While the listed contests at Auteuil on Saturday hold plenty of interest – and likely feature some horses that may find their way to the top stables in Britain and Ireland in due course – the feature of the card is undoubtedly the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil, also known as the French Champion Hurdle.
Open to horses aged five years or older, the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil is run over about three miles and one and a half furlongs, and has been won by several British and Irish stables since the turn of the century. Nobody Told Me gave Willie Mullins an emotional first win in 2003 – the first Irish success since his father Paddy won it in 1984 with Dawn Run – and Mullins Jnr has since added three more wins in the race, while David Pipe, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson took home three consecutive renewals between 2015 and 2017.
Mullins saddles five this year, with the mare Benie des Dieux the shortest-priced. She made amends for a final flight fall at Cheltenham (would have won the Mares’ Hurdle) when winning the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown (by nine and a half lengths from Stormy Ireland) last time. The longer trip here is a question mark, but this race is not always the stern examination of stamina that might be assumed, and she remains capable of better.
Melon’s wayward jumping means he has plenty to prove despite his Champion Hurdle runner-up effort, while the five-year-old Mr Adjudicator confirmed the promise of his earlier eye-catching run in the County Hurdle when putting up a very smart effort under top weight to win at Punchestown last time. Former Cheltenham Festival winner Yorkhill has plenty to prove these days, and could only manage sixth in this race 12 months ago.
Last year’s renewal was won by De Bon Coeur, a prolific mare who comes into this race on the back of a bloodless win at the track. She put up the best performance over hurdles in France last season when beating Bapaume by 16 lengths, avenging a defeat against Alex de Larredya (who was fourth that day and has twice been runner-up in this race) on the same terms as in the Leon Rambaud earlier that season. A repeat of that near top-class effort would make De Bon Coeur – who is also entered in the Ascot Gold Cup next month – hard to beat.
Sunday’s card features three Grade 1s, and while hopes will be high that French Made can bounce back from a one-paced effort at Punchestown in the Prix Alain du Breil, the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris is undoubtedly the main event. The richest and most prestigious jumps race in France, it is run over almost three and three quarter miles, and has been dominated by Guillaume Macaire – who has won five of the last six renewals – in recent years.
James Reveley has ridden the last three, and he partners Le Costaud this year in preference to stablemates Storm of Saintly and So French. The former showed very smart form when winning at the track in March but will need to improve again for this longer trip, while Storm of Saintly finished one place ahead of Le Costaud last time and was second to So French in the 2016 renewal of this race.
So French, who also won this race in 2017, was brought down by the first-fence fall of Bipolaire in last year’s renewal, and it’s that rival who leads the home team, according to the betting at least. He has since added three victories, but has 18 lengths to find on Le Costaud on their run behind Crystal Beach in a Grade 2 here last month.
Of the others on the home team, Docteur de Ballon and Carriacou look the two to focus on. The former, trained by Louisa Carberry, has added two course wins this season after several useful efforts at this venue last term, while Carriacou was third in this race last year and appeared to relish the step back up in trip when beating Spirit Son here last month.
Unusually, there's significant overseas interest this year as Willie Mullins saddles five of his best staying chasers, including the 2018 Grand National runner-up Pleasant Company and the 2019 third Rathvinden. The last-named has taken a big step forward since stepping up to staying distances and rates a bigger danger than the Slaneyville Syndicate-owned pair of Acapella Bourgeois and Total Recall, for all Acapella Bourgeois’ third to Burrows Saint in the Irish Grand National reads well.
An unexposed six-year-old who has progressed with each start over fences this season, there’s every reason to think that Burrows Saint - who travelled well and stayed on strongly at Fairyhouse last month - can come back to haunt Macaire, who trained Burrows Saint during the horse's formative years in France.
Back Burrows Saint at 5/1 to win Sunday's Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris