Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 18 January 2018

Monarch eyes French crown

RONAN GROOME

It is interesting that after the smallest Derby field since 1907, a maximum field of 20 go to post for the French equivalent, the Prix du Jockey Club, at Chantilly today.

Given that the French race is run over a distance of 10-and-a-half furlongs, perhaps this is further evidence that the breeding industry is swaying towards 10 furlongs as the premium distance for an aspiring stallion's CV.

The Kentucky Derby is run over 10 furlongs and the richest race on the new Champions Day schedule is the 10-furlong Champion Stakes which offers up a £1.3m purse. The International Stakes, the Eclipse and the Prince of Wales Stakes are all premier races over the middle distance. It was only announced last week that Imperial Monarch would be contesting the Prix du Jockey Club today instead of a tilt at the English Derby. The omens aren't good for Aidan O'Brien who has so far drawn a blank in this race. You also have to go back to 1983 to find the last Irish-trained winner, when Vincent O'Brien's Caerleon completed back-to-back success for the Irish, following on from the David O'Brien-trained Assert.

To gauge just how good Imperial Monarch may be is a difficult task given the way he won at Sandown on his previous performance. On bottomless ground, Joseph O'Brien opted to take his mount wide of runners, so wide they nearly ended up on the ambulance road at one stage. The son of Galileo was about six lengths down on the turn into the straight, but having travelled on better ground, he picked up really well to lead Thought Worthy close to the line.

He is certainly bred for a Derby distance, as he is a half-brother to 2003 runner-up The Great Gatsby, yet it's interesting that O'Brien elected to send him here instead.

The Ballydoyle trainer has gone for a quality-over-quantity strategy in recent seasons, with Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Roderic O'Connor his sole runner last year, and the classy Cape Blanco representing him in 2010.

The British challenge is three-fold, with Most Improved, Ektihaam and Gregorian set to take their chance. The first-named is the one of most interest, as he makes his belated seasonal debut here, having been backed all the way into second favourite for the 2,000 Guineas during the spring.

French Fifteen will probably go off the shortest-priced horse on the home team following his excellent run to finish second behind Camelot at Newmarket, and with soft ground conditions again, he deserves respect.

At home, the racing action comes from Listowel and Kilbeggan. Tommy Stack's Kedleston looks interesting in a one-mile handicap at the Co Kerry track. A progressive sort, he was unlucky to get mowed down on the line at Killarney on his latest run and he can gain compensation here.

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