3.00 Qatar Prix du Jockey Club (Group 1) 1m 2f 110yds
Godolphin’s vice-like grip on this year’s European colts’ classics may be set to loosen at Epsom on Saturday but the manacles seem likely to be reapplied at Chantilly 24 hours later when Modern Games has outstanding claims in the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club.
Surprisingly, The Boys In Blue have only secured this 186-year-old event once before, and that was with Shamardal, way back in 2005, the very year that it was reduced to its current distance of 10 and a half furlongs having been contested over the traditional mile and a half.
Trained by Charlie Appleby, Modern Games was highly progressive as a two-year-old, graduating from handicap company to first land a Group 3 with the minimum of fuss, then overcome the stress of a delayed start and having to be re-loaded into the gate to lift the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf by a tidy length and a half.
He again proved what a cool character he is and made light of international travel when he was unfazed by a stumbling start and drew away in the closing stages to take the Poule d’Essai des Poulains by a length and a quarter, with four of his Jockey Club rivals in his wake.
If you are trying to pick holes in his chances, the two hooks to hang your coat on are a wide draw (embarrassingly for France Galop, the initial stall allocation process was deemed faulty and, when it was redrawn a few hours later, Modern Games was assigned stall 13 of 15) and a potential lack of stamina at this trip.
Neither of these obstacles should prove insurmountable. Modern Games has exhibited fine tactical speed in the past and, even if he is slowly into stride, 15 runners at Chantilly is much less of an ordeal for a come-from-behind ride than the 19 opponents often faced by visiting jockeys at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp, which is more of a turning track.
And although all four of Modern Games’s older siblings have been suited by a mile or less, his dam is a half-sister to a mile-and-a-half Group 3 winner and his sire, Dubawi, has few peers in producing top-class performers over this trip and beyond.
More persuasively still, because Chantilly is flat with a relatively short home straight, over recent times there are many examples of horses winning, or running very well, in either the Jockey Club or the Prix de Diane, who later prove best over a shorter distance.
So, if Modern Games is to be denied, it will most likely be because the heavens have opened and resulted in testing ground – thunderstorms are forecast for the area throughout the weekend. There is nothing definitive to suggest that he needs a fast surface, but the only time he encountered going slower than good was when he suffered one of just two career reverses at Leicester last August.
Aidan O’Brien finally got the Jockey Club monkey off his back, after saddling over 40 straight losers in the race, when St Mark’s Basilica was so impressive in winning here 12 months ago.
He is responsible for the only two Irish representatives in the field, but neither The Acropolis or Ivy League appeals as likely to follow up last year’s triumph.
Ryan Moore has decided to partner The Acropolis, and his judgement should be vindicated as this Churchill gelding made a pleasing comeback when runner-up in the Leopardstown 2000 Guineas Trial and then, on a day when front-runners were favoured, he had little prospect of making much progress from the rear and could finish only ninth behind Modern Games in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains.
Ivy League, who will have Frankie Dettori aboard, has already run no less than six times this term but had just two behind him at the finish of the Irish 2000 Guineas last time and had earlier come up short in an ordinary renewal of the Amethyst Stakes.
If there is to be an Irish angle to the Jockey Club finish, it will probably be provided by Ancient Rome, who is owned by a Coolmore Stud partnership and runs in the colours of Michael Tabor but is trained by André Fabre.
This War Front colt has performed well in each of his three previous tilts at Group 1 company, most recently finishing strongly to narrowly miss out on third place behind Modern Games in the Poulains.
But it is Jean-Claude Rouget, rather than Fabre, who leads the home challenge, with a strong quartet of runners: Vadeni, Al Hakeem, Welwal and Lassaut.
It is tricky to pick between them. Al Hakeem has the biggest reputation, his trainer comparing him to Sottsass after his striking victory in the Listed Prix de Suresnes, while there was little between Lassaut and Welwal when they finished fifth and sixth in the Poulains and there likely won’t be much in it again on Sunday.
Slight preference is for Vadeni, however, as he is proven on slow ground and barely turned a hair while outclassing the field in his final prep race, the Group 3 Prix de Guiche.
SELECTION: MODERN GAMES
Next best: Vadeni
THE three main supporting races, all Group 2 events worth €130,000, are headlined by the Grand Prix de Chantilly (1m 4f). After Mare Australis was so disappointing in the Prix Ganay, he is hard to recommend here and I will instead plump for Alex Pantall’s highly progressive Mutabahi, whose recent Group 3 win was franked when the runner-up landed a Group 2.
Joseph O’Brien has sent Brostaigh, surprise winner of the Listed Sole Power Sprint last time, over to contest an open-looking nine-runner Prix du Gros-Chene (five furlongs) where last year’s runner-up, Berneuil, merits selection. And the 10-runner Prix de Sandringham, for three-year-old fillies over a mile, may fall to the Kevin Ryan-trained British raider, Fonteyn.