Stars by the sea: ten horses to set the pulse racing in Deauville
Scott Burton looks ahead to this weekend's two French Classics
Twelve months ago this fixture revealed not one but two of the season's brightest talents in La Cressonniere and The Gurkha. Saturday's Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas) and Sunday's Poule d'Essai des Poulains (2,000 Guineas) are supported by a Group 1 trial for the Prix de Diane, the Prix Saint-Alary, as well as a cracking sprint in the Group 3 Prix Saint-Georges. So which are the ones to watch?
Orderofthegarter (Poule d'Essai des Poulains, Sunday)
You could be forgiven for believing that Aidan O'Brien had unleashed all of his available milers at Newmarket last weekend. But Orderofthegarter has made big strides forward in two starts this season and looks by far the pick of the Ballydoyle colts left in the French 2,000, assuming we are to be made to wait a little longer for Caravaggio to reappear. The Gurkha 2.0?
Brametot (Poule d'Essai des Poulains, Sunday)
Brametot has been almost the sole bright spot in a dismal start to 2017 for Jean-Claude Rouget. His habit of breaking poorly proved no barrier to winning his prep, as Cristian Demuro came from well off a decent pace to swamp his rivals in the Prix de Fontainebleau. He will need to be very good indeed to do the same here. He has the raw ability to win over a mile but might he be even better over an extra two and a half furlongs in the Prix Du Jockey Club?
National Defense (Poule d'Essai des Poulains, Sunday)
In the absence of Caravaggio, last season's Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere hero is likely to be the only Group 1 winner to line up in either Classic. National Defense was beaten convincingly by Al Wukair in the Djebel but that form looks pretty solid given the winner's fine run at Newmarket, while Criquette Head-Maarek has made a habit down the years of turning trial defeat into Classic victory.
Mankib (Poule d'Essai des Poulains, Sunday)
Head-Maarek's brother Freddy avoided the Group race trials with this dual winner, instead building his confidence in a conditions race over the straight mile at Maisons-Laffitte a week after the Djebel. That form is well below what is required here, but based on his home work, Head clearly believes that Mankib – who is out of a 1,000 Guineas winner in Natagora – is much better than he showed in winning that day.
Dabyah (Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, Saturday)
Dabyah ran an extraordinary race to be just touched off for second when drawn wide on what was only her second start in the Prix Marcel Boussac. John Gosden has opted to come to Deauville with the daughter of Sepoy, leaving her stablemate in the same ownership, Dabah, to run an excellent third in the 1,000 Guineas last Sunday. With a decidedly mixed outlook on the weather front, Dabyah's nine length win on soft ground at Newmarket last year can only strengthen her already attractive credentials.
Senga (Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, Saturday)
Representing the Niarchos Family-Pascal Bary axis of Divine Proportions, Senga was a fast-finishing three quarters of a length behind Dabyah in the Boussac, a race in which all the fancied French fillies rather got in one another's way. She cemented her position as arguably the pick of her generation at home when readily winning the Prix de la Grotte, which is traditionally by far the best trial for this race. However, she is yet to race on a straight track or on ground softer than good.
Wajnah (Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, Saturday, or Prix Saint-Alary, Sunday)
Francois Rohaut not only trains Wajnah but bred the daughter of Redoute's Choice, whose two racecourse starts have both been away from the Parisian gaze down in Bordeaux. The form of her seasonal reappearance was given a huge boost when the runner-up, La Sardane, chased home Senga in the Grotte. The most minor of hiccups prevented her participation in the Prix Vanteaux over 1m1f, but whether she lines up in the Classic or the Prix Saint-Alary 24 hours later, Wajnah – who holds a Coronation Stakes entry – looks sure to enhance her reputation.
Heuristique (Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, Saturday)
A combination of the filly's wellbeing and the possible prospect of soft ground look like swaying Francis Graffard towards the Classic option, with Heuristique having come out of the Saint-Alary at the first forfeit stage. The daughter of Shamardal won well at Listed level on bottomless ground at Toulose last November and ran well in defeat at a soft Saint-Cloud behind the tough Melesina in March. She is likely to go under plenty of radars but her trainer rarely over-faces his horses.
Sea Of Grace (Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, Saturday)
In the Nell Gwyn Sea Of Grace was very keen early on what was her first start for William Haggas. Having made an eye-catching move to get into the race she faded to be fifth behind Daban, possibly as a result of her early exertions. The daughter of Born To Sea appeared to stay a mile well when landing the Group 3 Futurity Stakes at the Curragh for John Oxx last year and it would be no surprise to see her step up markedly on her Newmarket run.
Via Ravenna (Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, Saturday)
This column's launch has coincided with a lightening start to the season for Andre Fabre and Allez France would not be complete without one of his charges. The master trainer is likely to be doubly-represented in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (courtesy of Inns Of Court and Le Brivido) but the most likely name to add to his Group 1 tally is Via Ravenna, who progressed from a debut success in a March Polytrack maiden at Chantilly to winning the Prix Imprudence in one bound.