Ancien regime restored in Paris

Ballydoyle and Godolphin join Bastille Day celebration of true heir to French Derby
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The Independent Online

The tumbrel recommends itself as an ideal conveyance for the decadents who desecrated the Prix du Jockey-Club in 2005, abbreviating the race distance from 12 furlongs to 10 and a half. But things have at least worked in favour of the Grand Prix de Paris, which is run at Longchamp this evening and nowadays has a superior right to be designated "the French Derby". Moreover, it has the pleasant distinction of being the only Group One race in Europe contested at an evening meeting, bringing extra fireworks to Bastille Day in Paris.

A discernible trend has already established itself in the new Prix du Jockey-Club, namely for the best middle-distance colt in the field to be rushed off his feet. In 2005 Hurricane Run gave first run to Shamardal, before winning this race and then the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe itself. Last year, meanwhile, Montmartre never got involved at Chantilly before impressing here. Unfortunately, he never got over a subsequent training setback, but his connections are back this time with Beheshtam.

Fast-tracked to Chantilly within a month of his debut, this Peintre Celebre colt had already won over 13 furlongs and duly lacked the pace to get involved in the Prix du Jockey-Club, nonetheless excelling to stay on from a long way back to claim fourth. He is duly quoted as short as 12-1 for the Arc, and will be favourite tonight, albeit Alain de Royer-Dupré is anxious about the fast ground.

"Running over a longer distance will definitely suit him, and the Derby was only his third run so he is still improving," the trainer said yesterday. "Everything has gone well since Chantilly, we have had no problems at home with him, and he is ready to go. [But] we have had no rain, and it could be a little bit too firm for him."

Any self-respecting Derby these days needs around half the field to be stabled at Ballydoyle, and sure enough four of the eight runners are trained by Aidan O'Brien. Johnny Murtagh, the stable jockey, favours Age Of Aquarius, who finished only seventh at Epsom despite setting a fairly conservative pace. Black Bear Island and Freemantle, first and second in the Dante Stakes, renew opposition after their respective defeats at Royal Ascot, and for now their York form does not look terribly substantial.

Less common lately are authentic Group One three-year-olds from Godolphin, but Mastery is the only "Derby" winner in the field after winning the Italian version soon after his transfer from Mark Johnston. He has since finished third in the Queen's Vase. Connections take the view he may not have seen out the two miles that day.

Grounds for concern resurface

A sequence of excruciating public relations debacles for racecourses was extended yesterday when the meeting at Ayr was abandoned after a terrifying pile-up in the third race. Heavy rain had fallen on firm ground during the morning.

Seven of the dozen runners ended up on the deck as Whaston, unmolested in the lead, made all the running. Darfour lost his footing, causing Danny Tudhope to lose his irons; but first to hit the ground was Freddie Tylicki as Balwearie slipped up, with a domino effect on five others. Joe Fanning, riding All In The Red, broke his left collarbone. Amy Ryan, meanwhile, came down on Neon Blue, some distance back.

Ian Ferguson, head of public relations at the track, said: "There was rain before the first race, and whether that caused the problem we don't know. It was in the straight, and probably involved a tiring horse as well – there's a lot of things to take into consideration."

Earlier this month Worcester had to abandon after one race because of an inadequate water supply during a heatwave; conversely, Uttoxeter sent the public home after a deluge caused the track to become unraceable. Ayr itself has a history of difficulties with the racing surface. In 2005 Robert Winston's title challenge ended when his mount slipped up there, bringing down three other riders and causing the rest of the card to be abandoned. And last year a meeting was abandoned, 20 minutes after the advertised time of the first race, following the discovery of a patch of false ground.

It's the old story. We are in the middle of a vintage season. But all goodwill is wasted if you don't get things right at grass-roots level.

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Half A Crown (3.15 Beverley) Deserves indulgence in such modest company, having had sound excuses since catching the eye at Carlisle – badly hampered on the first occasion, poorly drawn last time. Dropped 8lb in the meantime, he remains sufficiently lightly raced to progress.

Next best

Uncle Brit (8.40 Southwell) A fairly featureless summer for his stable so far, but this one promised to win races when last seen, staying on for fourth over 7f here. The extra furlong this time should suffice off the same mark.

One to watch

Tinaar (Gerard Butler) has all the ingredients to build on her promising debut in a 10f maiden at the Newmarket July Festival. An imposing, well-bred filly by Giant's Causeway, she was green early before keeping on for sixth off a steady pace. Likely to prove just as effective over shorter.

Where the money's going

The sponsors, William Hill, fancy Paul Nicholls to win both the Galway Plate and Galway Hurdle later this month, with Roby De Cimbre and Classic Swain respectively. Each is quoted 8-1 favourite.