1,000 Guineas: Victories for Miss France and California Chrome take old-timers up to new heights


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The Independent Online

Youth may have had its day in the 2,000 Guineas, as rookie trainer Richard Hannon Jr captured his first Classic on Saturday with Night Of Thunder, his first runner in such a race. But even though experience was the guiding hand for the rest of the weekend, results at the top still produced breakthroughs.

Here today, Miss France gave André Fabre his first victory in the 1,000 Guineas, completing in the process a full house of English Classics for the Chantilly-based maestro. And perhaps most remarkably of all, 77-year-old Art Sherman became the oldest man to saddle a Kentucky Derby winner when California Chrome – his first runner in America's most famous race – ran out a ready winner.

Miss France had become one of the winter favourites for the filly Guineas after she beat Lightning Thunder over seven furlongs of the Rowley Mile last September.

She fell from grace, though, after flopping first time out this season. But Fabre was not fazed and coaxed the daughter of Dansili back to her best. The very fact of her taking part was a hint to punters and only two were preferred in the market to the 7-1 shot.

"There was a question mark after her first run this year," said Fabre, 68, "but I knew that race wasn't to be believed. Then in the last 10 days I began to get confident after that bad run. She started working brilliantly, and it was what I saw in the morning that told me that we should come here."

To Fabre's consternation, Miss France, ridden by Maxime Guyon, was always close to the pace and went past trailblazing Manderley a furlong out. She had to dig deep to fend off two determined challenges, firstly from Ihtimal and lastly her old rival Lightning Thunder, who went under by just a neck in a driving finish. "It was not the way I wanted her ridden," added Fabre, "exactly the opposite, in fact. But it worked."

It was a first Classic in Britain for Guyon, who had to improvise after his mount left the starting stalls too well. "The plan was to be at the back," he admitted, "but she jumped really good, and I let her run. She relaxed really well and felt like a different filly from last month."

Miss France and Lightning Thunder, who did second-season trainer Olly Stevens proud in the colours of the Qatari sponsors, may clash again in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, but Ihtimal will step up to a mile and a half in the Oaks.

Hannon Jr, who took over the license at his family's Wiltshire stables from his father and namesake only a few months ago, reported Night Of Thunder in good shape after Saturday's victory, and more likely to stick at a mile in the St James's Palace Stakes than go for the Derby.

For Sherman, victory at the highest level has come late, and sweet. Back in 1955, he was an exercise rider on Kentucky Derby winner Swaps, the closest connection he had previously with the hallowed Churchill Downs winners' circle.

California Chrome, the favourite, won easily under Victor Espinoza to provide a fairy-tale success all round; he was bred from a cheap mare by his first-time owners, who go under the acronym DAP: Dumb-Ass Partners.

"This gave me the biggest thrill I've ever had," said Sherman. "It was a picture-perfect ride and coming down the stretch I was just thinking: 'Keep rollin' big boy. Keep rollin'. To be my age and have something like this happen, what can you say?"