The Jockey Club: how I learned to stop worrying and love Chantilly
"Nothing comes close..." So ends ITV Racing's evocative trailer for the Investec Derby and, after watching the broadcaster's ravishing short film – let alone the pulsating two and a half minutes of the race itself –it is hard to disagree.
France's version was founded at Chantilly in 1836 and even the name demonstrated the high regard in which the Duc d'Aumale and his friends held the original.
The actual period of direct rivalry between the two races was relatively brief, with Chantilly-based trainers heading to Epsom in the immediate post-war era to land the spoils with horses such as Galcador (trained by Charles Semblat); Phil Drake and Relko (both Francois Mathet); Lavandin (Alec Head); and, the greatest of them all, Sea Bird (Etienne Pollet).
Challengers in the opposite direction were even slower to emerge, with the David O'Brien-trained Assert the first to triumph from Ireland or Britain as late as 1982.
Then in 2005 France Galop elected to shorten the race by a furlong and a half in an attempt to lure the Classic generation of milers.
Since then the Jockey Club has become a different kind of challenge and offers British and Irish trainers a genuine alternative with colts they fear may not have the requisite resolution for the Derby over a trip still referred to by French professionals as the "distance classique".
The French still love the Derby and I know at least one senior official who, despite the near universal clash of dates, religiously drives himself from Paris to Epsom and back on Saturday in order to be home for the Jockey Club on Sunday.
This year's edition carries plenty of promise and there is no need for feelings of guilt and betrayal: you can embrace what promises to be a Prix du Jockey Club to savour without feeling you are cheating on the Derby.
Brametot the best three-year-old in Europe?
When Al Shaqab bought a half share in Brametot in the week before his Poule d'Essai des Poulians triumph, they were investing in a horse who had given the impression that he was getting by over a mile on class and that Deauville could be his last start at that trip, win lose or draw.
That he managed a second burst of acceleration to finally get his head in front of Le Brivido showed that Jean-Claude Rouget's charge is not short of pace.
But Rouget talked of the Arc as a possible long-term aim in the winner's enclosure and the chance to see whether Brametot can turn on that same acceleration at the end of two and a half extra furlongs is not to be missed.
Milers . . .
Since Poule d'Essai winner Shamardal got the better of a future Irish Derby and Arc hero in Hurricane Run at the end of the first 1m2½f edition of the Jockey Club in 2005, this has been the classic conundrum facing those attempting to decipher the French Derby ahead of time. Milers v Triallists.
Le Havre, Lope De Vega, Intello and New Bay all landed the Jockey Club after running well in the Poule d'Essai.
And it is perhaps no surprise that the last three named have provided Andre Fabre with his victories in the new era.
The 27-time champion of France seems to have got the knack of the new format better than most, given that he kept 2015 Poule d'Essai winner Make Believe to shorter trips and was rewarded with a second Group 1 success in the 7f Prix de la Foret.
Brametot seeks to become the third colt to do the Classic double since the change of format, following on from Shamardal and his son Lope De Vega.
Winners of the Poule d'Essai who found that extra 500 metres beyond them since 2005 are Aussie Rules, Silver Frost, Tin Soldier, Style Vendome and Karakontie (who more than atoned when winning a Breeders' Cup Mile).
Rivet in many ways fits the profile of a colt who gives the impression he will improve over the extra trip, although connections must hope that Brametot doesn't stay as well as the son of Fastnet Rock, given he has three lengths to find on their Deauville meeting.
. . . and Triallists
Recoletos and Soleil Marin – two of the three horses supplemented on Wednesday – are at the head of the list of those who have taken the traditional pre-2005 route through the middle-distance trials.
Recoletos won the Prix Greffulhe at lefthanded Saint-Cloud – a race often used as an Epsom prep – from the reappearing Waldgeist, creating a big impression in the process.
While the Greffulhe winner hasn't gone on to double up since Dalakhani in 2003, Saonois finished a close-up fourth at Saint-Cloud in 2012 before carving his way through mayhem under Antoine Hamelin to seize the big prize at Chantilly a month later.
Recoletos bids to give Carlos Laffon-Parias a first win in the Jockey Club and, remarkably, is the only runner in the line-up trained in France's biggest training centre by anyone other than Fabre.
You have to go back to Anabaa Blue in 2001 to find the last winner of the Prix Noailles to follow up in Chantilly but Soleil Marin showed himself worthy of the €72,000 late entry fee.
The son of Kendargent – originally owned by Fabre's wife Elisabeth before being purchased by Godolphin – broke his maiden at the third time of asking at lowly Cholet but has since accumulated a winning streak of five.
Last year Almanzor graduated from the Prix de Guiche, which is run over 1m1f of Chantilly's Piste du Jockey Club.
Phelps Win scored an easy success the race this season on soft ground but has not been supplemented here.
Runner-up Plumatic was disappointing on the day but Fabre and the Wertheimers are banking on better ground and a step back up in trip being the key to unlocking the undoubted potential in this handsome son of Dubawi, who will be making only his third career start on Sunday.
O'Brien's missing trophy
While the Jockey Club's truncated distance has become increasingly attractive to both trainers as well as owners who might have an eye to future breeding career, Coolmore have remained utterly faithful to their first love of the Derby.
Aidan O'Brien will be saddling at least one runner in the race for a 17th year on Sunday but has yet to find a winning solution
Some years the Ballydoyle maestro has seen fit to divert one of his more strongly touted Derby hopefuls to Chantilly: with Camelot a strong fancy for Epsom, Imperial Monarch was let off games to try his luck in France in 2012; and plenty of Derby ante-post vouchers went west two years earlier when Cape Blanco ran in the Jockey Club.
But on just as many occasions the O'Brien challenge for Chantilly has had a slightly second team appearance about it, even if subsequent events might suggest otherwise.
Remember in 2015 Highland Reel was allowed to go off at 10-1 before chasing home New Bay and then going on to become a winner of four Group 1s and counting.
Course for all seasons
A field that will be no bigger than 13 (and which has the capacity to shrink further should O'Brien choose not to run all four of his entries) looks unlikely to cause traffic problems.
On fast ground the cardinal rule at Chantilly is to stick as close to the rail as possible.
Ryan Moore demonstrated aboard The Grey Gatsby three years ago that you can be nearer last than first but that forfeiting ground on that unrelenting sweep past the Grandes Ecuries and the Chateau is a definite no-no.
Moore repeated the trick over a mile and a half in last year's Arc on Found, deliberately missing the kick in order to work his way from a wide draw over to the rail.
And on slower ground in the 2016 Jockey Club, Jean-Bernard Eyquem clung to the inside before angling Almanzor out in the straight.
Even Lope De Vega's win in 2010 from stall 20 proves the point, with a youthful Maxime Guyon using up plenty of gas early on to get clear running room in order that he could tack across to the rail, tucking in behind Planteur's pacemaker Vivre Libre.
That again came on soft ground but the only real departure from the usual playbook was in the fact Guyon kicked for home before levelling up in the straight, a move caused as much by Vivre Libre's sudden dropping back as by any tactical daring.
Brametot is a notoriously slow starter and in a big field might have had to trust to luck when making up ground.
But Cristian Demuro shouldn't have to get too far back in order to get within a one-horse width of that precious rail.