French prize no soft option

Richard Edmondson previews the Prix Jacques le Marois
A queue of lurking figures wearing black and white hooped shirts leads to the swankier residences of Paris at this time of year. The capital's desertion in high summer is a predictable occurence and the moveable feast ends for many, and just about all racing aficionados, in the Normandy spa of Deauville.

Since its creation in 1864 by the Duc de Morny, Deauville's month-long race meeting has gained in prestige, and it is now the place to liberate the glad rags and give the poodle a good shampoo and blow dry.

There is something quintessentially French and smooth about the place. Tractors level the strand each daybreak as the horses come out to exercise, the huge, spangled casino waits to gooble up any funds that might survive the racecourse, and Omar Sharif is always around to share a hand of bridge or an aperitif at Le Drakkar.

It could be, though, that the natives would trade all this rich ambience for a packet of soggy fish and chips and a plastic policeman's helmet rather than surrender their racing jewel, the Prix Jacques Le Marois, to the marauders from Britain.

The visitors tend to prefer this arena to a drizzly night on the all- weather and many probably spend the first days of spring singling out a horse for Deauville. Our boys are always easy to spot in Normandy by their trousers. They verge between Paul Cole (too short) and Clive Brittain (too flared).

Clive is lucky to still be around as he produced the greatest insult a Frenchman can receive - the sort of action that gets you run out of town by a gang carrying torches - when he had the nerve to win the Group One race with Sayyedati three years ago.

The mare was perilously close in the subsequent two runnings, finishing runner-up on each occasion, but Clive has had enough of getting his pants singed and declines to have a representative in this afternoon's running.

Britain's hopes in the mile race lie with Charnwood Forest (if you are happy to accept that a Dubian owner and trainer, plus an Italian jockey makes him British) and Gothenberg, who does not sound particularly Anglo- Saxon either.

Lanfranco Dettori, who got his domestic score rolling again after injury at Salisbury yesterday, partners Charnwood Forest for the first time and seems to have a tough job ahead of him.

The ground is described as being on the soft side and if it got any worse the Godolphin runner might just travel for the duty-frees. Gothenberg, on the other hand, is happiest when wading. However, the colt who will be managed by Mark Johnston and Jason Weaver may be found wanting for quality.

The favourites to keep the prize at home are Sensation, Spinning World and Shaanxi. The first-named will be ridden by Michael Kinane, who could probably get himself on the favourite in the Pamplona bull run, while Spinning World will be joined by Cash Asmussen.

Victory for Spinning World would probably be the most satisfying for the romanticists as he is sent forth by the Niarchos Family. The Family is now without its godfather, as Stavros Niarchos, the Greek shipping magnate who won three of the previous five runnings, is no longer with us.

Shaanxi is owned by Teruya Yoshida, who rather likes to hear post-race debriefings in his mother Japanese tongue. Yoshida is well-known as an employer of Yutaka Take, whose effigy is still punctured at Peter Chapple- Hyam's yard, but here he relies on a different countryman, Masayoshi Ebina.

Ebina is closing in on 500 winners and bows to only two other riders in eastern Japan. The 27-year-old has again collected a number of big races this year, without resorting to any sort of roughness. He is a dual winner of the Fair Play Trophy for the jockey who incurs least penalties during the season. Fair play, for the French this afternoon, will be leaving the Prix Jacques le Marois behind in Deauville.