By Liz Price
It is not even ten years ago that an unknown young French jockey made history by winning a first Epsom Derby for his master trainer Andre Fabre with the Coolmore-owned Pour Moi.
Mickael Barzalona, who says that winning the world’s most-famous Classic races changed his life forever, is hoping to win another Derby on Sunday. This time it’s the Prix du Jockey Club, live on Sky Sports Racing, where he partners the Andre Fabre-trained and Godolphin-owned VICTOR LUDORUM.
Watch the Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix de Diane live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Sunday 5th July.
In a career that includes eight Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victories, it comes as no surprise that Fabre has also won the French Classic four times already, but for Barzalona it would be a first.
“Obviously, it would be absolutely amazing to add this race to my other Derby,” he tells us from his home close to Chantilly, where he has been resting since he was bitten and dragged off his horse by Earthlight’s leader following a public gallop at Saint-Cloud last Sunday.
“There are only four or five big races like these in the year so any jockey would like to win a race like that. This year I am lucky to be partnering the favourite. It’s always great to be on a horse that has won the Poule d’Essai des Poulains. It’s good form.”
The last horse to succeed the French 2000 Guineas and French Derby double was no other than the Andre Fabre-trained Lope de Vega, who won the races in 2010. Last year, everyone expected Persian King to complete the double but, in the end, he was beaten two lengths into second by Sottsass.
Barzalona though believes that Victor Ludorum, a son of Shamardal who won the Prix du Jockey Club in 2005, the year the distance was shortened from 1 ½ m to 1m 2 ½ f, has all the right attributes to provide him with his first victory in this famous race.
“He has come on a lot since the beginning of the year. He wasn’t quite ready for his seasonal reappearance and didn’t have a good draw in a race that lacked pace. He was a different horse in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and while I haven’t sat on him since that victory, I see him, and he looks good.”
The Prix du Jockey Club has always been Victor Ludorum’s target and Barzalona confirms: “I’m confident enough that he will stay. Already last year I thought that he was a horse for the Jockey Club. There is no doubt that he has a lot of speed, which he showed last time out over the mile, but as I said, I already thought last year that he had plenty of stamina.
“I would have preferred a smaller field as traffic problems are always an issue in this race, but that is nothing we can change. At least there should be pace in the race.”
Seeing that he has drawn the rail, it could well be that Victor Ludorum finds himself in front and Barza, as he is known to his friends, shrugs: “The rail is good and it’s not good. But it’s definitely better than being totally on the outside.” And then he adds: “I won’t force him to do anything. He is not that type of horse. If I force him, he could take it badly and start pulling, which I don’t want.”
Due to Covid 19 restrictions, the French card on Sunday will also feature the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines (French Oaks), a race that usually takes place two weeks after the Prix du Jockey Club.
Godolphin don’t have a runner, but Barzalona has secured the ride on the Fabrice Chappet-trained SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, a filly who produced an eye-catching performance when finishing a very close second in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, the French 1000 Guineas.
She is not the favourite but is still prominent in the betting and Barzalona explains: “She finished really well in the Poule and while we don’t know how good the opposition really was on that day, she certainly made a great impression. I’m looking forward to riding her.
Speak Of The Devil hasn’t run a lot so there is still improvement. And looking at that last race, I do think she will stay, because with a few more strides she would have beaten the winner.”
The Prix du Jockey Club has a clear market leader but that it is not the case in the Prix de Diane Longines, where the Jessica Harrington-trained Alpine Star and the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Raabihah are disputing favouritism.
“I think the Prix de Diane is very open,” says Barzalona. “There is the Irish raider who is obviously good, there is the Rouget filly, Andre Fabre has a runner, as does O’Brien, it’s tough. We don’t really know yet what they can do.
“What I like about my filly though is that if there is no pace, which is likely, my filly could quicken. She has shown she has a good turn of foot, which is her strength. And I also have a good draw in three.”
Who knows, Barzalona might come away with two classic victories on Sunday, continuing a campaign that has already turned out to be hugely successful.
“Yes,” he smiles. “I am having a good season, despite the lockdown. I am lucky, I am riding some very good horses and I am also riding for some new owners and trainers. For example, I never used to ride for Fabrice Chappet and I am also riding more and more for owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.
“I ride a lot for him in Dubai where he has horses with Salem bin Ghadayer. I am just grateful that I was able to come to England and ride for Godolphin. It was incredibly important for my career and today I am reaping the rewards.”