By Liz Price
Henri-Alex Pantall is one of France’s top trainers who regularly features in the first three of the trainers’ championship and so it comes as a bit of a surprise that he has “only” saddled two Group 1 winners in the 49 years he has been training. “Yes,” he laughs, “I am apparently not subscribed to that part of racing.”
Henri-Alex Pantall, or Alex as his friends refer to him, is in good spirits because if everything goes to plan, he might just win his third Group 1 race when he saddles the Godolphin-owned Poule d’Essai des Pouliches winner CASTLE LADY in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot next Friday.
The daughter of Shamardal is unbeaten in three starts but needed to be supplemented for the French 1,000 Guineas and her trainer explains: “Castle Lady had arrived at our yard quite late. I can’t remember if she came from Charlie Appleby but I think that as a two-year-old she had spent a lot of time either in pre-training or at the clinic.
“She did show us some potential at the beginning of the year, but it was a bit too early to start thinking about Group 1 or classic races. But then she came into herself and after she won the Prix de la Grotte, the decision was made to supplement her.”
As it turned out, it was the right decision, as Castle Lady beat the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Commes by a nose after storming through the ranks to take the lead in the final furlong. It was a first victory in this French classic not only for Henri-Alex Pantall, but also for the boys in blue.
Pantall, who is based in Beaupreau, which is situated in the South West of France, close to the city of Nantes, trains for many different owners, but no one has been more loyal to him than Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.
He recorded his first winner with Pantall as early as 1985 and the trainer remembers: “My first horse in training for HH Sheikh Mohammed came about through André Fabre who had sent me a filly by Lyphard. Her name was Beaqueath and she won a race I think at Nort sur Erdre. Since then I have always had horses for him and then later Godolphin.”
Unsurprisingly, it was another filly, carrying the famous maroon and white silks of Sheikh Mohammed who gave Henri-Alex Pantall his first Group 1 winner when West Wind lifted the 2007 edition of the Prix de Diane under Frankie Dettori.
The Prix de Diane Longines, which is run on the Sunday before Royal Ascot, had actually been under consideration for Castle Lady, but her trainer said: “We had thought about running her in the Prix de Diane for a short moment, but we are convinced that she won’t stay the trip, so that is why she is coming to Royal Ascot.
“She has come out of the French 1000 Guineas in good form and I would even go a step further and say she has improved since then. She is in really good form, but obviously, this is Royal Ascot and the races are always very tough. Obviously, Hermosa looks a serious filly, but my filly is in good form. I think soft ground will be all right for her. She has won in very soft ground and I think she can go in any ground.”
Pantall, who has 170 horses under his care, including about 80 to 100 two-year-olds, in his private training centre that he took over from his father in 1980, is always keen to have a runner at Royal Ascot.
His great-great-grandfather William Pantall was one of the British pioneers, which also include the Cunnington, Clout and Head families, who came to France in the 1840s to set up training in support of the French horseracing industry, which was developing at that time. With his British origins, it is not surprising that Pantall loves the pomp and ceremony, which go hand in hand with Royal Ascot.
“Obviously Royal Ascot is a very special meeting and I think any trainer dreams of saddling a winner there. I have tried several times and I think my best souvenir of the Royal meeting has to be Restiadargent who finished third in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, just a head and a nose behind Black Caviar. That was a great moment, so exciting. We really enjoyed it.
“Now I hope that maybe Castle Lady can do a little bit better, but we shall see. In any case, to have a starter at Royal Ascot and on top of it one with a live chance is absolutely fantastic and I can’t wait to come over.”