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French Preview: Follow Frankie on Star Catcher

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John Ingles previews Sunday’s Group 1 in France, the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp, and picks out his best bet.

There are three Arc trials at Longchamp on Sunday but the Prix Vermeille is the only one of them with Group 1 status and it’s much the most valuable and, this year, the most competitive of the three races. As well as serving as a prep for Europe’s richest race in three weeks’ time, it’s therefore also an important contest in its own right for Europe’s top middle-distance fillies and mares. That’s certainly the best way of looking at this year’s race, none of the field having much pretension at this stage to challenging Enable in her history-making bid for a third Arc next month. What we do have, though, is a line-up featuring three of this year’s Oaks winners, from Epsom, the Curragh and Chantilly.

Recent editions of the Vermeille have been won for the most part by older fillies or mares but this looks set to go one of the classic generation, even though there’s nothing of the calibre of future Arc winners Zarkava and Treve, who both won the Vermeille (Treve won it again as a five-year-old), among the three-year-olds in this year’s line-up.

Both those top-class fillies won the Prix de Diane, but it was much more ordinary renewal of that contest which Channel won at Chantilly in June. Little more than a length covered the first half-dozen home, and in the circumstances Channel benefited from a good ride from Pierre-Charles Boudot to quicken when she did and then hold on narrowly as several threw down late challenges. Stepping up markedly in class, that was Channel’s third win in a row, but her progressive run of form came to an end when beating only two home in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood last month.

Two more French fillies in the line-up have posted better efforts of late, both coming here after winning Group 3 contests at Deauville. The lightly-raced Tamniah was a narrow winner of the Prix Minerve, just emerging best in a race that developed into a sprint in the straight, but the Prix de Psyche won by Villa Marina was a stronger contest and she appeals as much as any of the home-trained fillies in the field. Villa Marina took a while to shed her maiden tag, but she has now won her last two starts (had Tamniah back in fourth on first occasion) and could progress again stepping up to a mile and a half for the first time, the distance at which her dam won a listed race. The Psyche form has had a boost since when the runner-up Edisa won the valuable Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont last weekend.

But it's John Gosden who has the key to the race as trainer of the other two Oaks winners in the field, Epsom heroine Anapurna and Star Catcher who won at the Curragh. Neither has run since their classic successes and, by pitching them against each other, their trainer set Frankie Dettori a tricky puzzle in deciding which one to partner. Both fillies have progressed with each run to date, and we can’t split the two on their current ratings. Dettori gave Star Catcher an outstanding ride from the front at the Curragh, while Anapurna’s neck win at Epsom also owed plenty to Dettori having her well positioned. In the end, Frankie has plumped for Star Catcher, which looks a tip in itself, while Oisin Murphy comes in for the ride on Anapurna for the first time.

Dettori guided Treve to the first of her wins in the Vermeille, but it hasn’t been a lucky race so far for Gosden. Dar Re Mi (who came up against Zarkava), Pomology and Journey have all finished runner-up, while Dar Re Mi returned a year later to pass the post first before being controversially demoted – she’d almost certainly have kept the race under the rules on interference that apply in France nowadays and which came under the spotlight just last week after the tight finish to the Prix du Moulin. 

Aidan O’Brien also fields two fillies, both Pink Dogwood and Fleeting each having to settle for place money in the Oaks and Irish Oaks. Pink Dogwood went down narrowly to Anapurna at Epsom having hit the front briefly, but while her defeat in the Pretty Polly Stakes next time can be excused by the shorter trip, she disappointed as favourite when beaten five lengths into third behind Star Catcher at the Curragh. Fleeting has been the more convincing of the Ballydoyle pair since the Oaks – she’d also finished second to Star Catcher in the Ribblesdale Stakes prior to getting closer to her at the Curragh - though since then she’s been to America for the Beverly D Stakes where the shorter trip, as well as early interference, are good enough reasons to overlook her fourth-place finish.

That just leaves the two four-year-old fillies to mention, both of them trained by Andre Fabre who won this last year with the Godolphin filly Kitesurf. The same owners are represented this time by last year’s Prix de Diane runner-up Musis Amica, though she’s had her problems since then and needs the step up in trip to spark some improvement on recent form. Ligne d’Or ended last season with a Group 3 success at Saint-Cloud, but she’s another who’s found life tougher so far this term. 

Recommendation:

Back Star Catcher in the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp on Sunday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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