Lily's Candle prevails in tight finish to give trainer Vermeulen first Group 1
The Gallic gloom lingering from last year's blank for French-trained horses in the Group 1s on Arc day was lifted immediately as the home team got off to the perfect start when Lily's Candle prevailed in a blanket finish.
It would not, however, get any better as none of the other five Group 1 contests went to the host nation.
Bought for €390,000 at the Arqana Arc Sale on the eve of the race for owner Martin Schwartz, Lily's Candle paid back well over half the sum in one fell swoop.
And swoop was the operative word as the 27-1 outsider came from last place a furlong and a half out under Pierre-Charles Boudot to pick up fellow French contender Matematica, with the Richard Hannon-trained Star Terms staying on strongly in third.
Victory in France's only Group 1 event exclusively for juvenile fillies was a breakthrough at the highest level for Belgium trainer Fabrice Vermeulen, who started out in his native country in 2007 and now has 96 horses split between two training centres, one outside Chantilly and the other in the south near Marseille.
"It’s my greatest moment, although I haven’t really realised what’s happened yet," said the stunned 41-year-old. "I was quite calm through the race and it’s fantastic. Whatever happens now she has won a Group 1 and that is the cherry on the cake."
Michel Zerolo bought Lily's Candle, fourth in the Group 3 Prix La Rochette at the course last month, on behalf of US-based Schwartz, who has enjoyed great success with other fillies and mares sourced in France, including Stacelita, Zagora and Elusive Wave.
"She ran an encouraging race last time and it gave us the confidence to take a chance," said Zerolo, who suggested the Breeders' Cup could be an option.
Paddy Power reacted by giving Lily's Candle an opening quote of 10-1 for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs next month.
Looking to the longer term, Zerolo added: "I'm going to try my hardest to keep her in France next year as it looks like she could be a Guineas filly."
Hannon expressed mixed emotions after seeing Star Terms squeezed up two furlongs out before rallying to finish a close-up third.
Having started the season with Billesdon Brook's shock 66-1 victory in the 1,000 Guineas, the trainer harbours hopes of returning to the Qipco-backed Newmarket Classic with the daughter of Sea The Stars.
"I can't help feeling slightly frustrated, but she ran a great race," said Hannon. "She got the trip very well and ran right to the line.
"Robert [Barnett, owner] will decide what he wants to do in the next few days. We might give her a good break and bring her back for the Guineas. She'd be a bit shorter in price than the Guineas winner this year, I'd say."
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