There are two interesting facts about Millkom. First, he remains unbeaten after nine visits to the track, which includes victories in the Prix Jean Prat and Grand Prix de Paris, both Group One events. Second, his trainer is, numerically, the most successful in France, but his name would provoke even more bafflement among British punters than that of his horse.
Jean Claude Rouget's stable houses 150 horses, and last season he saddled 230 winners, a new French record which he is expected to improve significantly this year. Unlike Andre Fabre, Francois Boutin and the other famous names in French training, however, he is based not in Chantilly, within striking distance of Paris, but in Pau, 800km away in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
British racing has a vague north-south divide, but in the French hierarchy, the boundary is rather more precise: there is Paris, and there are the provinces. Rouget amasses winners in much the same way that Martin Pipe did a few years ago, but he does so on the provincial courses (France has well over 200) and as a result, few outside his home country have heard of his achievements. So it seems fair to assume that nothing would give Rouget more pleasure than to beat Fabre and the rest on their home turf in the race they prize above all others.
Rouget has given Millkom a classic Arc preparation - Sunday's race will be Millkom's first since his success in the Grand Prix de Paris in late June - and the colt's form would seem to give him every chance. His unblemished nine-race record has one significant omission, however. Millkom has yet to race beyond 10 furlongs, and many breeding experts believe that his chance of staying an extra two furlongs in the Arc are slim.
Particular scorn is directed at Millkom's dam, Good Game, who was most effective over a sharp five furlongs, but since Millkom has already demonstrated that breeding is an unreliable guide, it would be no surprise to find that a mile and a half is within his range. Furthermore, he is a relaxed runner who settles and quickens well, and his jockey, Jean-Rene Dubosc, is experienced and competent. If his stamina holds, it would be no surprise to see Millkom put Parisian noses out of joint on 2 October.
If his breath fails him at a vital moment, however, his capitulation could be sudden and complete, like that of Mister Baileys in this year's Derby. Mark Johnston's colt rounded Tattenham Corner several lengths clear and apparently cantering, but he was a spent force shortly afterwards.
The 2,000 Guineas winner has now met with a further reverse. A minor attack of colic has ensured that he will be unable to contest the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Saturday week (the horse is now fine, but the drugs used to treat his ailment will still be present in his bloodstream on raceday).
Mister Baileys' next race is now likely to be the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on 15 October, after which retirement will beckon. The colt has been purchased by the National Stud, and while Johnston would prefer to train him as a four-year-old, he accepts that his new owners will want a return on their investment as soon as possible. 'It's disappointing, but it's also understandable,' he said yesterday. 'It's just an economic decision.'
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