Noverre gambles on French exam

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The Independent Online

Sheikh Mohammed may profess that his rivalry with John Magnier and the Ballydoyle set is friendly, but it is rivalry nonetheless and the latest Godolphin gauntlet has been thrown down with a particular flourish. After Noverre won the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood 18 days ago, the Sheikh's declaration that the feisty white-faced bay was now the season's best miler had the ring of a mind game, an early reminder to the Irish team that, should they proceed with the ambitious plan to bring middle-distance star Galileo back to the shorter distance at Ascot next month, the pickings would not be easy.

At Deauville this afternoon, Noverre quickly puts his new status – the official handicapper agreed with the Sheikh – on the line in the Prix Jacques le Marois. It is a calculated risk, but there is a score to be settled and a point to be made before the European showdown in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Noverre should have the measure of the other British raider among the 10 runners in the Group One contest, Sussex Stakes fourth Olden Times, and the Ballydoyle lesser light Bonnard, but there are two potent threats from the home side, the André Fabre stablemates Vahorimix and Banks Hill.

Noverre has beaten Vahorimix twice, albeit narrowly, but his head defeat of the grey in the French 2,000 Guineas has since been expunged from the records because of a technical breach of prohibited substance regulations. The pair were split by less than a length when second and fourth to Black Minnaloushe in a blanket finish to the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, with Olden Times intervening.

The miling championship is a jewel in any potential stallion's crown, but the greatest threat today to Noverre, who is aiming to become the third successive Godolphin winner of the Marois after Muhtathir and Dubai Millennium, may come from a filly. Banks Hill, owned by another of the game's major players, Khaled Abdullah, will be venturing into open company for the first time since she put her own sex to the sword in the Coronation Stakes, also at Royal Ascot.

The Group One circus moves on to York this week, with a top-level race on each of three afternoons, plus the Ebor Handicap on Wednesday. Apart from Aidan O'Brien and Saeed Bin Suroor, the only trainer to have won more than one British Group One race this year is Sir Michael Stoute and, in the International Stakes on Tuesday, his charge Medicean will be trying to become the third Eclipse Stakes winner to complete the mid-season 10-furlong double, after Wollow, Ezzoud and Halling, who did it twice.

In an open division, the four-year-old is likely to be opposed by three of the four who followed him home in the finish of necks and heads at Sandown – runner-up Grandera, trained by James Fanshawe, and the O'Brien pair Bach and Black Minnaloushe, who were third and fifth. Godolphin rely on last year's Derby second, Sakhee, who made a winning reappearance at Newbury last month.

The blues' Tobougg, fourth in the Eclipse, is set to be diverted back to his own generation in the St Leger trial, the Great Voltigeur Stakes, which is also the target of King George fourth Storming Home, the quietly progressive Xtra and the Stoute duo, Beekeeper and Halawan.

The Yorkshire Oaks on Wednesday looks a substandard renewal. Mot Juste, a close second in the Irish Oaks, bids to go one better, but the only Group One winner involved is Zanzibar, winner of the Italian version. On Thursday, the Ballydoyle team look set to close out the sprint title with runaway July Cup winner, Mozart, in the Nunthorpe Stakes, for which 15 were declared at the latest entry stage.

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