Okawango restores French honour

The baggage handlers at Charles de Gaulle airport must have seen almost as many big-race trophies as Sheikh Mohammed this season, so regularly have foreign-trained horses made off with France's richest prizes. Before the Grand Criterium at Longchamp yesterday, the score in French Group One events this year was eight to the home side, and 14 to the visitors, and since the Criterium had not been won by a local runner since 1995, the omens were not good.

The baggage handlers at Charles de Gaulle airport must have seen almost as many big-race trophies as Sheikh Mohammed this season, so regularly have foreign-trained horses made off with France's richest prizes. Before the Grand Criterium at Longchamp yesterday, the score in French Group One events this year was eight to the home side, and 14 to the visitors, and since the Criterium had not been won by a local runner since 1995, the omens were not good.

One battling finish later, however, the locals finally had something to celebrate, as Okawango held off the challenge of King's County to land the spoils by a length. A minor irony, though, was that the outcome was probably sealed when Olivier Peslier, the French champion jockey, dropped his whip when challenging on the Irish-trained runner-up with a little under a furlong still to run.

Okawango is now unbeaten in three starts, but as far as the juvenile form-lines go, yesterday's result poses as many questions as it answers. Well-contested though it was, with Cd Europe (fourth), Honours List (third) and King's County having run well at a high level already this year, the narrow margin of victory paid few compliments to those horses, such as Noverre and Tobougg, who have finished ahead of them. Final judgements on the relative merits of the latest crop of two-year-olds will need to wait until the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket this Saturday, for which Noverre was supplemented by Godolphin over the weekend.

"He is still very babyish," Criquette Head, Okawango's trainer, said, "but we've always thought he is very good. Next year both the French and English Guineas are options, though the French looks more likely."

Cd Europe, who won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, faded after making the early pace, while another of Mick Channon's runners on the Continent yesterday, Barathea Guest, could finish only third in the Group One Premio Vittorio du Capua at San Siro. The trainer did manage to finish the weekend in a better frame of mind than his former England team-mate Kevin Keegan, however, since his Innit came home first in a Group Three race on the undercard at the Italian track.

The finest achievement by any horse in Europe yesterday was surely the victory of Peruan in the Velka Pardubicka (Czech Grand National) at Pardubice. This was Peruan's third consecutive success in the race, although he will need to win again next year, at the age of 13, to match the record in the race of Zeleznik, who won his fourth Pardubicka in 1991. Celtic Giant, a Cheltenham Festival winner in 1999 and the only British-trained runner in the race, unseated his jockey at the 10th fence.

There was disappointment for Godolphin in New York on Saturday night, when Fantastic Light, who won the Man O' War Stakes at Belmont last month, could finish only fourth in the Turf Classic at the same track.

Frankie Dettori had crossed the Atlantic to partner Fantastic Light, who before the race was ante-post favourite with some bookmakers for the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs next month. He could get no closer than three-and-a-half lengths to the nine-year-old John's Call, however, who made all the running and is the oldest horse to win the Turf Classic since the legendary John Henry. Ela Athena, trained by Michael Jarvis, finished third, while Commander Collins (John Gosden) was 11th.

Saeed bin Suroor, Fantastic Light's trainer, blamed the slow pace for his colt's defeat, and the Turf in Kentucky remains his next target. John's Call may now be supplemented for the same event.

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