From the Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère to the Abu Dhabi Poule d’Essai des Poulains

Logically, a good proportion of the winners of the Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère are then directed towards the Abu Dhabi Poule d’Essai des Poulains. That is indeed the case this year, with the presence last year’s winner, National Defense.

Eighteen winners of the Poule had won the Grand Critérium at the age of 2, from Rigolo in 1948 to Karakontie in 2014. The last but one to do this, American Post, was also trained by Christiane Head-Maarek, having won the first running of the newly-baptised Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère over 1.400 metres.


The Prix de Fontainebleau, the strongest of the prep races

In the French program, the Prix de Fontainebleau is, chronologically, the last Group prep race before the Poule d’Essai des Poulains. It has also produced the most winners. Since after the war, 16 of the winning colts went on to win the Poule. Amongst those are names of the great stallions Blushing Groom, Irish River, Kendor, Linamix. The two most recent, Silver Frost and American Post, also began there season with a win in the Omnium II.

Brametot was the winner of the Prix de Fontainebleau this year.

The Prix Djebel, a Guineas and Poule prep

The Prix Djebel is another prep for the Poule. The connections of this year’s winner, Al Wukair, decided to cross the Channel to dispute the English version of the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, and finished third. The runners up in the Djebel, National Defense and African Ride, will be present in Deauville. Six colts have done the Djebel-Poule d’Essai double, including the two bred by Stavros Niarchos, L’Emigrant and Kingmambo in 1983 and 1993, and Style Vendôme in 2013.

Invincibility in play

Two colts living up on the Normandy coast have never felt the sting of defeat: Le Brivido and Inns of Court. Four unbeaten colts have been victorious in the Poule d’Essai : Fast Topaze in 1986, Hector Protector in 1991, Ashkalani in 1996 and Clodovil in 2003.

The supplements

The English trainer Michael Dods supplemented his runner, Kings Gift. Last year’s winner, The Gurkha was supplemented, as had two other victors in the past: Vahorimix and Victory Note.

Foreign raiders

Nearly half of the field in the 2017 running of the Poule come from England or Ireland, including three from Ballydoyle (Irlande). Nine English or Irish trained colts have won this race, and the four Irish were all trained by Aidan O’Brien, the current title holder with The Gurkha. Amongst the five English winners are Recitation, from Guy Harwood, the first forge in winner of the race, and Shamardal, the most recent to date.



The French colt Brametot will start as favourite in the Abu Dhabi Poule d’Essai des Poulains. The Qatari entity Al Shaqab Racing bought into 50% the horse and are now co-owners with Gérard Augustin-Normand. Brametot is trained by the Pau trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and will be ridden by the retained jockey to Gérard Augustin-Normand, the Italian Cristian Demuro.

Brametot got his favourite status thanks to his win in the Prix de Fontainebleau, the Group 3 prep race for the Classic. On that day in Chantilly, Brametot was still last turning into the straight, and then picked off his rivals one by one to win easily.

This was a deliberate tactic. It is imperative that Brametot is completely relaxed in his race, at the rear, to conserve his energy for the final phase. At 2, when his connections tried to run him up near the pace, he ran well below his best. He was beaten at Deauville in the Critérium du Fonds Européen de l’Élevage, which remains his only defeat to this day. However he made up for it when winning the Grand Critérium de Bordeaux – Prix du Hong Kong Jockey-Club, a race that had been previously won the the Champion Horse of 2016 Almanzor.

Jean-Claude Rouget has won the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches four times, but not the colts. It would also be a first victory in this race for Al Shaqab Racing, for Gérard Augustin-Normand and for Cristian Demuro. I would also turn the spotlight on the sire of Brametot, the young Normandy based stallion Rajsaman, whose first crop are now 3. Rajsaman stands at Haras de la Cauvinière and was second in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains in 2010, where he made the running for his stable companion Siyouni. 


National Defense carries the colours of Sun Bloodstock and is trained by Christiane Head-Maarek, at Chantilly. A relative recent structure, Sun Bloodstock was developed by Ting Kong Cheng and Danielle Cheng from Hongkong. They have horses at Hong kong, Singapore, England, and they have bought a large stud in Australia. National Defense was far and away the best French 2yo last year, going wire to wire to win the Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère (Group 1) the day of the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. For his seasonal debut this year, now 3 years old, he only had Al Wukair stopping him from a successful return in the Prix Djebel. Al Wukair then ran in the QIPCO 2.000 Guineas at Newmarket, in England, finishing a good third. National Defense has a winning chance, although this very generous colt will have to channel his energy, particularly on this straight track where it is difficult to win off the lead as he likes to do. Christiane Head-Maarek, who trained the unforgettable Trêve, two-time winner of the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, has already won this race twice, with American Post in 2004 and Green Tune in 1994.


