National Hunt racing fans in the UK and Ireland have another couple of weeks’ worth of anticipation to go before the Cheltenham Festival gets underway, but in France the wait is over, with Auteuil’s spring season starting today with an eight-race card.
BIG GUNS FACE OFF
The day’s feature is the Grade 3 Prix Robert de Clermont-Tonnerre (3.50pm), a 2m6f chase which has attracted some very big names and looks a cracking renewal. 2019 Grand Steeple winner Carriacou was a ready winner on his return to action over hurdles at Pau in January and escapes any penalties here, having been winless in 2020 despite some excellent efforts in defeat. However, he hasn’t won over this trip at Auteuil in his last eight attempts.
Poly Grandcamp won this in 2020 and was runner-up in 2019, so another bold bid is expected from Francois Nicolle-trained son of Poliglote, who carries a 2kg penalty for last year’s win.
Those nine-year-olds face a pair of very smart younger rivals in the Pierre Pilarski-owned duo Feu Follet and Galleo Conti. The former produced a career-best effort when runner-up to Docteur De Ballon in the Grade 1 Prix La Haye Jousselin in November, while Galleo Conti found only the exceptionally-talented Le Berry too good in the big 4yo chase on the same card. Both are trained by the newly-formed partnership of Lageneste & Macaire, who will be hoping to get off to the perfect start at Auteuil’s opening meeting.
The opening Quinte handicap looks devilishly difficult, though as a part-owner of Zoffany Bay, I am hoping he runs a big race…’nuff said!
OPEN RENEWAL OF THE VARAVILLE
Hemevoice got the better of subsequent Grade 1 Finale runner-up Nassalam on debut last June and after a blip on his next outing at Auteuil, he won two from three starts over fences, the latest of them at Auteuil in December.
He faces one of the higher-rated maidens in training, Alex Du Pin, who finished third in the Listed Prix Camille Duboscq at Pau and has a mark of 63 (UK 139). Muhtalad showed promise on debut for David Cottin at Pau in December and is an interesting contender, while Verigny took a step towards confirming his lofty home reputation when running away with a very weak contest at Pau. He’ll need to progress again.
Yes Indeed represents last year’s winning yard and he finished runner-up on debut to Quilixios, who is near the top of the betting for the Triumph. His season didn’t progress as expected and he gives weight away all round.
PORTO POLLO RETURNS
Pulled-up in the Grand Course de Haies on his final outing of 2020, Porto Pollo makes his seasonal return and is back over fences for the first time since finishing fifth in Grade 3 company here in 2019 behind Figuero, Feu Follet et al.
He has since established himself as just below the top level over hurdles, winning the Grade 2 Prix La Barka last summer, and it will be very interesting to see how he fares against the likes of Arbarok (who fell here on reappearance last May) and Winneyev, who was a Listed and Grade 3 winner earlier in his career, but has been very lightly-raced in recent seasons.