Sunday Morning’s G1 Prix de Diane, a Breeders’ Cup Prep

The Prix de Diane Longines, restricted to three-year-old fillies and run over 2,100 meters at Chantilly, consecrates the best French filly, if European one, each season. It’s a group one contest, which is the pinnacle of the horse racing grading system.

 

French horse racing blurrCHANTILLY: THE STATE OF THE GROUND

It is difficult to predict how the ground will ride at Chantilly on Sunday, June 20, 2021. After a heatwave lasting several days, thunderstorms are forecast from Thursday to Sunday, although there will be lulls in the weather. Marin Le Cour Grandmaison oversees the running of Chantilly racecourse and its training centre, and he explained: «On Wednesday morning, the ground rated 3.2 (good) on the penetrometer scale. We are in the same situation as we were before the Qatar Prix du Jockey-Club. Thunderstorms are forecast from Thursday morning onwards: and, for the moment, it is difficult to predict how the ground will ride on Sunday. It will really depend on the amount of rainfall, it’s quite random. The Chantilly track has been cared for in the same manner as before the Jockey-Club, so to anticipate the effect of the storms as much as possible. Given the very sandy nature of the soil the course drains [well], and the track hasn’t been used since the Jockey-Club; it has been mowed, rolled and aerated. The far running rail will remain in its usual place. It’s a really headache when it comes to anticipating how many millimetres of rain will fall on the course, and the storms will be the key determiner regarding the state of the ground. »

 

WHAT CONNECTIONS ARE SAYING

THE CHANTILLY TRAINING CENTRE (60)

  • Francis-Henri Graffard (the trainer of Sweet Lady and Es La Vida)

 «Sweet Lady has had a fair amount of time between races since the Poule d’Essai, which has done her good. I will be very happy to try her over a longer trip on Sunday. I think she will relish this – given her style of racing. Regarding the going, I just want it to be “safe” ground and not too firm, but if the thunderstorms and the rain materialize, it won’t bother me, on the contrary!

 

The owner of Es La Vida wishes to tackle the Diane. The filly is fine so I agreed but with one proviso: it will have to rain! I believe that she’s better over 1,600m but is in good shape. »

 

  • Alain de Royer Dupré (the trainer of Khalidiya)

 

« We’ve had no problems with her preparation. The filly seems to be in really good shape. We have tried to bring her on in condition with her racing.  She is not far off her peak. She has benefited from a similar campaign to Daryaba (the winner of the Prix de Diane Longines in 1999) but they aren’t entirely similar fillies. Daryaba was a fairly laid back whereas Khalidiya is more on her toes and, therefore, far more reactive. To prepare for these big races, I find it easier to handle horses which have previously contested races in which they haven’t had to force their talent. She could have had some hard races in the prep races. Before she saw the racecourse, I really thought she was something special. She was one of my best fillies. Soft ground would be a big disadvantage. As her physique isn’t compatible when it comes to acting on muddy tracks. Good ground would be ideal. Ground which is too fast could also prove problematic. She is by Oasis Dream and his progeny aren’t reputed to be soft ground performers. Khalidiya takes after her mother, even if she has more speed than her. Let’s hope we get a good draw. »

 

  • David Smaga (the trainer of Incarville)

 

« Incarville has come out of the Saint-Alary in very good order. The filly worked the Tuesday  before last (June 8), which was a get to know exercise regarding Chantilly racecourse, and it was remarkable. Incarville’s coat has a real sheen and she’s very happy in herself. She is taking everything in her stride, and is in good spirits. If it were to rain on the big day, that would be fine by me! However, she has proved that all types of ground come alike to her. The other day it was quite soft. That doesn’t bother her at all, and can we same the same of some of the other runners…. »

 

  • Philippe Decouz (the trainer of Natsukashi)

 

Philippe Decouz said: «Antoine Griezmann is proud to have a runner at this level. He began his quest when it came to sourcing very good horses from the outset. To have a runner in the Prix de Diane Longines is very exciting for him. Natsukashi sealed her passage for the Prix de Diane and she has the profile for this type of race. We are anticipating that the race will attract a big field, and we aren’t going into the race as one of the leading fancies. However, we have the right to have a crack, especially given what she has achieved in just two starts. Antoine Griezmann has given me a free hand. He’s not someone who puts pressure on you. If he isn’t training [with the national team], he will, of course, be glued to television screen so he can watch his filly. He’s really into his racing! The filly was merely required to stretch her legs during her training on Tuesday morning. She’s in superb condition. In the wake of her first two outings, she has matured and improved physically. Regarding the ground, Natsukashi acted well on soft ground at ParisLongchamp. It didn’t seem to bother her. We will adapt our tactics according to the draw. »

