresh. Any rain would help him."
Guy Cherel saddles five, headed by the ultra-consistent Laskaline (Cyrille Gombeau).
However Chardonnay (Jonathan Plouganou) could reward each-way support with his new partner.