Pennekamp's heir proves elusive

Neil Young on the dearth of young talent to defend France's top races

Where is France's successor to Arazi, Pennekamp or Zafonic, a two-year-old to strike fear into British trainers by threatening to sweep aside the best from this side of the Channel in the Classic races next year? Well hidden is the most charitable answer.

The 1995 Flat season was uncomfortable for the French. Vettori and Celtic Swing flew in from Britain and made off with their 2,000 Guineas and Derby, while their top mile event, the Prix du Moulin, fell to Ireland's Ridgewood Pearl.

Then at Longchamp in October, Hever Golf Rose and Lammtarra made it a British benefit day in the Prix de l'Abbaye and the Arc, and, unusually, there were few Gallic cheers at the Breeders' Cup.

Worst of all, there was no substantial evidence that the French will be any stronger next year. No star came to light in the shape of a Zafonic, or even a Machiavellian or Hector Protector.The publication next week of the International Classifications -racing's end-of-year report -is likely to compound the gloom across the Channel by confirming in hard figures that the best French two-year-olds are not within half a stone of the pick of the British, Royal Applause and Alhaarth.

The evidence is hard to ignore as the British-trained Tagula, Lord Of Men and Polaris Flight, beat most of the top French juveniles in three of their most important events, the Prix Morny, Prix de la Salamandre and Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

In looking for a reason for France's inability to prevent this exportation of prize-money, the death early last year of Francois Boutin, a masterly trainer of juveniles, stands out.

But there was also an unusual scarcity of young runners from Andre Fabre's stable in the colours of Sheikh Mohammed to follow in the footprints of Lycius, Zieten, Lion Cavern and Pennekamp. With the Sheikh sending so many that show promise to join his Godolphin team, Fabre may benefit from holding on to his cards.

The only runners to appeal from this camp were lightly raced sorts kept away from the top races, namely the Deauville runner-up West Memphis, and Polar Lights, successful in a hot Saint-Cloud maiden.

Fabre's Daniel Wildenstein-owned juveniles were much more prominent, and their Miss Tahiti is probably the best French prospect for 1996. She beat a solid international field headed by Shake the Yoke in the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc weekend, and must be kept at the forefront of calculations for the French Guineas and Oaks. Loup Solitaire completed a rare double for Wildenstein when beating stable-mate Manninamix in the Grand Criterium. He has been spoken of as an Epsom contender but the field in the Criterium - including British maiden winners Committal and Astor Place -finished in a heap, so it is hard to regard the race as highly as in previous years.

The top French colts in the classification should be Fabre's Barricade, third behind Tagula in the Morny, and Stavros Niarchos's Titus Libius, fourth in the Salamandre before winning two backend Group Three events. He may have less scope for improvement than stable-mate Spinning World and the Aga Khan's Ashkalani, lightly raced colts who also picked up late autumn pattern races.

Jonathan Pease, trainer of Titus Libius and Spinning World, should have an excellent year. He has high hopes of the maiden fillies Showboat and Ciel De Feu and handles the precocious With Fascination, second in the Morny and the Salamandre, and Contare, whose demolition of a decent field of maidens at Deauville in August was one of the most promising performances of 1995.

But they bear a heavy burden to achieve and promise needs to be turned into progress if they are to make successful forays to Britain or even defend their own turf.

THE TOP FRENCH TWO-YEAR-OLDS OF 1995

111 Miss Tahiti

110 Barricade, Titus Libius

109 With Fascination

108 Supreme Commander

107 Contare, Le Tourron, Shake The Yoke

106 Loup Solitaire, Manninamix

105 Shining Molly

104 Eternity Range, Le Triton, Occupandiste, Starmaniac

103 Spinning World

102 General Alan, Media Nox

102 Restless Carl

101 Ashkalani, Martiniquais, Paix D'Irlande, Ragmar

100 Anziyan, Dark Nile, Luna Wells, Naninja, Raisonnable, River Bay

Ratings by Neil Young

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