The two renewals of the Poule d'Essai des Poulains to be staged at Deauville produced winners well up to standard for the race, with The Gurkha taking the field apart by five and a half lengths for Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore in 2016, and the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Brametot staying on strongly to overhaul Le Brivido 12 months ago.
The French equivalent of the 2000 Guineas might be returning to its traditional home for 2018 - a Longchamp that has undergone a €140 million facelift over the last two years - but it appears that the balance of power remains very much the same on the track, with O’Brien and Rouget responsible for leading contenders once again in the shape of U S Navy Flag and Olmedo, respectively.
U S Navy Flag boasts a very different profile to The Gurkha coming into this race – he ran 11 times as a juvenile, whereas The Gurkha did not make his debut until the April of his three-year-old season – but there is no doubting his class, with his busy 2017 campaign yielding a pair of Group 1 wins in the Middle Park and the Dewhurst, both at Newmarket. He was well below form after five months off when last of four on heavy going in the Leopardstown 2000 Guineas Trial last time, but it would be no surprise to see him bounce back with that outing under his belt and – 4 lb clear on weight-adjusted ratings – he would appear to hold sound claims here if doing so.
Olmedo also had Group 1 form to his name last season, his effort when second (separating Happily and Masar) in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly good enough to see him crowned France’s leading two-year-old colt. There was plenty of encouragement to be taken from his return in the Prix de Fontainebleau over C&D, too, just failing as he and Wootton pulled clear of Louis d’Or and subsequent Dee Stakes winner Rostropovich. Neither of the first two were asked for everything by their riders in what was essentially just a trial for this contest, but both came out of the race with plenty of credit, and the close finish they fought out certainly whet the appetite for this rematch.
Wootton is perhaps open to the most improvement of the pair after just three starts, however, and he looks worth backing to maintain his unbeaten record at 2/1. The son of Wootton Bassett wasn’t as highly tried in two outings at Deauville last season, but he showed enough on debut (winning by six lengths) to get Godolphin reaching for the cheque book, and that quickly looked a shrewd investment as he strode to a five-length success in the Prix Isnomy, a race that launched the celebrated careers of Montjeu, Domedriver and La Cressonniere. He has a long way to go before he can be mentioned in the same breath as that trio, but he is certainly one to keep on the right side, with the experience he gained on his return sure to stand him in good stead here.
Of the remainder, Dice Roll showed much improved form to win the Prix Djebel on his return at Deauville (by five lengths from Magic Bibou) and may do better still back over a mile, while Francesco Bere was a comfortable winner of a listed event at Fontainebleau last time, but needs to step up a fair amount to figure here. Similar comments apply to the three UK raiders – Hey Gaman, Il Primo Sole and Kings Shield. The former is the pick of them on ratings, but he has come up short on two previous starts in Group company, including when third in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury last time, and looks likely to do so again here.
The Poule d'Essai des Pouliches looks far more open at this stage, with bookmakers going as big as 4/1 the field. Polydream is the current market leader following a good second in last season’s Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly (one and a half lengths behind Wild Illusion, finishing well from poor position), while her earlier defeat of Fillies’ Mile winner/1000 Guineas runner-up Laurens in the Prix du Calvados also looks much better now.
There is a chance she could be short of peak fitness after seven months off here, though, with trainer Freddie Head admitting he was unsure whether Polydream would be ready less than two weeks ago. Instead, it could be worth focusing on the events that unfolded in last month’s Prix de la Grotte over C&D, a race in which Marcel Boussac third Mission Impassible was well below form in sixth.
The least experienced of the lot, Musis Amica showed improved form to come out on top on that occasion, but conditions favoured stamina and the suspicion is she may be vulnerable to speedier fillies here. Runner-up Sea Prose comes into that category, as she travelled well for a long way and could be seen to better effect on a sounder surface under Frankie Dettori, but the one that makes most appeal is Wind Chimes.
A stablemate of the winner, she was sent off the 2/1 favourite for that Group 3 and shaped nicely in fifth, never coming under the whip but running on late to be beaten just three lengths. Likely to be dropped in once again from her wide draw, it is worth remembering the positive impression she created when beating Poulains-contender Louis d’Or by three and a half lengths in a listed race at Chantilly last November and, with the return to better ground also expected to be in her favour, she looks well worth an each-way bet at 14/1, representing the Andre Fabre yard that last won this race with the smart Golden Lilac in 2011.
Others to note include Barkaa and Coeur de Beaute. The former showed improved form to win the nine-furlong Prix Vanteaux here last time and will be better suited than most should this develop into a proper test, while Coeur de Beaute was a comfortable winner of the Prix Imprudence at Deauville (by half a length from Zonza, not ideally placed in steadily-run race) last month, and she shapes as if the extra furlong here will see her in an even better light.
Back Wootton in Sunday's Poule d'Essai des Poulains at 2/1
Back Wind Chimes each-way in Sunday's Poule d'Essai des Pouliches at 14/1