O'Brien relies on speedy pair to finally break his duck in French Derby
Qatar Prix du Jockey Club (Group 1) | 1m2½f, 3yo colts & fillies | Sky
As a Dewhurst and French Guineas winner, St Mark's Basilica carries arguably the strongest credentials of any colt Aidan O'Brien has ever sent to the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club.
A brilliant turn of foot settled matters at Longchamp in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains, and given the way O'Brien tends to wring improvement from starts one to two, the son of Siyouni sets a high bar for his 18 rivals.
The shortening of the Jockey Club to 1m2½f in 2005 was designed to bring high-class milers into the equation and three out of ten Longchamp winners to have attempted the double have been successful.
St Mark's Basilica is a half-brother to an out-and-out miler in 2,000 Guineas hero Magna Grecia, and if a combination of the extra distance and Chantilly's uphill finish does catch him out, stablemate Van Gogh has the class and likely the requisite stamina to profit.
A much more imposing model than the racy St Mark's Basilica, Van Gogh was hugely impressive in winning the Criterium International last year, and the American Pharoah colt has always looked likely to improve for middle distances.
The Gosden team sprang a minor surprise in the 2020 running of this race with Mishriff, and those looking for a similar profile might be drawn to Enable's half brother Derab, who won with any amount in hand on the Rowley Mile last time, but that was in a novice event and it would take an even bigger step forward in form than Mishriff managed.
Stablemate Megallan is the more established colt and bids to use his Dante second as a springboard to Jockey Club success.
The Roger Varian-trained El Drama was ridden prominently when scoring in the Dee Stakes, and if Mickael Barzalona doesn't burn too much petrol from stall 13, similar tactics could be effective here.
Jean-Claude Rouget has become the master of the modern version of the French Derby and his three runners all have plenty to recommend them, although Christophe Soumillon on Makaloun or Cristian Demuro on Cheshire Academy will need to produce something truly brilliant to win from stalls 18 and 19 respectively.
Saiydabad has a more workable draw in 11 as Jean-Bernard Eyquem bids to add a second Jockey Club to his 2016 triumph on Almanzor.
Those that finished behind St Mark's Basilica have plenty of ground to make up, but Le Havre, Intello and New Bay have all won since 2005 after being beaten at Longchamp.
Policy Of Truth and Sealiway are both well drawn, although stamina is a major question mark in both cases, and if there is to be a colt that takes the step forward for the longer trip it could be Normandy Bridge, who chased Van Gogh home in last season's Criterium International.
O'Brien: We always thought our runners could stay a bit further
The Prix du Jockey Club is one of just two French Classics that Aidan O'Brien has yet to win, but the record-breaking trainer is hoping that the step up from a mile to 1m2½f can see his two representatives begin to put that CV omission to right.
The time of the St Mark's Basilica's Poulains triumph was nothing special, but Ioritz Mendizabal did not have to be anywhere near full tilt on that occasion and Europe's highest-rated two-year-old of 2020 left the impression there was more to come.
This race has been the plan for him ever since, but Van Gogh has been kept busy in the meantime, finishing fourth in the Irish 2,000 Guineas three weeks after faring best of the stable's three runners when eighth in the Newmarket equivalent.
"Everything has gone well with both of the horses since their last runs," said O'Brien, who came close to landing the Classic with globetrotting talent Highland Reel when second to New Bay in 2015.
"We always thought that they would be able to stay a bit further so we're looking forward to seeing how they get on."
Six of the 16 victors since the Jockey Club switched to 1m2½f won their previous start at Chantilly. Qualifiers this year are Makaloun and Saiydabad, while Ninth Titan was beaten a head after a troubled passage.
What they say
John Gosden, co-trainer of Derab and Megallan
The draw has not been kind to Derab or Megallan, but hopefully they can cope with it and get across. Obviously they've had an exceptional amount of rain over there and hopefully it dries out a bit, but both horses can handle a bit of cut.
Jean-Claude Rouget, trainer of Makaloun, Saiydabad and Cheshire Academy
Makaloun has a lot of class, but he also knows how to fight. We deliberately gave him a long break after a hard race in the Criterium and the plan was always one run. Cheshire Academy was very backward and will improve with time. If they go a good gallop he'll finish well. Saiydabad might not quite have the natural dash of the other two, but he hasn't shown all he can do yet and, although he never wins by far, he still wins.
Roger Varian, trainer of El Drama
El Drama will like the ground and has improved at home since Chester. It's a tough race, but we like our chances and his draw is not too bad. We've booked Mickael Barzalona as it was tricky to get Andrea Atzeni out there, but he's not a bad replacement and knows the track well.
Stephanie Nigge, trainer of Millebosc and Normandy Bridge
Millebosc will be okay with the distance. He has less experience so he will be ridden with restraint and allowed to finish strongly. Normandy Bridge will be ridden closer to the pace. He has plenty of experience now, is very brave and never gives up.
Pia Brandt, trainer of Policy Of Truth
Everything has gone fine with his preparation. In terms of the trip, if he settles I think he'll stay. We've had a lot of rain in Chantilly and that puts a little extra doubt in my mind over his stamina, but I think he'll run well.
Frederic Rossi, trainer of Sealiway and Smile Makers
Sealiway didn't have a very good trip in the Poule d'Essai after being drawn wide. I've thought for a long time he would stay this far, but Sunday will be the truth of the matter. He is in great shape. Smile Makers is an outsider, but he has not stopped improving.
Philippe Sogorb, trainer of Ninth Titan
He is an improving horse who we always held in high regard even before his debut. I've had the Jockey Club in mind since the start of the year. He doesn't have much in the way of form lines with the good horses, but I am confident in him.
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