The French challenge at Royal Ascot

Get the lowdown on the French contenders set to run at Royal Ascot.

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By Liz Price

After a successful 2017 Royal Ascot meeting thanks to Le Brivido, Qemah and Different League, who respectively won the Jersey Stakes, the Duke of Cambridge Stakes and the Albany Stakes, the 2018 meeting did not go to plan for the French who all failed to make it onto the podium.

French trainers though are not to be discouraged and are sending 12 horses across the English Channel for this year’s meeting.

On Tuesday, Jean-Claude Rouget is going to line up OLMEDO in the Queen Anne Stakes. The 2018 Poule d’Essai des Poulains winner experienced back issues at the end of last season but comes to Ascot after an encouraging performance in the Group 2 Prix du Muguet where he was only beaten a neck by Plumatic.

“Olmedo worked last Tuesday on the straight track at Deauville under Cristian Demuro who thought he was in good form,” explained his handler. “Olmedo is a horse who has always run in races with a bend so it will be the first time that he will run over a straight course. He is not used to it, but I didn’t really have a choice as there is little else he can run in.

I wasn’t going to go back to a Group 3 race. I think he is just as good as last year, but to be honest, the form of last year’s French 2,000 Guineas is not great, so we are hoping for a place. I think it will be difficult to win, but who knows, maybe he will like running on the straight course.

I am also hoping for some pace, as he was quite keen the last two times he ran. With 16 runners though, there should be plenty and is in fact also one of the reasons we have chosen this race for him. As to the ground, he can go in anything. We shall see.”

Olmedo is not the only French runner on that opening day of Royal Ascot, as Carlos Laffon-Parias is coming over with Poule d’Essai des Poulains runner-up SHAMAN. His form was franked when the winner Persian King finished second in the Prix du Jockey Club and Laffon-Parias said:

“He is in great form. He is completely independent of ground, so we don’t have to worry about that. He is very versatile. It’s obviously a tough race, but I am confident that he will sell himself well.”

On Wednesday, France is counting on master trainer André Fabre to deliver the goods when he saddles WALDGEIST, the Prix Ganay winner, in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. Waldgeist, who runs in the colours of Gestüt Ammerland and whose main target remains the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, is going to be ridden by regular partner Pierre-Charles Boudot.

The in-form jockey, who on Sunday lifted the Prix de Diane, said: “The horse is in great form. He made a really good seasonal reappearance in the Prix Ganay, which he won easily. The Prince of Wales’s Stakes is a very hot race, but he is in great form.”

Also, on Wednesday, trainer Matthieu Palussière is hoping that BRAND NEW DAY can give him a first victory in the Queen Mary Stakes. The Maisons-Laffitte-based handler sensationally won the Albany Stakes two years ago and hopes that Brand New Day can bring him more Ascot Glory. 

“It’s a hot race,” he said. “She can do better than last time. She never needed to battle beforehand and was not beaten far. We like her a lot and she is quite professional. We are coming with some expectations.”

Matthieu Palussiere is also running WHEELS ON FIRE in the Windsor Castle Stakes on Wednesday and said: “He was beaten by a very good horse last time, but he is improving and we are looking forward to running him at Ascot.”

On Thursday, Swedish trainer Pia Brandt who is based in Chantilly, is coming to Royal Ascot with CALLED TO THE BAR who is going to try and give Stradivarius a run for his money in the Gold Cup.

The five-year-old son of Henrythenavigator has been consistently placed in France’s top staying races, but is still chasing a win at the highest level. A runner-up in the Prix Royal-Oak at the end of last season behind Holdthasigreen, he has won a Listed and a Group 2 race over 1m7f this year and his trainer hopes he can be at his best in the much longer Gold Cup.

“The horse is in great form,” says the trainer who admits to having dreamt about this race since she was a small child. “When he showed us that he could up in trip, I started immediately to dream about this race. It has always been in my head. And when he was the runner-up in the Prix Royal Oak, we started to plan this.

I think he can stay the trip. Stradivarius has showed he can stay, the others have to try it. If he can follow them without pulling, if he stays cool, then I think he can do it. Until a year ago, he pulled quite a bit, but now he has really started to enjoy himself during the race. It is obviously a different thing when he runs in front of 70 000 spectators, but if he can get some cover, he’ll be fine.”

France will also be represented in the Norfolk Stakes on Thursday, as Matthieu Palussière is saddling REAL APPEAL, the winner of the five-furlong Listed Prix la Fleche. The Sidestep colt will be going through the Ascot sales on Monday.

On Friday, two French-trained fillies will line up in the Coronation Stakes. CASTLE LADY, the winner of the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches and WATCH ME, whose run in that same race must according to her trainer Francis-Henri Graffard “be forgotten”.

Graffard, whose stable is in form as he won the Prix de Diane on Sunday with the unexposed Channel, explained: “I really like Watch Me. She won the Prix Imprudence nicely and so we were very disappointed in the French Guineas where she had a terrible run. Everything went wrong for her.

So, I decided to stick to my plan and still run her at Ascot. She’s a filly I really like and the owner said to me, we already won a Group 3 so why run in another one. Let’s go and have fun.

So, we come on Friday with a filly who is in great form. If she is placed that would be wonderful. She is really in a very good state at the moment. The ground is not important to her.”

As to Castle Lady, her trainer Henri-Alex Pantall confided: “We did think about the Prix de Diane for a moment, but we are convinced that she won’t stay, so the Coronation Stakes was the next logical step.

She is in really good form, but obviously, this is Royal Ascot and the races are always very tough. Obviously, Hermosa looks a serious filly but my filly is in good form. I think soft ground will be all right for her. She has won in very soft ground and I think she can go on any ground.”

On the final day of Royal Ascot, French raiders are targeting the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. André Fabre is coming over with INNS OF COURT, who is unbeaten in two starts this season and who only two weeks ago lifted the Group 2 Prix du Gros-Chene at Chantilly.

Lisa-Jane Graffard, the Godolphin representative in France, told us: “He is in great form. It’s all systems go for Royal Ascot. He will do one more piece of work before the race. His usual lead horse Pirandello just won a race on Saturday at Maisons-Laffitte, so that was nice.

I guess he won’t be leading him this time, but it looks great form. Inns of Court will go pretty much on any ground. He is capable of going very well, but he needs things to go right for him.”

Another five-year-old who is being aimed at the Diamond Jubilee Stakes is the Stephane Wattel-trained CITY LIGHT. Beaten only a short head by Merchant Navy in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes last year, he is hoping to go one better this time. A runner-up to Inns of Court in a Listed race at Maisons-Laffitte on his seasonal reappearance in April, he hasn’t run since.

His trainer said: “We are coming back to Royal Ascot, where we nearly, very nearly won last year. Last year, City Light had already run in a number of races before coming to Royal Ascot, so this year we decided to give him a lighter preparation and to focus on this race. The horse seems fine to me.

Obviously, he has only run once this season and we were not too hard on him on that seasonal reappearance. But the form is good, as we were beaten by Inns of Court who then went on to win another race.

Our impression is that the horse is in good form. Like every sprinter, as we have seen with Battaash, City Light is a powerful horse and we have to do everything we can to get him to the races relaxed. He is a real softie in the morning, but he can get quite tense when he gets to the races. He would love soft ground, but we will take what we get.”

The French challenge at Royal Ascot