Battaash heads star cast on a BC ‘Win and You’re In’ extravaganza in Paris

The Francis-Henri Graffard-trained Watch Me, pictured beating dual Guineas heroine Hermosa in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, leads the home defence in the Prix de l’Opera on Sunday. Photo: focusonracing.com

With the Breeders’ Cup only four weeks hence, the European portion of the annual ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge concludes with a slew of races on Sunday at Longchamp.

Including the main event, no fewer than five races on the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe undercard offer an automatic fees-paid spot in the starting gate for designated contests at Santa Anita on November 1-2.

A primary focus of attention on a lavish menu of supporting events is sure to be the latest appearance of the blistering Battaash, who has already secured his place in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint via his electrifying track-record victory in the Juddmonte Nunthorpe Stakes at York’s Ebor meeting in August.

Now the Charlie Hills-trained 5-year-old returns to action over the straight 1,000 metres (5f) in the Longines-sponsored Prix de l’Abbaye, which also offers a place in the Turf Sprint – a race for which Sheikh Hamdan’s gelding is clear ante-post favourite with British bookmakers.

Although Battaash won the Abbaye by four lengths on soft ground at Chantilly in 2017, he could finish only fourth when they returned to Longchamp 12 months ago behind the reopposing Mabs Cross (Michael Dods/Gerald Mosse), who was well adrift when they met at York.

Last year’s third, Soldier’s Call, and the Aidan O’Brien pair Fairyland and So Perfect, one-two last time in the G1 Flying Five at the Curragh, are among the other speedsters due to line up in a race where the home team have a truly atrocious record.

Similarly woeful is the overall European record in the Turf Sprint, with not even a placed horse since Godolphin’s Diabolical came second in the first running in 2008. Marsha, who won the Abbaye in 2016, was sixth behind Stormy Liberal in the Turf Sprint at Del Mar a year later, after she had finished second to Battaash at Longchamp.

More notable, though, was arguably the greatest Abbaye winner of them all: Dayjur, who scored in 1990 before his notorious defeat at Belmont on the dirt when he jumped the shadow in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Elsewhere on Sunday’s Arc card, the Prix de l’Opera is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race linked to the Maker’s Mark Filly & Mare Turf. Among recent Longchamp winners, Nahrain (2011) was second to Perfect Shirl at the Breeders’ Cup, while Rhododendron filled the same position behind Wuheida after scoring in a five-horse photo in 2017.

Going much further back, the Opera roll of honour does feature a subsequent Breeders’ Cup winner – albeit not in the Filly & Mare Turf, which didn’t exist – in the shape of Royal Heroine.

After landing the Opera for Michael Stoute under Walter Swinburn in 1983, Robert Sangster’s filly won the Mile at the first Breeders’ Cup at Hollywood Park in 1984. You may have heard of her Californian-based trainer. 

It was a long, tall British expat named John Gosden, who saddles a major hope for Sunday’s renewal in Nassau Stakes runner-up Mehdaayih, withdrawn from the Arc at one of this week’s entry stage in favour of the Opera.

The 3-year-old daughter of Frankel has yet to strike at G1 level – unlike several of her rivals, among them Coronation Stakes winner Watch Me and Iridessa, who returned to form when overcoming a competitive field in the Matron Stakes at Irish Champions Weekend.

Top-level 2-year-old contests account for the remaining pair of Breeders’ Cup Challenge races on Sunday’s card with 29-time French champion trainer Andre Fabre in pole position in both. The Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere offers a guaranteed place in the Juvenile Turf; former winners include Arazi, who went down in Breeders’ Cup history for his astonishing performance on the dirt at Churchill Downs after winning what was then the Grand Criterium in 1991.

Fabre supplies the likely favourite in Godolphin’s Victor Ludorum, a homebred son of red-hot sire Shamardal who is unbeaten in two starts.

Of his rivals, the Wertheimers’ Ecrivain (trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias) produced a sustained finishing effort to beat stablemate Hopeful in the G3 Prix de Chenes over course and distance a month ago.

The Prix Marcel Boussac is linked to the Juvenile Turf Fillies in the ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge. Although no filly has ever won both races, Flotilla was fourth behind Silasol in 2012 before scoring at Santa Anita, but last year’s Longchamp scorer, Lily’s Candle, was only 12th behind Newspaperofrecord at Churchill Downs.

The Marcel Boussac does, however, have a long-standing habit of producing future Breeders’ Cup stars. A starry roll of honour also features the dual Mile heroine Miesque (won Marcel Boussac in 1986) and Six Perfections (2002), who won the same race, plus Found (2014) and Wuheida (2016), both high-profile winners for Europe at recent Breeders’ Cups.

Fabre saddles Savarin, a highly-rated daughter of Japanese legend Deep Impact, out of the Prix de Diane winner Sarafina. She is two-from-two after winning the Prix d’Aumale last time for owner Masaaki Matsushima. Godolphin’s Saint-Cloud winner Bionic Woman, also in Fabre’s care, is another possible.

Among those trying to derail the Fabre express is Albigna, reportedly in season when disappointing last month at the Curragh. 

The filly’s trainer, Jessica Harrington, enjoying a charmed run otherwise with her juveniles, picked up the Cheveley Park Stakes last weekend with 16/1 chance Millisle.

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