When Wootton and Olmedo put distance between themselves and their rivals in a tense finish to the G3 Prix de Fontainebleau at ParisLongchamp, many observers – including the distinguished trainer of the second – concluded that we also may have witnessed the one-two in the G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains (1600m) this coming Sunday, 13 May.
The Poulains and the G1 Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (for three-year-old colts and fillies respectively, and often known as the French 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas) are the Classic-race features on the weekend’s six-race simulcast programme. Last month’s Fontainebleau – over the same right-hand course and 1600m trip – is traditionally the most respected trial for the Poulains.
The unbeaten Wootton, whose sire Wootton Bassett was himself a G1 winner at Longchamp, looks a key 2018 player for Godolphin’s French operation, though he is not trained like the majority of its team by 24-time French champion trainer Andre Fabre, who may field Godolphin’s Deemster. Instead, the powerful and tactically versatile Wootton is conditioned by Henri-Alex Pantall, who is based at Beaupreau in the West of France, well away from the metropolitan Paris tracks.
In the Fontainebleau, Mickael Barzalona bossed from the front on Wootton and bravely fended off the Cristian Demuro-ridden Olmedo, who pestered the winner over the last 250m.
“I was a bit worried beforehand as he was edgy in the paddock but he was pretty relaxed in the race and, though it might have looked as though Wootton had a hard race, in fact when the other horse came alongside he just needed a little shake of the reins,” Pantall said of the bay colt’s third straight career victory.
Olmedo’s brilliant trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and jockey Demuro teamed up to win last year’s Poulains (run at Deauville whilst Longchamp was being redeveloped) with Brametot. Rouget, who regularly trains far more winners per season in France than his nearest rival, clearly believes in the strength of that Fontainebleau form.
“Obviously, I hope that we can come out on top on Sunday, but either way I think they are the best three-year-old colts we have in France, clearly superior to the rest,” he said.
The most potent threat may come from outside the home ranks and the locals won’t have been comforted to hear that Aidan O’Brien may direct US Navy Flag, a dual G1 winner at two, towards ParisLongchamp on Sunday. Ireland’s champion trainer enhanced his astounding G1 record when Saxon Warrior landed the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket last Saturday.
The Pouliches, earlier on the card, looks an open affair but Godolphin – which is yet to win this G1 Fillies’ Classic – has an interesting contender in unbeaten Musis Amica, a Fabre-trained daughter of Dawn Approach. She came from behind under Barzalona to stylishly win a G3 over the Pouliches course and distance last month.
Lisa-Jane Graffard, representing Godolphin’s French operation, said: “We were all pleasantly surprised to see Musis Amica win the Prix de la Grotte as we thought she needed that return to action. She’s got a lovely action and will improve.”
That contest was run on heavy ground and with rain scheduled in Paris for later in the week, conditions at Longchamp on Sunday are likely to again be on the soft side.