The boys in blue, who finished second in the owners' championship in France last year, have enjoyed a great start to the season in France, thanks to the colt Wootton and filly Musis Amica, who already lifted two important Classic trials.
Not just that, following his victory in the Group 3 Prix de Fontainebleau, Wootton is almost certain to start as the hot favourite of the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, which is run at the newly-branded ParisLongchamp on May 13th.
The main bulk of the Godolphin-owned horses are trained by Andre Fabre in Chantilly including Musis Amica, but he also has a nice group of older horses to look forward to this year.
Henri-Alex Pantall, who trains at the private training centre of Beaupréau in the West of France, has counted Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum amongst his owners for many years. For Godolphin, he looks after the very exciting Wootton.
Here, Lisa-Jane Graffard, the Godolphin representative, tells Liz Price of attheraces.com what the plan is for the Godolphin-owned horses in France this year.
CLOTH OF STARS
5-y-o b h Sea The Stars – Strawberry Fledge
He never reached his full potential as a three-year-old as Andre Fabre’s yard was struck by a virus just as the Classic season got under the way. He finished eighth in the Epsom Derby and after another start in the Grand Prix de Paris, where he finished third, he was given a long break. When he came back as a four-year-old, he won three races, including the Group 1 Prix Ganay, in quick succession. However, it was his second place behind Enable in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe that had everyone talking and it was no great surprise that he was installed as the big favourite in the Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in March 2018. Known to be a bit keen, in Dubai he pulled Mickaël Barzalona’s arms out. Following an agonising first half of the race, he did extremely well to finish third.
“Everything went wrong for him in Dubai and considering how lit up he was in the race, he ran extremely well to finish third. We know he’s a good horse, and we know he needs a good pace to settle. He appears to have come out of Dubai well and it’ll be a case of letting him get a bit of his confidence back. We all adore him, despite his quirks as he’s got so much quality, and he’s a lovely horse to be around. André hopes to run him in the Prix Ganay at the inauguration of ParisLongchamp.”
INNS OF COURT
4-y-o b c Invincible Spirit – Learned Friend
Sixth behind Brametot in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains last year, where he was quite keen and then suffered a tack malfunction, he failed to grab the attention of the public, but after winning a couple of Group 3 races over seven furlongs, he certainly made everyone listen up when he produced a cracking run in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois. He proved a real little fighter and in the end, only a short head stopped him from winning his first Group 1. He then ran one more time in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, where he was beaten into fifth by Ribchester in maybe softer ground than he would have liked. He holds an entry in the Lockinge Stakes, but has yet to run this season.
“He so nearly won a G1 last year, and he showed plenty of class and a great turn of foot. André Fabre has been waiting for better ground for him and hopefully he will make his comeback in the next couple of weeks. The Muguet could be a good starting point. A race like the Prix La Foret could be a long-range target for him as it may be that seven furlongs is his optimum trip.”
JIMMY TWO TIMES
5-y-o gr h Kendargent – Steel Woman
Third behind top sprinter Signs of Blessing in the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest in his three-year-old season, great things were expected of him as a four-year-old. And he did not disappoint. A winner on his seasonal reappearance in a Group 3, he then lifted the Group 2 Prix du Muguet over the mile in May. Unsurprisingly, he was immediately trending for the Queen Anne Stakes, but injury but a stop to that ambition. In fact, the grey did not run again in 2017, but recently returned to the competition in the Group 3 Edmond Blanc at Saint-Cloud, where he produced a great first run to finish third to Stormy Antarctic.
“He ran an excellent third in the Edmond Blanc after almost 11 months off the track. He is a very smart horse, with plenty of speed, and he could easily drop back in trip. His target was the Lockinge, but he’s had a minor hold-up and may miss this, but he’s fit enough and should he recover quickly, then the Lockinge could be back on the cards. He loves a bit of cut in the ground.”
4-y-o b f Dubawi – Shimmering Surf
The Dubawi daughter had a fairly busy three-year-old season, as she started early in March 2017 at Compiegne. Gifted with a lot of stamina, she climbed the ladder progressively and won her Group 3 race in June, followed by a quick turn around when she ran in the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines. The slighter shorter trip was maybe not to her liking, nor the better ground, as her best performances were achieved with a little bit of cut in the ground. She ran well in the Group 2 Prix de Royallieu, where she finished third before running a final time in the 1m7 ½ f Prix Royal-Oak, which was won by Ice Breeze. Even though she only managed a fifth place that day, she is likely to be aimed at the staying events this season.
“A really scopey, rangy filly who won a Group 3 in nice style last year and also was placed at Group 2 level. She had a good break over the winter. André Fabre uses our pre-training in Newmarket a lot and at his suggestion she went there. As we hoped she’s done really well physically and now we’re looking forward to seeing her on the track. She has lots of options open to her and should be ready to run in the next two to three weeks. A race like the Prix de Barbeville might be a good starting point for her.”
5-y-o bb h Medaglia d’Oro – Magic Mission
The most recognisable horse on the planet, who has his own fan club, was the surprise winner of the Group 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf in Del Mar last year, where he relished the quicker pace to come and beat Beach Patrol by half a length. A trip to Sha Tin produced another great run, but this time he had to accept defeat as Highland Reel bowed out with a great performance in the Longines Hong Kong Vase. He then went to Dubai where his handler was hoping he would take to the dirt in the Dubai World Cup. However, he only beat one home and maybe the Investec Coronation Cup will be better suited for him.
