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Almanzor edges towards return but Ascot appears unlikely

Guineas third Al Wukair set to step up in trip for French Derby

Almanzor might be ready for his seasonal debut in a Group 3 in mid-June
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Almanzor is on the road to recovery following a brush with the virus which has wrought havoc with Jean-Claude Rouget's season and could be back on a racecourse as early as June.

However, Rouget has reiterated that he won't be rushed back into action and hopes of a return next month to Ascot – the scene of his Champion Stakes triumph last October – have all but evaporated. 

Almanzor was not severely affected by the outbreak of the EHV-1 virus at one of the reigning French champion's barns last month, suffering a fever but no attack on the nervous system. 

Jean-Claude Rouget and Almanzor, who was affected by fever but not the "wobbling" symptoms of others in the same barn
Having stopped work with every horse affected, Rouget is now beginning to build them back up with a view to running the first of them next month.

But with a comeback at Chantilly tentatively pencilled in for June 17, Rouget is effectively ruling out the Prince of Wales's Stakes just four days later. 

"If everything goes well the first of them [the virus-hit horses] will run in June and we'll see how they get on," said Rouget. "There's no fixed plan for Almanzor, but if he's very well then I might run him in La Coupe, a Group 3 over 2,000 metres [ten furlongs] at Chantilly."

Among the other high-profile horses in the same barn are Zelzal and Tarreef, winners respectively of last season's Prix Jean Prat and Prix Daniel Wildenstein. 

When Rouget revealed the extent of the problem part of his string had been battling last month, he warned that when stable stars such as Almanzor did return to racing they might be operating at only "60-70 per cent" fitness. 

Fabre favours Chantilly over potential Churchill rematch at Ascot for Al Wukair

Churchill gets to the winning post in front of Barney Roy, Al Wukair and Lancaster Bomber

Another of the potential stars of the European season looks likely to stay close to home for his next run rather than take up the royal engagement, though for reasons very different to the expected defection of Almanzor. 

Al Wukair ran well when third to Churchill in last weekend's 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, beaten a length and a quarter. 

But while the winner's connections decide whether to go for a Classic double in the Investec Derby or stay at a mile in the St James's Palace Stakes, Andre Fabre looks likely to step Al Wukair up to 1m2½f at Chantilly, rather than wait for a potential rematch with Churchill and Newmarket runner-up Barney Roy at Ascot.

Andre Fabre favours a step up in trip for Al Wukair in the French Derby at Chantilly

"I'll discuss it with the owners [Al Shaqab], but my plan is to run him in the Prix du Jockey Club," said Fabre. "He has been very well since Newmarket."

While the extra distance of the Jockey Club is not guaranteed to suit Al Wukair on pedigree, he appeared to relax well for Gregory Benoist at Newmarket, something which his trainer clearly believes will give him every chance of staying. 

There is no fixed plan for Almanzor but, if he is very well, then I might run him in La Coupe at Chantilly
E.W. Terms