Racing: Fabre hoping for a slick display of Chantilly grace

Sue Montgomery says the home team look in good form for the French Derby
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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH LATELY few, and not augmented yesterday, French victories at Epsom have been more numerous than English at Chantilly. French-trained horses have been winning our Derby since Durbar scored in 1914 (contrary to popular belief, the 1865 winner Gladiateur, the so-called Avenger of Waterloo, was only bred in France, not trained there); the Brits first reciprocated in the Prix du Jockey-Club, the French Derby, courtesy of Old Vic in 1989.

Since then, only Sanglamore and Celtic Swing have brought France's great three-year-old prize back across the Channel. All three had good reason to go plundering; Old Vic went in search of soggy ground and to duck a confrontation with Nashwan, Sanglamore had a better stablemate, Quest For Fame, on duty at Epsom and Celtic Swing's dubious forelegs decided his destination.

Two centuries ago the Prince de Conde, who once had a dream that he would be reincarnated in equine form, built the magnificent Grands Ecuries, which forms the backdrop to racing at Chantilly, to house 250 horses. This afternoon only eight turn out for the 164th Prix du Jockey-Club. Three British-trained colts - Godolphin's Rhagaas, John Dunlop's Nowhere To Exit and Mark Johnston's Royal Rebel - take on four from France and one from Ireland in the mile-and-a-half Group One contest.

Rhagaas has the pedigree for the Jockey-Club part, if not yet the form, his maternal grandsire Darshaan having beaten his sire Sadler's Wells in the 1984 renewal of the race. He joined the Dubai-based team after an easy victory on his only two-year-old run but was disappointing on his reappearance this term, beaten by All The Way at Newmarket. He carried his his head high that day as if not appreciating the fast ground, and today's softer surface will suit him better. Nowhere To Exit, a son of Exit To Nowhere, has made marked improvement in his second season and is unbeaten in three outings. He started in a Haydock handicap and then scored twice in France, first in a minor race over today's course and distance and most recently in a Group Three contest at Longchamp.

Royal Rebel, winner of a Newcastle maiden in April, produced his best performance when stepped up in distance on his most recent outing. He was staying on well just behind Lucido and Daliapour in the Lingfield Derby Trial.

The first of the two Jockey-Club successes from Ireland - and the first non-French winner was Assert in 1982, immediately followed by his compatriot Caerleon. Today's challenger Tchaikovsky, from Aidan O'Brien's stable is a late switch from Epsom. He will be tackling 12 furlongs for the first time but, being a son of Sadler's Wells from a top-class family, will appreciate it, and is also blinkered for the first time.

The likely favourite will be one of the home side, Slickly, representing Andre Fabre. The grey colt, like his owner Jean-Luc Lagardere's Arc winner Sagamix a son of Linamix, is unbeaten in three runs and looked a smart prospect when winning the Prix Noailles in a style appropriate to his name. His stablemate Gracioso, by Nureyev, had Montjeu, another late Epsom defection, a length behind him in the Prix Lupin, but Montjeu, previously impressive in beating subsequent French Guineas winner Sendawar in the Prix Greffulhe, is expected to turn the tables on easier ground. The colt, though based in France, is trained by an Englishman, John Hammond, and owned by an Irish consortium.

Pascal Bary, trainer of Falcon Flight, has won three of the last five Jockey-Clubs, with Celtic Arms, Ragmar and, last year, Dream Well. Falcon Flight, unraced at two, is unbeaten in his two runs. Gracioso and Rhagaas (both owned by Sheikh Mohammed) and Tchaikovsky and Montjeu (both owned or part-owned by Michael Tabor) will be coupled in the betting.

Chantilly card, page 11