Battle is joined as most of Europe’s top milers head for Deauville showdown

Persian King: the Andre Fabre-trained 2019 French 2000 Guineas winner is expected to be a leading contender on Sunday. Photo: John Gilmore

The undoubted highlight of the French summer arrives at Deauville on Sunday with a clash of the generations in the one-mile Prix du Haras du Fresnay-le-Buffard Jacques le Marois.

A fees-paid berth in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile is on the table in the latest leg of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge; there will be four more next week, including three at York’s Ebor meeting.

First, though, comes Deauville, long since a byword for equine elegance and excellence as the Paris racing community decamps en masse to this chichi Normandy resort for the month of August.

Owing to the economic imperatives of coronavirus, the purse is reduced for 2020, but a total of €600,000 (from €1 million) is hardly to be sniffed at. They’ve been rewarded by the usual top-class field for a hugely prestigious race won in the past by a multitude of leading performers – among them Dubai Millennium and his son Dubawi, Manduro, Kingman and Alpha Centauri plus several horses who have left their mark on the Breeders’ Cup, headed by those great mares Miesque and Goldikova.

This weekend’s contest promises a stellar renewal, with most of the contenders for the European champion miler crown lining up, including Classic winners from the ranks of 4- and 5-year-olds (Persian King and defending Marois champ Romanised), plus Royal Ascot 3-year-old stars Palace Pier and Alpine Star and G1 regular Circus Maximus.

Christophe Soumillon takes over from Ryan Moore on Circus Maximus owing to the imposition of a 14-day quarantine period in Britain for anyone travelling from France. There may be other jockey changes on the card at Deauville.

Prix Jacques le Marois: a bit of context

History: Established in 1921, the race is named in memory of important owner-breeder Count Jacques le Marois (1865-1920), president of the Société des Courses de Deauville. Originally restricted to 3-year-olds, it was opened up to older horses in 1952. In a longstanding sponsorship, Deauville’s most prestigious race has been backed by the Fresnay-le-Buffard stud farm since 1986.

Star turn: Miesque (1988) – on her first run since May, the great French racemare became the first horse to win twice when completing back-t0-back successes with a decisive verdict over star 3-year-old Warning, with July Cup hero Soviet Star also among those beaten in a proper championship contest. She went on to win her second Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs in November.

Most wins (trainer): Francois Boutin (7): Nonoalco (1974), Miesque (1987, 1988), Priolo (1990), Hector Protector (1991), Exit To Nowhere (1992), East Of The Moon (1994). 

Andre Fabre (7): Polish Precedent (1989), Miss Satamixa (1995), Vahorimix (2001), Banks Hill (2002), Manduro (2007), Esoterique (2015), Al Wukair (2017).

Most wins (jockey): Freddy Head (6): Carabella (1967), Lyphard (1972), Northjet (1981), Miesque (1987, 1988), Hector Protector (1991) – plus three as trainer with Tamayuz (2008), Goldikova (2009), Moonlight Cloud (2013).

Breeders’ Cup Challenge

The winner of the Prix Jacques le Marois will receive an automatic fees-paid berth in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile at the two-day championships at Keeneland on November 6-7. A minimum travel allowance of $40,000 will also be provided for all starters based outside North America; the Challenge winner must already be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup programme or nominated by the pre-entry deadline of October 26 to receive the rewards.

Already qualified (5): Vardy (Queen’s Plate, Kenilworth, South Africa), Raging Bull (Shoemaker Mile, Santa Anita), Gran Alegria (Yasuda Kinen, Tokyo), Circus Maximus (Queen Anne Stakes, Royal Ascot), Mohaather (Sussex Stakes, Goodwood).

Breeders’ Cup past performance

Not many European races have enjoyed such an influence on the Breeders’ Cup. Indeed, the Marois has had links with the Breeders’ Cup since its inception as the 1984 victor Lear Fan went on to finish seventh at the inaugural event at Hollywood Park.

The Niarchos name looms large over the race both as sponsors, via the family’s Normandy stud farm, and as winners, their colours having been carried to victory on no fewer than nine occasions. Four times have their horses gone to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile after Deauville: the great Miesque (1987 and 1988), Spinning World (1997) and Six Perfections (2003).

Having scored at Belmont in 2001, Banks Hill won the Marois before coming third in the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita the following season. Goldikova scored in 2009 before completing the middle leg of her historic Breeders’ Cup hat-trick; since then, the best effort by a Jacques Le Marois winner came in 2012 with Excelebration, who came fourth behind Wise Dan in the Mile.

Top contenders for 2020

Palace Pier (John Gosden/Frankie Dettori) – always highly regarded, son of Marois winner Kingman jumped to the top of the 3-year-old mile division when beating Pinatubo in St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Circus Maximumus (Aidan O’Brien/Christophe Soumillon) - as tough as they come, three-time G1 winner continues in prime form, going down by only three-quarters of a length to new star Mohaather in Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

Persian King (Andre Fabre/Pierre-Charles Boudot) – Classic winner over a mile in France in 2019, unseen for more than 12 months after coming second in last year’s Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby); back to a mile now after G1 victory over furlong more in the Prix d’Ispahan.

Romanised (Ken Condon/Billy Lee) – last year’s winner defied 314-day absence to score in G2 company at the Curragh last month; jockey Billy Lee happy to take two weeks’ mandatory quarantine to maintain his association.

Alpine Star (Jessica Harrington/Stephane Pasquier) – like Circus Maximus, owned by the sponsors and represents trainer who won this with brilliant filly Alpha Centauri in 2018; narrowly beaten in Prix de Diane over further after four-length victory in Royal Ascot’s Coronation Stakes.

What they say

  • John Gosden (trainer of Palace Pier): “As soon as he walked in after winning the St James’s Palace, I was talking to Frankie coming through the tunnel at Ascot and I said the race that will suit him is the Jacques le Marois. The stiff mile at Ascot suited him and the mile here at Deauville takes getting too. He’s a horse that probably won’t have any problem getting a mile and a quarter in time.”
  • Anthony Stroud (on behalf of Persian King’s part-owners Ballymore Thoroughbreds): “He’s got acceleration and he’s got class. He was a good 2-year-old, a good 3-year-old and then got injured. He’s got very good tactical speed, this horse, so he can manoeuvre within a race. Any champion needs to have tactical speed and he can quicken and then quicken again.” (Racing Post)
  • Ken Condon (trainer of Romanised): “He’s been very good since his win at the Curragh. It was a very nice comeback and I’m sure he’s come on for it. There’s nothing like a match to really tighten things up. Everything seems fine and I’m looking forward to what promises to be a cracking race. It’s great to be taking part.”
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