Few will begrudge Dee Ex Bee his day in the sun if he can claim a deserved victory in the Qatar Prix du Cadran at ParisLongchamp.
Successful on his first two starts of 2019 in the Sagaro at Ascot and the Henry II at Sandown, Mark Johnston’s charge has since finished second behind the incredible Stradivarius in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, the Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup at York.
Connections of last year’s Investec Derby runner-up had hoped to dodge Stradivarius in the Doncaster Cup, but a late change of plan meant John Gosden’s star stayer did turn up on Town Moor – and Dee Ex Bee was an 11th-hour withdrawal on account of the drying ground.
With Stradivarius not in attendance and ease underfoot certain in Paris on Saturday, Dee Ex Bee will be a hot favourite to open his account at Group One level in the hands of crack French jockey Mickael Barzalona – who takes over in the saddle from Silvestre de Sousa.
Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, said: “He’s had a fantastic year, running some great races in defeat – without bumping into Stradivarius in his last three races, he’d be unbeaten and would have won a £1million bonus himself.
“Ever since Goodwood, this has been his main target. I think the softer ground and going back up to two and a half (miles) will suit him.
“Everything looks to be in favour, so hopefully this will be his day.”
Dee Ex Bee is one of two British-trained contenders, along with Alan King’s Northumberland Plate hero Who Dares Wins, while Dermot Weld’s Falcon Eight carries Irish hopes in the race, which will be live on Sky Sports Racing.
The home team is headed by Freddy Head’s defending champion Call The Wind.
The first Pattern race of the afternoon is the Prix Dollar, for which Charlie Appleby’s Line Of Duty is likely to be a warm order.
The chestnut colt steps up in distance but down in grade for the near 10-furlong Group Two, after finishing third over a mile in the Prix Jacques le Marois and the Prix du Moulin on his last couple of appearances.
Appleby said: “We tried him over a mile and a half in the Derby earlier in the year, but he blatantly didn’t stay.
“His last couple of runs over a mile have been very good, and you’d think stepping back up to an extended mile and one (furlongs) is going to suit him.
“He ticks a lot of boxes in that he has track experience and will appreciate the ground.
“On the evidence of his last couple of runs, he is the one to beat.”
Roger Varian’s Mountain Angel and the Jessica Harrington-trained Leo De Fury are among Line Of Duty’s five rivals.
Harrington is also represented in the Group Two Prix Daniel Wildenstein, with Tauran Shaman putting his unbeaten record on the line following low-key wins at Killarney and Galway.
The Revenant (Francis-Henri Graffard) and Impulsif (Andre Fabre) are both on winning streaks – but the standard is set by Jean-Claude Rouget’s Olmedo, who was fourth in the Moulin last month.
“He is better than ever, I think. I’m very confident with him,” said Rouget.
There are four British raiders among 10 runners in the one-mile-seven-furlong Prix Chaudenay – the Appleby-trained Moonlight Spirit, Johnston’s Nayef Road, Martyn Meade’s Technician and Dashing Willoughby from Andrew Balding’s yard.
Moonlight Spirit has won four of his six starts to date – most recently landing a Group Three over this course and distance.
“He won the trial for this race and has course-and-distance experience,” said Appleby.
“I think he has a bit to find on ratings – but he’s a progressive horse, he won the trial well, he’ll appreciate the slower ground and we think he’s going to be a nice stayer for next year.”
Nayef Road, Technician and Dashing Willoughby were last seen finishing third, sixth and seventh respectively in the St Leger at Doncaster.
Charlie Johnston said of the former: “After Doncaster, we were thinking we’d probably finish him for the year. But he was already entered in this race, and it just looked too good an opportunity to pass up.
“He has conditions to suit, and I think a mile and seven (furlongs) will be just about ideal for him.
“He’s the top-rated horse in the race and if he reproduces his Leger run, he should win.
“I’d like to think he’s in the same form now as he was going to Doncaster.”