 

THE DEAUVILLE TRAINING CENTRE (14)

 

  • Jean-Claude Rouget (the trainer of Coeursamba and Light Stars)

 

« It’s true that after the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, that I had talked about the possibility of keeping Coeursamba to a mile, and a crack at the Coronation Stakes was mooted. However, on one hand, making travel arrangements is very complicated, and, on the other hand, she would have had to be supplemented. There would have been a significant cost factor to all of us, and we have to weigh this against the prize money on offer for Diane, even if you get placed. So we’ll try the step up in distance, knowing that the filly worked very well on Monday morning. If the 2,100m proves to be too far, we’ll still have the option of reverting to a mile without having devalued the filly. Cristian Demuro will ride her. Light Stars won the Prix Caravelle – Haras des Granges (L) in good style. She had previously disappointed us at Saint-Cloud for no apparent reason, but I noticed that a lot of horses ran badly that day. »

 

 

LA TESTE TRAINING CENTRE (33)

 

  • Christophe Ferland (the trainer of Cirona)

 

«All lights are flashing green! Cirona will, of course, be in the line-up. She is indifferent to the state of the ground. The forecast rainy spell will hold no terrors for her. »

 

THE CALAS-CABRIÈS TRAINING CENTRE (13)

 

  • Pauline Chehboub (the manager of the Haras de la Gousserie, the owner of Rougir)

 

«Rougir will be in the Prix de Diane Longines line-up. We are lucky to have a filly who can act on all types of ground. If the [forecast] storms were to render the track heavy, she would not be inconvenienced. As far as the longer trip is concerned, that shouldn’t be a problem. Normally, she should have done her last piece of work on Wednesday, but the mare is clearly ready. Franck Blondel is expected to ride Rougir. »

 

SPOTLIGHT ON THE FOREIGN CONTENDERS

 

  • Christoph Berglar (the owner of Amazing Grace)

 

«We think she has what it takes for this race. That’s it in a nutshell! I know that it’s a real challenge and that the opposition will be tough. Usually, I’m a cautious owner by nature. I never tend to overplay my hand. Amazing Grace didn’t have the best of races, and she wasn’t ridden to best advantage, at Hoppegarten (Berlin). Despite this, she won the Diana Trial (Group 2, 2,000m). That day, she made up six lengths, on a track which rated good, to win by three-quarters of a length from Noble Heidi. As a two-year-old, she had already shown a lot of quality over trips which were too sharp for her. In the Preis der Winterkonigin, the top race for two-year-old fillies in Germany, Amazing Grace finished very strongly. She has a lot of quality and we think she deserves to take her chance in the Prix de Diane. I think that she prefers strongly run races, where there is plenty of tempo. »

 

  • Henke Grewe (the trainer of Noble Heidi)

 

«She is a very good filly with good form lines. She needs soft ground and we are banking on the storms making an appearance at Chantilly this week. The distance is perfect for her. It will, of course, be a test. However, it’s a very exciting challenge for the whole team, including the owner and the jockey. She will be ridden by Andrasch Starke. »

 

THE KEY TALKING POINTS

 

  • Coeursamba is out to complete a difficult double

 

This year, a filly will attempt to complete the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Pouliches – Prix de Diane Longines double. In common with the Prix de Diane Longines, the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Pouliches is a classic race, which aims to determine the cream of the crop of a particular thoroughbred generation. The aim is simply to determine the best stallion prospects so as to ultimately improve the breed.

 

Coeursamba won at Paris-Longchamp on 16 May over 1,600 metres (1m). On Sunday, she will tackle the 2,100 metres trip for the first time: which represents a major challenge because, like any athlete, each thoroughbred’s optimum trip is determined by his/her genetic makeup. At a first glance, this is a mile (1,600 metres) in the case of Coeursamba. However, her trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, who conditions the filly at the Deauville training centre, thinks that she can stay a little further. This isn’t the first time he has achieved this: having trained both Avenir Certain (2014) and La Cressonnière (2016) to complete the classic double.

