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Zarak may provide missing zip to the home team's Arc challenge

Zarak: Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner heads to the Arc for the Aga Khan
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There is very little optimism to be heard among French racing professionals about the chances of wresting the nation's most coveted prize away from the clutches of either British or Irish trainers. 

This extends at least partially to those who are likely to field opposition to Enable and her travelling companions, with each trainer, agent or racing manager keen to downplay their chances in the face of such a strong overseas challenge. 

Alain de Royer-Dupre and his chief patron, the Aga Khan, will be represented by Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Zarak, while Shakeel will bid to secure his place on the team sheet with a good performance in the Prix Niel on Sunday. 

Royer-Dupre has been open for some time about his reservations when it comes to Zarak and Chantilly, observing on several occasions that Zarkava's little boy is better on a flat track and has twice found himself unbalanced or uncomfortable at his local course on fast ground. 

Such concerns shouldn't be dismissed and there is no doubt that the decision to have a racecourse gallop at Maisons-Laffitte in preference to running in the Prix Foy at the weekend was influenced by this line of thinking. 

On the plus side, Zarak ran a fine race from a difficult draw on soft ground when runner up to Almanzor in the Jockey Club last year.

And, while the course named for the Princes des Condé is notoriously free-draining, there seems to be enough rain about at the moment to give connections hope of more ease than was the case when Zarak failed to fire in the Prix Dollar 12 months ago. 

What makes the son of Dubawi most appealing is that, while he proved his aptitude for a mile and a half when earning his Group 1 stripes at Saint-Cloud in June, the rest of his form has been over shorter and he undoubtedly possesses a fine turn of foot. 

The head of the market features three horses in Enable, Cracksman and Satono Diamond, whose chances are ill-served if the race is allowed to turn into a sprint and so Zarak will need to stay every inch of the trip. 

But that could also contribute to the race being run at a rhythm too furious to sustain and there has to be some chance of what US race-readers would call a "pace meltdown," leaving the leaders vulnerable to those ridden more patiently. 

Brametot would be another French challenger who could be ridden to pick up the pieces – though he has yet to try 1m4f – while Satono Diamond has often been ridden from off the pace, even allowing for his abundant stamina. 

Zarak and Christophe Soumillon ahead of a racecourse gallop at Maisons-Laffitte on Tuesday. The son of Dubawi will skip Sunday's Prix Foy and head straight to the Arc on October 1

Spending time watching Royer-Dupre before and after Zarak's workout at Maisons-Laffitte was to be reminded what a tremendous thinker he is when it comes to extracting that extra ounce out of his charges. 

When asked if Zarak had enjoyed a complete break since the Grand Prix, Royer-Dupre's answer was that of a man who had really tried to get inside the mind of his horse.

"I took him up to Deauville for a fortnight last month, not to give him any serious work but to give him the feel of being around racing, so that he didn’t completely switch off. I did the same with Dalakhani who went on to run in the Niel."

Left unsaid at the end of that sentence is that Dalakhani followed his win in the Niel with triumph in the ultimate prize at Longchamp. 

Royer-Dupre also spoke of the psychological difference between a morning on Les Aigles and taking the colt away on a lorry for a racecourse gallop, and the way it would seem to Zarak as if he had raced "but with the aim of giving him confidence rather rather than setting him back."                                                                  

Since his opening maiden win at Deauville in October 2015 it has been obvious that Zarak is a horse with a serious engine, though he has sometimes given the impression of struggling to fully concentrate at key points in races. 

It is now up to Royer-Dupre and jockey Christophe Soumillon to coax a complete performance from him on the day that matters most. 

Juvenile clues come thick and fast

Efaadah won the Prix des Marettes, a race which now looks to have contained several talented fillies in the lineup
Last Sunday's card at Chantilly was full of clues with the future in mind, given two historically important maidens on top of three Group races for two-year-olds. 

The Prix d'Aumale went the way of Soustraction, who turned round a three length defeat to Efaadah in a race which placed more emphasis on stamina than when the two made their respective debuts in the Prix des Marettes at Deauville last month. 

Winning trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias said he had been disappointed to get beaten first time out.

A couple of hours earlier Sweety Dream got off the mark in the Prix Cascade, having been withdrawn from the same Deauville maiden after giving trouble behind the stalls.

Connections had also expected to go close in the Marettes and we may be a little way away from knowing who the best filly in the race was. 

As has been noted here before, Senga and Qemah were both beaten in the race and this year's edition seems to have once again produced several horses to note. 

Jean-Claude Rouget and Cristian Demuro flank Olmedo after winning the Prix de Crevecoeur by four lengths at Deauville in August
Olmedo lost his unbeaten record in the Prix des Chenes but was not given an unduly hard time by Cristian Demuro when failing by a neck to get past Stage Music in the Prix des Chenes. 

Olmedo's trainer Jean-Claude Rouget has won two of the last four runnings of the Aumale with fillies who were then beaten only a month later in the Marcel Boussac (Lesstalk In Paris and Toulifaut).

It may be that Olmedo was given the kind of ride that his trainer hopes will leave room for further improvement again come the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, rather than leaving the Group 1 target behind in the trial.

Lagardere stretches beyond trainers' ambitions 

Mythical Magic backed up his debut win at Ascot with Listed success over 7f at Deauville last month
My own personal pick of the juvenile races over the past month in France is the Listed Prix Francois Boutin at Deauville, in which the Charlie Appleby-trained Mythical Magic outpointed another Godolphin homebred in Cascadian.

Fourth-placed Dice Roll advertised the form on soft ground at Maisons-Laffitte earlier this week and the two principals were well clear, while Mythical Magic's jockey Jamie Spencer of the opinion that Cascadian must be a smart colt to have gone with him so deep into the race at Deauville. 

Appleby is looking at the Champagne Stakes and then the Dewhurst for Mythical Magic, both over seven furlongs, with the Lagardere now considered too arduous for a colt with Classic aspirations having been restored to a mile in 2016.

The move was part of a rejig of the French juvenile Pattern designed to bolster the two Criterium races later in the year at Saint-Cloud, but it could be argued that the Lagardere has become a weaker race for it, with the big winner being Newmarket and the Dewhurst. 

Spending time watching Royer-Dupre before and after Zarak's workout at Maisons-Laffitte was to be reminded what a tremendous thinker he is
E.W. Terms