Racing: Head looks for perfect Reponse

Sue Montgomery speaks to the French trainer with her eye on another Classic today
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The Independent Online
Euroscepticism goes out the window when Criquette Head turns her gaze across the Channel. The Chantilly-based trainer has an outstanding record at Newmarket, and has every chance of adding to it with Pas de Reponse in the 1,000 Guineas there this afternoon.

Head's strikes into British racing's heartland are selective, but in general devastatingly effective. During the last 10 years 12 runners have yielded seven wins, six at Group One level; last year she had a 100 per cent strike rate with three raiders; and she has won the first fillies' Classic on three occasions, with Ma Biche (1983), Ravinella (1988) and Hatoof (1992).

Pas de Reponse was one of last season's successful trio, having become the champion two-year-old filly in Europe when she followed in the hoofprints of Ma Biche and Ravinella with a victory in the Cheveley Park Stakes in October. The pretty daughter of Danzig, owned and bred by Gerard Wertheimer, scored a bloodless win from moderate opponents on her seasonal reappearance, but it was her work on the Les Reservoirs training gallop last Monday that really set French pulses racing.

The white-faced bay, with Head's brother Freddie, her rider today, on board, scorched 15 lengths clear of her workmates. "They were winners of good races she left behind," said Criquette. "She is as ready as I can make her. They say there may be a doubt about her stamina, but she settles well and I think she will cope. She has a marvellous turn of foot and it is possible to win a Guineas at Newmarket with a filly that does not truly stay a mile. I did it with Ma Biche."

Today's politicians can teach the racing community little about federalism. The first of 15 French-trained 1,000 Guineas winners was Camelia in 1876, by which time Chantilly had been well colonised by the English, with traffic of horses and people in both directions. The Head dynasty originated in Newmarket where one William of that name worked and rode in the middle of the last century and, like most of her horses, she has a high-class international pedigree. Her father, Alec, is commonly acknowledged as Europe's greatest horseman and her mother, Ghislaine, is one of the Van de Poele racing family from Belgium.

Head said: "My great-grandfather, the jockey, is buried in the churchyard at Newmarket. I am English-bred on the sire's side, Belgian-bred on the dam's, and qualify for entry into the French stud-book."

Camelia was not only the first overseas-trained 1,000 Guineas heroine, but the first foreign winner of any English Classic. The presence today of the Godolphin contingent is testament to the fact that the game is, 125 years on, truly without frontiers.

Back in 1993 today's race was the first Classic to feature a runner who had wintered in Dubai, fifth-placed Dayflower. Saeed Bin Suroor and his team have since claimed the 2,000 Guineas, Derby, Oaks and St Leger, but not yet a 1,000 Guineas, despite going close with Balanchine, Moonshell and Bint Shadayid.

Today the girls in blue are Moonlight Paradise and Ocean Ridge, both purchased in the course of last season, who finished second and third behind Pas de Reponse in the Cheveley Park Stakes. Moonlight Paradise, by Hatoof's sire Irish River, has done very well during the winter and if her front-running stablemate ensures a true gallop down the Rowley Mile she will test the French raider's stamina to its limit.

Of the home side Henry Cecil will be three-handed in his bid for a fifth victory, and his second in succession after Bosra Sham last year. The trio all looked good in their final spins on the Limekilns on Wednesday; the stable jockey, Kieren Fallon, has kept faith with the luckless Sleepytime, who will be vying with Pas de Reponse and Moonlight Paradise for favouritism this afternoon, but the beautifully-bred Reams of Verse, by Nureyev, already a Group One winner, looks better value.

Yashmak and Sarayir, both half-sisters to Derby winners, may prove better Oaks prospects, and Rebecca Sharp, who still had on her winter woollies when she sluiced in at the Craven meeting, may be best of the long-shots. But Pas de Reponse can provide the answer.