Palace Pier puts his unbeaten record and tall reputation on the line in a fascinating renewal of the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville on Sunday.
John Gosden’s youngster made a huge impression his racecourse debut at Sandown 12 months ago, but rather than being thrown in at the deep end, the son of Kingman won a minor novice event at the same venue before being packed up for his winter break.
Palace Pier’s seasonal reappearance in a handicap on the all-weather at Newcastle was similarly low-key, but he left nobody in any doubt about his ability at Royal Ascot as he got the better of Pinatubo with a performance of class and courage.
The three-year-old bids to double his top-level tally in France – but faces a far from straightforward task, with four of his six rivals also Group One winners. Frankie Dettori takes ride, despite having to go into quarantine on his return to the UK.
Thady Gosden, assistant to his father, said: “He ran very well in the St James’s Palace Stakes and he has been in good form since.
“We thought the right place for him to go would be the Jacques le Marois, but it has turned out to be a very hot race with Romanised, Circus Maximus, Persian King and Alpine Star in there – the list is almost endless of top-class horses.
“It is a very competitive race, but he is in good form and hopefully he will run his race.
“He wouldn’t be enormously flashy at home – he just does what he has to and leaves it at that.”
Dettori said in his blog for Sporting Index: “It’s obviously a brilliant field with half a million pounds up for grabs.
“That’s what you get when you put that kind of money on the table and Palace Pier will have to run a big race to see off the likes of Alpine Star, Circus Maximus and Persian King.
“It (opting to ride in France and miss the Ebor meeting at York as a result of quarantine) was a very hard decision to make, but hopefully it will be the right one and Palace Pier can show us why.”
The Ken Condon-trained Romanised was victorious 12 months ago and returns to defend his crown.
Just as he did last season, the five-year-old warmed up for his French assignment by winning the Minstrel Stakes at the Curragh, although this year it was his seasonal reappearance due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“After a long lay-off we were delighted with his performance in the Minstrel. Billy (Lee) was very pleased,” said Condon.
“The horse gave him a great feel throughout the race and when he needed to he had that potent turn of foot he possesses. It was lovely to see it. He was able to get out of a tight-enough spot and quickened up very well.
“I’m sure he’s come on plenty for that race. He’s in good shape and we’re looking forward to Sunday.
“It looks a really good championship race, but we’re happy with his condition.”
Aidan O’Brien’s Circus Maximus bids to get back on the winning trail after finding only Mohaather too strong in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on his latest appearance.
The four-year-old is one of two Irish raiders who will carry the colours of the Niarchos family along with Jessica Harrington’s filly Alpine Star – an impressive winner of the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot before being touched off by Fancy Blue in the French Oaks.
Alpine Star is a half-sister to Alpha Centauri, who won the Marois in 2018 for the same connections.
Alan Cooper, the Niarchos family’s racing manager, said: “Both horses merit their place in the field – they’re both Group One winners over a mile and both Jessica and Aidan are happy with their horses.
“Circus Maximus is a four-year-old and Alpine Star is a three-year-old filly, so it will be an interesting clash of the generations in what looks a good, competitive race.
“We’ve had quite a lot of rain in Deauville over the past few days, which may play a part in what happens.”
The home team is headed by Andre Fabre’s Persian King, who won the Prix d’Ispahan at Chantilly on his latest outing.
“It looks a really strong race, but Persian King is back to his best now and with storms around I think softer ground will suit him,” said Fabre.
“It looks very interesting, especially with the three-year-olds who won at Ascot (Palace Pier and Alpine Star).
“Since he came back from his injury I’ve been happy with him – he’s done all I have asked.”