Modern Games will attempt to become the fifth colt since 2005 to complete the French Classic double of the G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains (1600m) and the G1 Prix du Jockey Club (2100m) at Chantilly on Sunday (5 June).
Trainer Charlie Appleby has dominated the European Classics over a mile this season and Modern Games was well on top at the line three weeks ago at Longchamp.
In the 17 editions of this French Derby (Prix du Jockey Club) since the change of distance in 2005, only four horses have triumphed from stall 11 or higher and Modern Games must buck that trend after being handed stall 13.
Asked if he expected Modern Games to thrive for the extra 500 metres of distance, Appleby said earlier this week: “He did all of his best work towards the end of the French Guineas (Poule d’Essai des Poulains). He’s got a good level head, plenty of experience and you can park him up anywhere in the race.”
Jean-Claude Rouget has won four renewals of the French Derby, including three of the last six runnings, and saddles four contenders on Sunday, with only Al Hakeem drawn in an unfavourably wide stall of 11.
Al Hakeem has drawn glowing comparisons from Rouget with 2019 winner Sottsass, who went on to land the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2400m) on his final career start in 2020.
Al Hakeem warmed up with an emphatic success in the Listed Prix de Suresnes (2000m) – the only recognised trial at Chantilly – and is very likely to be the choice of pari-mutuel backers in France, alongside Modern Games despite their poor draws.
Rouget also snared another key trial in the G3 Prix de Guiche (1800m) at Chantilly with Vadeni, who arguably had the best form of his quartet as a two-year-old and will have the assistance in the saddle of Christophe Soumillon.
In the French Guineas, the inexperienced Lassaut suffered a rough passage up the inside before finishing very well to be fifth – one place ahead of stablemate Welwal – and looks bred to thrive for this step up in trip.
Of the French hopefuls not trained by Rouget, Onesto took many people’s eye when winning the G2 Prix Greffulhe (2100m) at Saint-Cloud and is the apple of his jockey Stephane Pasquier’s eye, even though he has been done no favours in stall 14.
Trainer Fabrice Chappet said: “We ran Onseto back in the Prix de Fontainebleau (G3, 1600m) to see if he could compete with the best milers but it became obvious he needed further. His run in the Prix Greffulhe was the confirmation of that. Stephane Pasquier was thrilled with his last piece of work and I think he’s in perfect shape as well.”
Aidan O’Brien won the French Derby for the first time 12 months ago with St Mark’s Basilica and relies this year on The Acropolis and Ivy League, both of whom have it all to do on ratings, while Andre Fabre relies on Ancient Rome, the mount of Tom Marquand.
One British-trained runner who has shown all his best form in France is El Bodegon, who ran way below his best on his comeback at York when encountering faster ground than ideal.
The ground was still good heading into the weekend but should any of the predicted thunderstorms arrive to soften the ground, El Bodegon could make a bold bid from stall one under last year’s French Derby winning rider, Ioritz Mendizabal.