Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard - Jacques le Marois (Group 1) | 3yo+ | 1m | ATR/RUK
One of the highlights of the Flat-racing season, the Jacques le Marois is contested for record prize-money of €1 million this year and the sponsoring Niarchos family have a great chance of keeping the lion's share of that pot.
Alpha Centauri, their star filly, will look to demonstrate the same level of superiority over the colts that she has against her own sex in three devastating Group 1 victories this summer.
Alpha Centauri, photo Liesl King
As you would expect for such a storied Group 1, there is talented opposition against her, including four horses that have won at Group 1 level this season.
The reputation surrounding the Jessica Harrington-trained Alpha Centauri as a juvenile ensured she arrived at Royal Ascot last season as one of the Irish bankers of the week.
You could have got long odds that the daughter of Mastercraftsman would go winless from there until the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas this May, but Harrington and rider Colm O'Donoghue have never lost faith in Alpha Centauri and her owner/breeders have been rewarded with a hat-trick of performances which have illuminated the season.
All of her wins came on good or good to firm ground and the main worry in the run-up to the Marois has been whether or not Normandy's changeable weather would render the Deauville track unsuitably soft.
Although the course took 22mm of rain midweek, it has benefited from a drying wind since and racing looks set to go ahead on good ground, barring any late turn.
"All is well with the filly and the forecast of no further rain is very good news," said Harrington. "Alpha Centauri is good to go."
She arrived in Deauville Saturday lunchtime and the Niarchos family's racing manager Alan Cooper reported: "She's travelled over well and Jessie is very happy with her, so now it’s time for the filly to do the talking."
Pros Blessed with a great stride and searing acceleration. She has an outstanding chance of matching the feat of her great grandam Miesque, who scored the first of her two wins in this race in 1987 as a three-year-old.
Cons This is undoubtedly the strongest opposition she has faced and the amount of rain could complicate her task.
Alpha Centauri is up against the colts for the first time but there is a strong chance that her main opposition could come from another three-year-old filly, as Freddy Head bids to extend his dream run at this Deauville meeting.
With You bounced back from two narrow Group 1 defeats over a mile and a quarter when dominating the Prix Rothschild over this course and distance a fortnight ago.
Head had been concerned about the daughter of Dansili's ability to reproduce her best form on a softer than ideal surface that day, but With You dismissed those fears when defeating Crown Walk by an easy three lengths.
"She likes good ground but it was quite holding the other day when she won the Rothschild, while it was heavy the day she won on debut," said Head.
"The filly is very well and has remained in Deauville in the fortnight since she won over the course and distance. The ground will suit her but it's a difficult race and the Niarchos filly will be very hard to beat."
He added: "With You is a very good filly and, although running against the colts and her elders is a different challenge again, I think she's at least as well, if not better, in herself than a fortnight ago."
Pros A course-and-distance winner who looks to have more to give for a stable in flying form.
Cons On the figures she will need to take another step forward to really trouble the favourite.
The first round of the inter-generational clash over a mile went the way of the older horses when Lightning Spear took the Sussex Stakes, and Eve Johnson Houghton will be hoping that trend continues.
Accidental Agent has blossomed into a serious Group-class miler at four and sprung something of a surprise when coming from well off the pace to run down his rivals in the Queen Anne at Ascot.
"He's done well from two to three and now again from three to four, and is improving all the time," said Johnson-Houghton.
"He doesn’t have to be held up as such but, if they go fast, he just needs time to get revved and tends to end up at the back. But once he gets organised he's fine. I think the filly [Alpha Centauri] needs a fast pace as well, though they seem happy to make it if necessary."
Unlike Harrington and Head, Johnson Houghton and big-race jockey Charlie Bishop have had no need to keep a close eye on the weather forecast during the week.
"He never has been ground dependent, although my impression is that it'll be no-excuse ground," said Johnson Houghton. "He should run really well and may the best horse win."
Pros Looked to have taken another step forward when winning the Queen Anne and should have plenty of pace to run at.
Cons Is rated 4lb inferior to Alpha Centauri even before weight-for-age and sex allowances are taken into account.
While Alpha Centauri has blazed a trail through the middle part of the season, the 'other Guineas winner' from that weekend at the Curragh has been less in evidence.
Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Romanised was unable to back up that success in the St James's Palace Stakes at Ascot, but trainer Ken Condon believes the Deauville terrain will be much more suitable.
"Romanised is in very good form," said the trainer. "The ground was a bit too quick for him when he ran in the St James's Palace – quicker than when he won the Irish Guineas. It's a very good race but we're really happy with him and there will be no excuses."
Condon and owner Robert Ng also field Success Days, a Group 2 winner over an extended ten furlongs and unlikely to be ridden for a finish by Gregory Benoist on his first start at this sort of trip since his two-year-old days.
"Success Days is coming back from a break and is in good form," said Condon. "The rain they had during the week was welcome and hopefully it won't dry out too much for him."
Carlos Laffon-Parias pulled off something of a masterstroke in reinventing Recoletos as a miler at the start of the year, and was rewarded with a Group 1 success in the Prix d'Ispahan over 1m1f in May.
His progression was halted at a sultry Ascot, where he failed to run up to form in seventh place behind Accidental Agent
"Ascot didn’t really turn out as we'd anticipated and I don’t think he gave his true running there," said Laffon-Parias.
"I wouldn’t put it down to a straight track – he's worked well up a straight before and since – and it was more down to the way things went on the day. It's only a month and a half since he last ran and he remains in good form."
Intellogent was only a length away from Study Of Man when fourth in the Prix du Jockey Club, but showed he was not short of speed when Fabrice Chappet successfully dropped him back to a mile in the Prix Jean Prat here last month.
He beat the reopposing Cascadian by a short neck there, and both colts have the potential to trouble the big guns.
Cascadian's trainer Andre Fabre said: "He ran really well the last time over this straight course. The question for me is whether the three-year-olds are any good or not this year, and they don't seem to be a really good generation. But he's in good shape and is fresh so he should run well."
Fabre also runs Trais Fluors, who was beaten a length and a half in this race 12 months ago and lost all chance at the start when fifth in the Summer Mile at Ascot last month.
"Trais Fluors got left [at the start] at Ascot and, considering that, he ran all right and was making some ground towards the finish," said Fabre.
"He was maybe a bit below his best but he's in good shape and he’s going to run well."
A decent third over this trip at Group 2 level on Arc weekend when trained by Andreas Wohler, Noor Al Hawa is undefeated in two starts over a mile and a quarter since joining Elias Mikhalides in Chantilly.
"I've had him only a few months but he's in the best physical and mental shape I've had him in," said Mikhalides, son of trainer Georges.
"You need a bit of extra stamina for a straight mile and hopefully the ground might yet get a little bit softer."
The line-up is completed by Zalamea, who represents up-and-coming trainer Carina Fey.