Racing: French strike fails to halt O'Brien's Aussie Rules

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The Independent Online

Barricades have a cherished place in Parisian revolutionary tradition but yesterday they instead became props in the purest French farce. For it was not tumbrils coming down at Longchamp yesterday, but trousers.

On an afternoon of excruciating indignity for the governors of French racing, a lightning strike by pari-mutuel workers provoked around 150 punters into blocking the walkway from the parade ring to the racecourse. For two hours one of the most important cards of the French season was menaced with abandonment, the protestors insisting that they would not budge without a full betting service.

The patricians who administer the sport in France were obliged to negotiate simultaneously with the Dantons at the barricade - who threatened to invade the track itself if bypassed - and the Robespierres behind the betting windows. "Pure blackmail," declared one grimly. Ultimately they managed to get the show back on the road, though none could say with certainty that the ceasefire will hold until Visindar, the Vodafone Derby favourite, runs at Saint-Cloud today.

Once they were through with the custard pies, on the track itself it was time for a bit of authentic class warfare: a ruthless exhibition from those oligarchs of the European Turf, Kieren Fallon, Aidan O'Brien and their patrons at Coolmore. Having already plundered the equivalent prize at Newmarket with George Washington, they won the Gainsborough Poule d'Essai des Poulains with a dramatic charge from Aussie Rules.

This colt had seemed ring-rusty before finishing strongly in his trial here three weeks previously but this time he travelled well throughout, switched inside by Fallon to track two of the stable's three other runners, Marcus Andronicus and the pacemaking James Joyce.

For much of the straight it seemed as though Christophe Soumillon on Marcus Andronicus was going to create the second controversial impasse of the afternoon. But Fallon obtained an outrageous passage up the same rail on Hurricane Run last autumn and used the same compass this time, burrowing through late to beat Soumillon half a length. Stormy River, favourite after winning the trial, was perhaps found out by the stronger pace and could manage only third after challenging in the straight.

As a son of top-class parents in Danehill and Last Second, Aussie Rules will be a formidable candidate for his next visit to France, now that the Prix du Jockey-Club has been abbreviated to 10 furlongs. O'Brien indicated that Marcus Andronicus could go for the Irish 2,000 Guineas, still an option for George Washington.

Any of the protestors who backed the local favourites were doubtless wishing they had kept their mouths shut when Daltaya became one of several fillies to hit traffic in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches. Price Tag, a Dansili filly trained for Khalid Abdullah by Pascal Bary, sliced through the chaos like a cutlass, only to be thrown out by the stewards in favour of Tie Black. It is Price Tag, however, who will command most respect in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Soumillon rode Daltaya but will be unfortunate to get into any such pickle when wearing the same silks on Visindar, who faces just five rivals in today's Prix Greffulhe. The Aga Khan's racing manager knows that he must win with authority. "These are quite nervy times," Georges Rimaud said. "It is important he performs well. Time could prove he didn't beat much at Longchamp last time but the time was impressive. We are hoping he has a real challenge on Monday so we can judge the horse properly."

André Fabre, Visindar's trainer, certainly has a legitimate Epsom contender in Linda's Lad, who defied a big penalty at Lingfield on Saturday, demonstrating he will cope with the track and the distance at Epsom.

That can not be said of Dylan Thomas, who completed another imperious day for Ballydoyle - and the deceased champion sire, Danehill - by winning the Derrinstown Derby Trial at Leopardstown yesterday.

Going best on the home bend, he had to be firmly ridden by Seamus Heffernan to keep Mountain and Youmzain at bay. Though entitled to have needed his first run of the year, his pedigree suggests that yesterday's 10 furlongs may prove the limit of his stamina. He also gave a few irritable flicks of the tail under the whip. O'Brien runs Septimus at York on Thursday but Dylan Thomas will probably end up at Epsom, for which he is now 10-1 with William Hill. The same firm offer 16-1 against Linda's Lad.

Chris McGrath

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