 

  • His Highness Aga Khan seeks his eighth win

 

If there is one man who is particularly symptomatic with success in the Prix de Diane, it is His Highness the Aga Khan. The Aga Khan has won the race a record seven times. His prior wins were recorded by Shemaka (1993), Vereva (1997), Zainta (1998), Daryaba (1999), Zarkava (2008), Sarafina (2010) and Valyra (2012). Apart from the latter, all of these fillies were trained by his trusted handler, Alain de Royer-Dupré. This professional, whose stables nestle in the heart of the Chantilly forest, will saddle Khalidiya this year. She is one of the least experienced fillies in the field: having only raced twice, which entailed a second place on her debut at ParisLongchamp on 18 April, and was followed by a victory, also at Paris-Longchamp, in a ‘maiden’ race, which is restricted to horses that have never won a race. It’s a daring gamble, but Alain de Royer-Dupré is a dab hand when it comes to preparing his fillies to bridge this gap! Daryaba, to cite just one example, began her career with a debut second as a three-year-old in April, which was the springboard to her landing a maiden race three weeks later followed by the Prix de Diane Longines!

 

  • A first ‘goal’ for Antoine Griezmann ?

 

Antoine Griezmann, one of the strikers of the French national football team, is fully immersed in ‘Les Bleus’ Euro 2021 campaign. However, he is about to undergo an intense moment emotionally thanks to the sport of horse racing!  As his filly Natsukashi is due to come under orders in the Prix de Diane Longines. Antoine Griezmann loves racing, a passion he inherited from his father, and he decided to become an owner in 2017. He has even embraced the role as ambassador for the Pari-Mutuel [French Tote] this year!

 

He entrusted Natsukashi to the care of a young trainer, Philippe Decouz, and the latter set up shop at the Chazey-sur-Ain training centre, in the Lyon region, in 2011. It’s also from where the Griezmann family originates. Since the start of the New Year, the trainer has chosen to base part of his string at Chantilly (Oise) – to the north of Paris. Chantilly revels in the role of being France’s biggest thoroughbred training centre, and one which is both renowned and admired the world over.

 

It’s in this particularly pleasant environment that is being fine-tuned for the classic. Despite not being among the favourites, a case can be made for Natsukashi, who has only raced twice to date (for a win and a second). As she is coming off a second in the Prix de la Seine, won by Burgarita, and the latter is one of the leading fancies for Sunday’s feature.

 

  • Making way for the young generation!

 

The Prix de Diane Longines constitutes a dream race for every professional. The “mere” fact of having a filly worthy of being entered in such a race is a feat in itself. Christopher Head, 34, is about to live this dream, thanks to Sibila Spain, and the latter has been supplemented (connections paid the sum of €66,000 of adding filly to the race as she didn’t feature among the original entries which closed on 17 February). In common with his father, Freddy Head, and his aunt, Christiane Head, two legends of the French training world, young Christopher chose to base himself at Chantilly (Oise). That was in 2018. Chantilly is the main thoroughbred training centre in France. It spans several communes (Chantilly, Lamorlaye, Gouvieux, Coye-la-Forêt and Avilly-Saint-Léonard) and extends to a total of 1,900 hectares.

 

  • Aidan O’Brien, at last?

 Aidan O’Brien is without doubt one of the most successful trainers in the world. The Irishman, works for Coolmore, one of the superpowers of the racing world, but he has yet to win the Prix de Diane Longines. The same was true prior to this year’s Qatar Prix du Jockey-Club, in which he finally broke the ice year via St Mark’s Basilica. On Sunday he will be represented by Joan of Arc, a remarkable filly and a prior classic winner, having already landed the Irish 1,000 Guineas: the equivalent of our Poule d’Essai des Pouliches. She will be ridden, in common with St Mark’s Basilica, by the Basque jockey Ioritz Mendizabal.

 

Ironically, it was another O’Brien who claimed Prix de Diane Longines success as a trainer last year: in the form of Aidan’s young son Donnacha (Fancy Blue), with O’Brien Snr having to settle for a close third with Peaceful on that occasion.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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