On Sunday June 6 the 181st edition of the Qatar Prix du Jockey-Club will hold sway at Chantilly. The top European three-year-olds will battle it out over 2,100 metres and, with purse of 1.5 million euros on offer, it’s the second most valuable French flat race (behind the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe). What is at stake? Quite simply it will crown the best colt of his generation, and ensure that the winner is a much sought after commodity at stud, and set up the winner for the big autumnal clashes – of which the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the focal point.

The 2.100 metres trip: a particular French trait

Unlike the Epsom Derby, which will be run the day before over 2,400 metres, the distance of the Qatar Prix du Jockey-Club is 2,100 metres. The distance was reduced from 2,400 to 2,100 metres in 2005. The aim was twofold: to distinguish it from the other European Derbies, and to facilitate a smoother transition process from the 1,600 metres distance of the Emirates Poule d’Essai (run in mid-May) to the 2,400 metres of the Grand Prix de Paris (traditionally run on 14 July), in addition to adapting to the demand of breeders who are looking for sires who have shown a certain speed in their races. The profile of horses lining up in the Qatar Prix du Jockey-Club has thereby been broadened in scope, as many milers (1,600 metres specialists) have attempted the step up to 2,100 metres. This has been done with some success, as Shamardal (2005), Lope de Vega (2010) and Brametot (2017), have all completed the “Poule d’Essai-Jockey Club” double.

This year, the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Poulains winner, the Irish-trained St Mark’s Basilica, will be seeking to do the double by adding the Qatar Prix du Jockey-Club to his CV.

Can Britain retain the title?

Last year heralded the triumph of the British colt Mishriff, who was ridden by the Basque jockey Ioritz Mendizabal. He also enabled the British trainer John Gosden to savour his first Qatar Prix du Jockey-Club win. The handler has a huge reputation in Britain and is based at Newmarket (the British version of Chantilly). John Gosden is renowned for having trained, amongst others, the mare Enable: the winner of the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and who also second in the 2019 renewal.

Despite the fact that travel plans have been complicated by the Covid virus (accompanying stable staff have to undergo quarantine on arrival in France), the British have again turned up for this edition of the Qatar Prix du Jockey-Club, as three cross channel raiders, two of them trained by John Gosden, have made the trip. Incidentally, the latter now trains in partnership with his son Thady. They are Megallan, who carries the US colours of Anthony Oppenheimer (who won the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2015 with Golden Horn), and Derab, who represents the estate of the late Prince Khalid Abdullah, one of the world’s most famous owner-breeders (Enable was owned by him), who passed away earlier this year. Megallan boasts a second place in the Dante Stakes, a traditional Epsom Derby prep (a counterpart of the Prix du Jockey-Club) whereas Derab, the younger brother of the great Enable, has only raced three times to date, which includes a recent win at Newmarket: a race of comparatively modest level.

A second British trainer also seeks his place in the sun. He is Roger Varian, and is represented by El Drama, who is coming off a listed win at Chester. He will be partnered by French jockey Mickaël Barzalona, who hails from Corsica.

The French regions are out in force

5 runners from Chantilly

In France, the biggest concentration of English thoroughbreds is to be found at the Chantilly training centre (Oise), and four of the field are able to capitalise on this exceptional training environment, which extends over several communes (Chantilly, Lamorlaye, Gouvieux, Coye-La-Forêt and Avilly-Saint-Léonard), and one split over 1,900 hectares! This includes 140 kms of natural sand tracks and 120 hectares of grass tracks, which enables aspiring champions to undergo the best preparation. It is at Chantilly, and in neighbouring communes, that Pascal Bary (whose Baby Rider bids to give the handler his seventh Jockey-Club win), Pia and Joakim Brandt (Policy of Truth), Freddy Head (Adhamo), Nicolas Caullery (Fort Payne) and Fabrice Vermeulen (Pretty Tiger), all hold court.

2 runners from Calas (South-East of France)

However, other French regions are also out in force. The “South-East” region, and for this read the training centre of Calas-Cabriès (situated some 30 kms from Marseille), will be represented by the Frédéric Rossi duo Sealiway and Smile Makers. Frédéric Rossi also has a second stable (a satellite yard) at Chantilly, which is designed to limit the travel factor (and therefore fatigue) of their horses which frequently race in the Parisian region.

5 runners from Deauville (Normandy region)

Jean-Claude Rouget also has two yards: his more long-standing base is to be found at Pau, whereas the other more recent addition is to be found at Deauville. In fact, the famous seaside resort on the Normandy coast is where his three runners, Cheshire Academy, Saiydabad and Makaloun, are all trained. The former carries the colours of US owner Peter Brant, whose Sottsass won in 2019 (and who went on to win the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe the following season), while the other two aforementioned colts are representatives of His Highness the Aga Khan, whose colours have triumphed on seven occasions.

Stephanie Nigge has also chosen Deauville as her training base, having set up shop there in 2020. She has achieved the tour de force of being doubly represented, given this time span, and both her representatives are sons of Le Havre (the winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club in 2009): Millebosc and Normandy Bridge.

A runner from Mont-de-Marsan (South-West)

Lastly, Philippe Sogorb will represent the South-West, as he trains from his base at Mont-de-Marsan in the Landes region. A former jockey who turned trainer in 2011, he will saddle the statuesque Ninth Titan, who races in the prestigious colours of the Niarchos Family, who were victorious in 2002 (Sulamani) and 1998 (Dream Well).

Given the value and prestige of the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club and the high class of the runners, expectations are high in anticipation to see who will be at the top of the 3-year-old generation on Sunday.

Source: Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club