The 2023 G1 Prix du Jockey Club (2100m) at Chantilly on Sunday (4 June) presents a fascinating contrast in styles between Big Rock, who trainer Christopher Head describes as a “steamroller” of a horse, and the rapier finishing speed of Feed The Flame, who will sit and hope to pounce under Christophe Soumillon.
Sitting in judgement somewhere between the two is Marhaba Ya Sanafi, who sprang a surprise in the G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) over a mile and who represents a resurgent Andreas Schutz.
Has the well-travelled German-born trainer found a new Good Ba Ba, his two-time winner of the G1 Hong Kong Mile (1600m) in 2007 and 2008?
In a sense, Schutz will hope the comparison is not too precise since, having won his Classic over 1600m, Marhaba Ya Sanafi must now stretch out over 2100m at Chantilly.
Mickael Barzalona was hard at work early in the straight at ParisLongchamp and Marhaba Ya Sanafi essentially outstayed the speedier Isaac Shelby.
“He has enough speed to put him where you like in a race, he doesn’t have to go forward or sit behind,” Schutz said. “I think he still has room to improve further and perhaps the step up in trip will help him.”
Unbeaten in four starts since joining Head, Big Rock has a huge stride and has relentlessly worn down his opponents from the front.
In his final preparation race, the G3 Prix de Guiche (1800m), he blew the field apart and, even allowing for several of his rivals not handling the heavy ground – Rajapour and Flight Leader were particularly inconvenienced and connections will try again here – the destructive power of Big Rock was impressive.
Now he has to show he can sustain that pace over an extra 300 metres.
Head said: “The only real debate is his aptitude for the task, because he is really a steamroller. He exhausts the others in a race. The question is whether he can prolong that style of running. The only way you can finally know is in the race itself.”
Feed The Flame is the least experienced horse in the field after only two starts but both have been settled with a withering turn of foot. The worry for his supporters will be whether the son of Kingman finds himself with too much ground to make up on Big Rock and Marhaba Ya Sanafi.
“This horse has his own style of running and if you try and put a horse under pressure earlier than he is used to, they aren’t able to sustain it to the finish,” said Pascal Bary, a six-time winning trainer of the Prix du Jockey Club – French Derby.
“Over 2100 metres at Chantilly the races tend to be truly run and that means there should be no problem coming from behind.”
There are also genuine reasons for optimism around the chances of American Flag, who blew his chances in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains at the start, while Ace Impact is unbeaten and represents the modern specialist in this race, Jean-Claude Rouget.
British hopes rest with Epictetus, the mount of Frankie Dettori, while Continuous could make a bold show for Aidan O’Brien, having dead-heated for third at York on his first start of 2023.