Brametot and National Defense will have a serious competitor in the English horse Rivet. He is already a Group 1 winner, at the age of 2 in the Racing Post Trophy, over the same distance as the race on Sunday.  Rivet is trained by the English William Haggas, and is owned by a syndicate, The Starship Partnership, of which one of the members is the legendary former jockey Lester Pigott (the father-in-law of William Haggas) and also includes John Magnier, Michael Tabor and the South African Des Scott. The colt made a decent seasonal debut finishing second in the Craven Stakes, one of the prep races for the QIPCO 2.000 Guineas. His connections chose to bring him to Deauville, as the colt didn’t really appreciate the undulations of the Newmarket track. He should be more at ease on the flat track of Deauville La Touques.


Peace Envoy, one of the representatives of Coolmore, was bred in France. He was bred by Team Hogdala (the Sundström family) and was sold for 125.000 € to his new owners. He has already run once in France, during his 2yo year. He was third in the Darley Prix Morny (Group 1). On his seasonal debut, only 14 days before the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, he finished fourth in a Listed at Naas. He is a Gr3 and Listed winner and placed in Gr1. He is running over 1.600 metres for the first time at Deauville and the furthest he has ever run over is 1.400 metres. Already for that race, Aiden O’Brien had voiced his concerns over the distance. So will he stay the mile? His sire Power won a Group 1 over the mile, the 2.000 Guineas. His dam, Hoh My Darling, won, at a more modest level, over 2.000m. Aidan O’Brien thinks the distance won’t be a problem.

Aidan O’Brien is also represented by Orderofthegarter. Orderofthegarter made a strong impression in the  2.000 Guineas Trial (L) at Leopardstown, on softer ground,.


Unbeaten in two starts, Inns of Court is difficult to judge. The colt is carrying the blue colours of Godolphin (the Maktoum family, from Dubaï), has only run twice and has won easily each time, although against far weaker competition that what he will face here on Sunday. It is worth pointing out however that last year he beat Stunning Spirit, who ran in the Prix de Fontainebleau finishing two lengths and a half from Brametot.

Inns of Court is trained by André Fabre, who is also represented by Le Brivido. Like his stable companion Le Brivido is difficult to judge, especially as he has never run further than 1.300 metres. Nonetheless, he is unbeaten in two starts, and has won on a straight track.


Tamayuz, his sire, sidestepped the Poule d’Essai des Poulains before going on to win the Prix Jean Prat and the Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard – Jacques Le Marois. Natagora, his dam, was a true champion, notably winner of the 1.000 Guineas and third in the Prix du Jockey Club against the colts. Mankib is a true blue blood and this representative of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, trained by Freddy Head, has already shown plenty of class. Enough to win on Sunday? It’s not certain. Last time out, for his comeback in a Class 1 at Maisons-Laffitte, he won but not as easily as he trainer would have liked. He will need to improve to be in the frame here, but Freddy Head has always liked him.


Lope de Vega’s win in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains 2010 still lives on in the minds of all sportsmen. Despite a bad draw, and a race wide on the outside, the chestnut “ran twice the distance” to come and win spectacularly. He then won the Prix du Jockey Club and has become a first-rate stallion. He will be represented in this race by his son, South Seas, trained in England by Andrew Balding, and owned by Qatar Racing, the racing unity run by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani. South Seas likes France, where he finished second in the Critérium International, at Saint-Cloud, last year. His seasonal debut, in a modest race on the all weather at Newcastle, threw up a few questions.


His connections decided to supplement him, so pay 39.600 € so that he could run in this race. Owned by Geoff and Sandra Turnbull, he has won twice in his young career, both of these coming in his 2 year old year. His sire, Casamento, was a Group 1, 2 and 3 winner over distances from 1.600 to 2.000 metres. Kings Gift is one of his best progeny and could bring him the Group win he has been waiting for. His dam won once over 2.200 metres.

Kings Gift is running for the first time in France. He has already run at Group level, even if he has not yet placed. Trained by Michael Dods, he is coming off a fourth place for his comeback in a Group 3 over 1.400 metres. The winner of that race, Barney Roy, since finished second in the QIPCO 2.000 Guineas (Group 1). The second, Dream Castle, also ran in the 2.000 Guineas and finished an honorable fifth. The owner’s willingness to supplement suggests he has a chance in this 13 runners race. They are used to the big days, as they were the owners of Mondialiste, who ran in France, and won Group 1s in the United States and Canada.


Looking at his performances, African Ride does not stand out. However he represents a well known trio. His owners (the Wertheimer brothers, also represented by Spotify), his trainer (Carlos Laffon-Parias) and his jockey (Olivier Peslier) won the Poule d’Essai des Poulains last time in 2008 with Falco. His jockey has won it again since, in 2015 with Make Believe. African Ride has American bloodlines. His sire, Candy Ride, is an Argentinian horse who stands in the United States. His dame, Paiota Falls was bought for 800.000 $ by the Wertheimer brothers, again in the United States. African Ride ran twice at 2, but didn’t get a win on the board until his 3 year old year. He began running quite early (in February) and his win was convincing enough for his connections to take him straight to black type races. He won the Prix Montenica (L) and finished third in the Prix Djebel (Gr3).