THE 2023 Prix d’Amerique is shaping up to be a battle between the rising star, Eric Raffin (41) and the established master Jean Michele Bazire, 10 years his senior at 51.

Raffin has won the Sulky d’Or (Golden Sulky) for leading driver, for the last three seasons. ‘JMB’, as the adoring public call Bazire, had won the coveted award 20 times before Raffin broke through.

Eric will drive HORSY DREAM who won the Prix Tenor de Baune on December 24th and the Prix de Belgique on January 15th. If equal distribution of wealth is your thing, Bazire has driven the winner of the big prize four times while Raffin would be winning his first.

Bazire will be represented by HOOKER BERRY, who won the Prix de Bourbonnais on December 11th. Hooker Berry beat the useful ETONNANT (in English ‘amazing’) who has the same goose-stepping gait as his sire Timoko. Dutchman Richard Westerink trained both father and son.

The likely favourite will be IDAO DE TILLARD who also won the Criterium Continental on Christmas Eve. Idao is only a five-year-old.

In French trotting each year’s foals’ names must carry the same first letter – therefore Paris Turf talks about the ‘I’ generation and the ‘H’ generation etc.

Idao de Tillard is trained by Thierry Duvaldestein and will be driven by his brother Clément.

DON FANNUCI ZET is named after the villain in the white suit in The Godfather ll.

The stallion is trained in Sweden by Daniel Rèden and won the 2021 Elitlopp. He ran in the Prix d’Amerique in 2022, was well backed but finished a disappointing seventh.

FLAMME DU GOUTIER won Europe’s biggest monté (saddle) race the €700,000 Prix de Cornulier last Saturday. However, the 2022 winner of that tough contest, Bahia Quesnot, was unplaced in last year’s Prix d’Amerique.

HIP HOP HAUFOUR came from another parish to win the Prix de Bretagne back in November for trainer/driver Christian Bigeon.

A repeat of that run would see him in with a chance. He will be burdened with the place bet of your correspondent.

The Italian horse COKSTILE won the prestigious International Trot at Yonkers, New York, last autumn.

The American media thought that driver Vincenzo dell’Annunzia was a bit unorthodox – and ‘unorthodox’ will not go down well with the strict French stewards,

The full confirmed 18 runners will be on Le TROT website from Thursday onwards.

Irish reinsmen size up the field

SEVERAL of the leading drivers on the Irish scene were asked: “If you could drive one horse in next weekend’s Prix d’Amerique – who would you choose?”

Horsy Dream seemed to be the top choice but, as always, Irish horsemen gave the job careful thought.

Sean Kane: “Would you believe I have sat behind both Horsy Dream and Ampia Mede when I worked for Fabrice Souloy in France. I make the race between Idao de Tillard and Horsy Dream.”

“I fancy Idao to win because he won the five-year-old race in an open bridle, and they will probably put blinds on for this. However, he would be the first winner since Ready Cash in 2012 to wear front shoes.”

Eoin Murphy: “Horsy Dream – he is unbeaten in his last four starts and has a great turn of foot when the driver asks him.”

Billy Roche: “I like Horsy Dream as he won two of the six qualifying races, the only horse to do that this year. My second pick is Hooker Berry because Jean Michele Bazire is the boss.”

Patrick Kane jnr: “For me, it’s Idao de Tillard. I liked him when he was racing his own age group. He travels well and looks bomb proof.”

Oisin Quill: “Hooker Berry – Bazire always has them ready for the big day.”