“He’s a horse with a huge character, very cool and relaxed, with a tendency to stick his tongue out for photos. He’s been a bit flat since Dubai and will be given plenty of time to recover. Ideally, he’ll be aimed for a second tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Turf. There is no rush, he’ll tell us when he’s ready and there’ll always be plenty of options for a horse like him.”
3-y-o b c Exceed And Excel – Lay Time
Ran three times as a two-year-old. He was a winner on his first start over six furlongs, was then beaten a neck when he stepped up in trip and to listed company, but was back on the podium when he ran in a listed over five furlongs at Chantilly. He holds entries in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and in the Prix du Jockey Club.
“He had a minor hold-up which has just ruled him out of the French and Newmarket Guineas. He’s a quality horse with plenty of speed being by Exceed And Excel, and he won a Listed race over 5f at two, but he’s also out of a Galileo mare which opens up the possibility that he’ll stay further. We hope he’ll be ready to run in a month or so.”
3-y-o ch c New Approach – Falls of Lora
He won his maiden on his first start last year in July. A hot favourite for the Prix François Boutin, listed, at Deauville, he was overturned by Mythical Magic, but was back in the winner’s circle when landing a conditions race at Maisons-Laffitte in October in very soft ground. He holds entries in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and the Prix du Jockey Club.
“He’s a colt that we think a lot of. He’s got a great temperament, but he had two fairly minor but annoying setbacks at the wrong time and will also miss the French Guineas. He’s back in work, but he’ll need a prep race if he is to make the Prix du Jockey Club and that looks like a tight schedule.”
3-y-o b c Invincible Spirit – Tribune
After a promising start in a conditions race on the Chantilly Polytrack in the autumn, where he ran against a group of much more experienced two-year-olds, he then won his maiden on that same track, but this time over seven furlongs. He looks the promising type and holds an entry in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains.
“He broke his maiden on his second start last year, beating previous winners, and he looks like a useful type. He is ready to run and André Fabre is waiting for better ground for him.”
3-y-o b c Medaglia d’Oro – Visual Mind
Already impressive on his first start in a maiden, where he took the lead and was then engaged in a great battle with Intellogent, who would beat him in the final stride, he then won his maiden on his second start. In the lead from the start of this mile maiden, he quickened beautifully to win by six lengths.
“Probably one of our most promising horses going into this season, he had been working well but then ran a terrible race in the Prix de Fontainebleau. We’re trying to work out what went wrong, but he seems outwardly fine.”
3-y-o ch c Raven’s Pass – Sundrop
He had his first start in a maiden in November last year at Chantilly on the polytrack. After travelling behind the leaders, he was pulled out onto the middle of the track and although it took him a moment to quicken, when he got the hang of it, he won well. He seems to have a lot of stamina and is entered in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, the Prix du Jockey Club and the Grand Prix de Paris.
“He is a solid horse who won his maiden at two and should be ready to run in the next couple of weeks. He’s wintered well and is changing and progressing all the time.”
3-y-o b f Dawn Approach – White Star
A winner on her first start last year, she made a very classy reappearance in the Group 3 Prix de la Grotte in April where she beat the likes of Group 1 placed Magical and Group 3 winner Sweety Dream. Coming from behind, she relished every bit of the mile and looks like she will go further in the future.
“She’s a scopey daughter of Dawn Approach who won a nice maiden at two, beating some highly regarded fillies. She looked like she’d need the run and would improve with more time and distance, so we were all pleasantly surprised to see her win the Prix La Grotte in good style. She has a lovely action and appears likely to want a bit further, but all being well she will run in the Poule d’Essai next.”
3-y-o b c Wootton Bassett – American Nizzy
The Henri-Alex Pantall-trained colt had everyone talking in France last year, thanks to two convincing performances at Deauville. A first win by six lengths was followed up with a five lengths victory when he was stepped up to listed level in the Prix Isonomy. On his seasonal reappearance in the classic trial Prix de Fontainebleau, he faced a much tougher opposition, including Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère runner-up Olmedo and the Aidan O’Brien trained Group 1 performer Rostropovich, but he wasn’t fazed and after another good run he remains unbeaten.
“He’s an exciting horse – he’s looked an exciting horse ever since he broke his maiden at Deauville last August. He has improved mentally with every race, and while he minds himself at home in the mornings, he has shown plenty of versatility in the way he runs his races. Alex Pantall had a few sleepless nights this winter, between the climactic conditions, and not being able to get as much work into Wootton as he would like, but he was more than reassured after Wootton’s win in the Fontainebleau. We’ve now got four weeks to go until the Poule d’Essai, and he’ll have to make the step up again to Group 1 company, but we are all excited by him. Alex Pantall has been a key member of HH Sheikh Mohammed’s team for close on thirty years and it’s been a very fruitful relationship. He won the Prix de Diane with West Wind, and he also trained her sister, Eastern Joy, who is the dam of Thunder Snow.”
3-y-o b c Dubawi – Zofzig
He was a winner on his first start in November last year after still running very green. He needed some serious encouragement when coming out of the last bend at Saint-Cloud, but accelerated again in the final half furlong to win by a short neck. He showed the will to win and is entered in all the staying races, as well as the Poule d’Essai des Poulains.
“He’s a very quality, attractive son of Dubawi, who won his maiden in workmanlike fashion last year. The form looks average but we believe he has some quality. Like a lot of Dubawi’s he’s got the engine and the right attitude, but he can be a lazy work horse. He should be ready to run in the next couple of weeks.”