By Duane Fonseca
Aidan O’Brien’s St Mark’s Basilica sits atop the money list for Sunday’s Qatar Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly .
The Ballydoyle trainee picked up a second Group One success in the form of the Poule d-Essai des Poulains when making his seasonal bow at ParisLongchamp in early May. It followed up on his victory in the 1400m Group 1 Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October, a race in which he prevailed by three fourths of a length from Wembley.
The Siyouni colt picked up from where he left in the French capital when stepping up marginally in distance to nail the 1600m Poule d-Essai des Poulains - the equivalent of the 2000 Guineas - in the hands of Ioritz Mendizabal, whose strong push got St Mark’s Basilica to extend fully and win with a length and three fourths to spare from Colosseo.
In the Prix du Jockey Club, St Mark’s Basilica will further step up in trip to 2000m when he takes to the gates alongside stable companion Van Gogh, the ride of Colin Keane who has been handed Gate 12. Mendizabal won last year’s race with spectacular Gosden trainee Mishriff and will look to claim his third overall prize with St Mark’s Basilica, who was drawn in Gate 2.
Policy Of Truth (Gate 5), Normandy Bridge (Gate 8) and Sealiway (Gate 4) finished fourth, seventh and eighth behind St Mark’s Basilica at Paris Longchamp and re-oppose him here, while John and Thady Gosden are lining up a strong challenge as well with Newmarket novice winner Derab (Gate 14) and Dante second Megallan (Gate 15).
Martin Harley, who rides Derab, said: “It’s a big step up in grade for Derab from Newmarket, but the team wouldn’t be running him if they didn’t think he had a realistic chance of winning.”
Roger Varian’s Listed Dee Stakes winner El Drama (Gate 13) is another live challenger and carries the colours of Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum.
Varian added: “We’ve been very pleased with how El Drama has progressed in his work since Chester since when it was always the plan to run him at Chantilly. We booked Mickael Barzalona a while ago and he looks a good fit for the horse.”
Four time winning French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget saddles three including big hope Makaloun, recent winner of the Group 3 Prix de Guiche over 1800m at this venue. Makaloun (Gate 18) goes alongside teammate Saiydabad (Gate 11), who also carries the green and red colours of the Aga Khan, and Cheshire Academy (Gate 19). Other notable runners include 2100m Group 2 Prix Greffulhe winner Baby Rider (Gate 9) from the yard of six-time race winning trainer Pascal Bary, Fabrice Vermeulen’s Pretty Tiger (Gate 7), who was disqualified after winning the Group 3 Prix Noailles at ParisLongchamp by a nose from the aforementioned Cheshire Academy.
Adhamo, trained by Freddy Head, won the Group 3 Prix la Force, but was then fourth behind Makaloun in the Prix de Guiche and will make his bid from Gate 6.
French lady conditioner Stephanie Nigge makes her race debut and has two in the line-up: Millebosc (Gate 1) and the more-fancied Normandy Bridge, who was a four length second behind Van Gogh in the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in October. The Le Havre colt was a strong-finishing seventh in the Poule d-Essai des Poulains and placed just two and a half lengths behind winner St Mark’s Basilica, which has given his handler courage looking towards Sunday.
Nigge said: “I would consider myself lucky to have one runner, given I’m a young trainer with a small string, so to have two is amazing and one I mustn’t pass up. It’s exciting as I have loved both horses since last year and to bring them all the way to this point is pretty intense.”