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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

The French Ambassadors' guide to claiming Royal Ascot glory

Will there be hats thrown in the air for a French winner at Royal Ascot this week ?
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The French racing community collectively love Ascot like no other fixture outside their own borders and will be on the royal racecourse in force to prove it this week.

In fact the powers that be at France Galop are so enamoured of the meeting that they schedule nothing above Listed status on the Flat in opposition, allowing everyone to focus on the pageantry and the top-class racing.

But if you are making the pilgrimage across La Manche for the first time, what should you look out for and which Gallic raiders might you be cheering back into the winners’ enclosure?

If you're beside the paddock or the pre-parade ring, a good place to start is to look out for those horses carrying the distinctive French Ambassadors sheets over their quarters.


Signs Of Blessing: five-year-old son of Invincible Spirit was bred by Serge Boucheron

If you are visiting Ascot for the first time and arriving by rail, marvel at the sight of so many impeccably-dressed folk assembled on one commuter train. Don’t expect either the couture or the orderly behaviour to have survived entirely by the time you get to Ascot station for the return. If you are travelling by car, remember which number car park you are in (hint: unless you own several of the runners on the opening day, it’s not Number 1)

Gallic hopes on Day 1 rest with the Francois Rohaut-trained Signs Of Blessing in the King’s Stand Stakes. This remarkable sprinter is drawn near enough to the rail for you to cheer "Allez Paquito!" as Stephane Pasquier slipstreams US speedster Lady Aurelia before pouncing late on. Pasquier joked after winning the Diane on Sunday that he followed Frankie Dettori because "he knows where he’s going!" and it could be more of the same. Proceed to the payout window.

European co-operation: Chantilly-based, German-born trainer Markus Munch sends Spectre to challenge for the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday

Also co-opted to the French cause is Spectre, trained by former Bayern Munich footballer Markus Munch, who is now based in Chantilly. 

She will start at a big price in the opening Queen Anne Stakes but has a habit of sneaking into the places in good company such as this. 


Can Qemah (pictured) or Mekhtaal take Jean-Claude Rouget, Gregory Benoist and Sheikh Joaan Al Thani back to the winners' enclosure on Wednesday ?

Her Majesty will be on a tight schedule owing to the hastily-arranged State Opening of Parliament but hopefully you have got plenty of rest and kept a clear head because day two will be crucial to French fortunes, with Andre Fabre and Jean-Claude Rouget coming to the party.

Fabre kicks off with Le Brivido in the fiendishly tough Jersey Stakes, a race in which he almost certainly wouldn’t be running in had he stuck his head a little further out against Brametot in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches.

The master trainer also sends Usherette to defend her title in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, where she faces Rouget’s Qemah, another winner at this meeting last year.

Francois Doumen knows the way to the Royal Box on most British racecourses and saddles Aim To Please, while Lamorlaye-based Satoshi Kobayashi is represented by the Chilean-bred Furia Cruzada.

You might feasibly be in trouble if none of the four - which make up a quarter of the field - hit the target but don’t be tempted to try and get out of jail in the Royal Hunt Cup, Ascot’s annual recreation of the Battle of Balaclava.

The public will latch onto one horse that will go off at short odds and then it will lose.

Fear not, for Rouget, Gregory Benoist and Mekhtaal are there to save any Euro defecit at rewarding odds in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.


Not every bottle of champagne at Ascot is autographed by your favourite French jockey

Gold Cup Day sees a sizeable increase in the crowd (I know that hardly seems possible) and the big race itself is a unique spectacle.

Unfortunately there are no French-trained runners to cheer on, though Nearly Caught won twice at Deauville last summer before finishing third in the Prix du Cadran.

If you want an even more tangential tip, how about Trip To Paris ?

Normandy’s favourite Irishman Eoghan O’Neill is due to saddle Ardenode in the opening Norfolk Stakes, though plans won’t be finalised until after the two-year-old passes through the sales ring at Goffs on Monday night.

Ladies’ Day offers an opportunity to explore the sights, sounds and tastes of Ascot.

The champagne is (of course) French as is the guiding light behind the various restaurants, Raymond Blanc, while the singing around the bandstand after the last race is decidedly British.

Around the bandstand at Royal Ascot


Hopefully you are still in profit from your Usherette/Mekhtaal double on Wednesday and, having belted out a couple of choruses of “Hey Jude” last night, it is time to play up your winnings.

Every man, woman and dog on the racecourse will be backing one of three horses in the Commonwealth Cup - Caravaggio, Blue Point or Harry Angel - while if Wesley Ward has had a good week to date, his Bound For Nowhere could come in for support.

All of which means that Fas, trained in Chantilly by Pia Brandt, will be a very big price on the Tote, the British version of pari-mutuel betting.

He should really be called FAST and Brandt could be singing Abba’s “Waterloo” if the son of Fastnet Rock outruns all those lofty expectations surrounding the big three or four. It would be a shame to miss out now, wouldn’t it ?

Precieuse (pink) leads Sea Of Grace (yellow silks) and Wajnah (maroon cap) in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches

France has won the last two runnings of the Coronation Cup and again boasts strong representation in the shape of Poule d’Essai winner Precieuse for Fabrice Chappet, while Newmarket-trained Sea Of Grace and Francois Rohaut’s Wajnah also represent the form.

The Niarchos family have already had a wonderful week thanks to Senga’s win in the Prix de Diane and so it would be a shame not to show support for Alpha Centauri in the Albany Stakes.

Call To Mind might win the King Edward VII Stakes for the Queen, which will be a nice story to tell when you return home. Even nicer if you have won money on him.  


The Queen will be without the services of Olivier Peslier aboard Dartmouth in the Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday

While it may be a surprise that anybody who has “Esquire” or “The Honourable” written on their Royal Enclosure badge actually needs to go to work, the numbers actually swell again on the final day with the arrival of the weekend.

Both Messieurs Rohaut and Chappet are involved again as Al Jazi and Finsbury Square line up in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, one of two big sprint races.

The other is the Wokingham Stakes, which is a shorter version of the Royal Hunt Cup. Just as on Wednesday there will be a public plunge on one horse but, in this 30-runner cavalry charge, those gambles have a habit of coming off.

Everybody will tell you the Queen is going to win the Hardwicke Stakes with Dartmouth, just as she did last year.

Bear in mind Magic Peslier was on board 12 months ago while Dartmouth only has the assistance of Ryan Moore here.

Plus Her Majesty is far too shrewd to leave her winner for the week this late in the day.

Signs Of Blessing is drawn near enough to the rail for you to cheer "Allez Paquito!" as Stephane Pasquier slipstreams Lady Aurelia
E.W. Terms
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