Tuesday, 20 July 2010
: IF Bastille Day itself was not reason enough for members of the Parisian scooter set to tie a tricolour to their handlebars - the cultured equivalent to gluing two unsightly plastic St George flags to a car roof -the Aga Khan's Behkabad was on hand to create another outlet for French national pride.
While legions of horses from the Republican Guard tramped the Champs-Elysees as part of the oldest and largest regular military parade in the world, their equine cousins across town were out to discover who could cut the Dijon against Europe's finest as they tackled the Grand Prix de Paris, a race which has become an important trial for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
It was certainly hard to disguise which city was hosting the festivities on Wednesday, with the overcast sky painted red, white and blue and the Eiffel Tower bursting with fireworks, and after Behkabad and Planteur stretched right away from their Group 1 rivals it was not hard to foresee which city they would be heading back to in October.
French-trained three-year-olds have a formidable record in the Arc, accounting for nine of the last 14 winners, and since the Grand Prixde Paris swapped distances with the Prix du Jockey Club in 2005, the Longchamp event has been the first port of call for many young Arc hopefuls.
It has repeatedly produced the leading middle-distance performer in the French Classic generation, including Arc third Cavalryman, Arc winner Rail Link and the highly impressive but subsequently injured Montmartre.
This year's renewal looked another humdinger, as the first and second pulled five-lengths clear of Classic yardstick Jan Vermeer and Andre Fabre's Goldwaki, with performances which could well see them make an impression when they return for the main event on October 3.
The winner, Behkabad, has shown gradual progress throughout his career, posting improved RPRs for each step up in trip and excuses can be made for each of his defeats.
A mile was probably on the sharp side when he finished third onhis seasonal return and he subsequently accounted for both the horses that beat him on his next start in the Prix de Guiche.
His only other defeat came in the Prix du Jockey Club, which was again at a trip shy of his optimum, but he caught the eye staying on against the pace bias into fourth.
This latest win earned him an RPR of 124, which, though 5lb shy of the ten-year average for the Arc, is nevertheless a step in the right direction.
Runner-up Planteur has also progressed nicely with each step up in trip and his figure of 123, achieved after wandering slightly in the straight, also gives him valid claims for the big one.
Among their main rivals for Arc glory is Sir Michael Stoute's Derby winner Workforce, but that one has some statistics to overcome if he is to continue to reign supreme until October.
In stark contrast to the record of French-trained three-year-olds in the Arc, the Brits' Classic contingent have had a dismal time of it at Longchamp - the last winner beingLammtarra back in 1995.
One thing in Workforce's favour is that he has already managed to snag Lammtarra's Epsom track record and if he can follow the same path as that one to King George and Arc success he would be worthy of some notable comparisons.
But with these two interesting French challengers and an older contingent including Harbinger and Fame And Glory, this looks too tough a contest to be taking 3-1 ante-post about the favourite.
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