All paths in France for middle-distance horses lead to Longchamp and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the fall. That’s good for the mile-and-a-half performances, of course, but a cross-channel voyage for the Champion Stakes is necessary because the French schedule offers little for their best mile-and-a-quarter horses at this time of year.
That helps to explain why French-trained horses have had success in the event, which has been the highlight of British Champions Day at Ascot since 2011.
With a total of nine victories in the years between 1980 and the final running of the Champion Stakes at Headquarters, the French had a lengthy history of success in the Champion Stakes at its old home of Norfolk.
The top-notch and extraordinarily resilient mare Triptych, who won back-to-back Champion Stakes for Patrick Biancone in 1986 and 1987 while displaying her powerful turn of foot to particularly excellent use, was the most noteworthy French-trained winner of the 1980s.
Between their victories, Hatoof, ridden by Walter Swinburn for Criquette Head, whose father Alec had twice won the event in the 1950s, was successful. In the next decade, Andre Fabre won the Champion Stakes with Tel Quel and Dernier Empereur.
In the first ten years of the twenty-first century, there were two additional victories for horses trained in France. Christophe Lemaire won consecutive renewals on Pride and Literato for Alain de Royer-Dupre and Jean-Claude Rouget, respectively, in 2006 and 2007.
Good prospects for the wonderful seven on the horizon?
In addition to owning a 50% ownership in the recently retired Arc champion Ace Impact, part-owners Haras de la Gousserie also own Horizon Dore, which runs in the same yellow and green as the 2021 winner.
The most recent victory for Horizon Dore at the Arc meeting was his finest to date. He arrived with a powerful late run from the back under a solid ride from Mickael Barzalona, who was also Sealiway’s companion two years ago. He was taking on older competition for the first time in the Dollar.
Three of the next four positions were taken by the clever British-trained four-year-olds Jack Darcy, Ancient Rome, and Checkandchallenge. However, none of those horses are Champion Stakes contenders, so Horizon Dore will need to improve on Saturday to become the latest French-trained winner when competing against horses like Mostahdaf, King of Steel, and Bay Bridge from last year.
Cottier, a former jump rider, is having his most prosperous season as a licensed trainer. He now holds the fifth spot in the French trainers’ championship with earnings of €2.3 million and an astounding 76 victories from 59 horses. The incredibly difficult three-year-old filly Sauterne, who last month won the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp on her ninth attempt of the year, is another part of his expanded lineup this year as a result of teaming up with Rossi. She became Cottier’s first Group 1 winner.
The stable just recently took home another significant award when the two-year-old filly Classic Flower triumphed in Chantilly’s Group 2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte.
With victories in six of his eight starts, Horizon Dore has been another significant success story for the stable. He will compete at Ascot. His only losses came in his first two starts of the year, both of which were won by Big Rock, who later finished second to Ace Impact in the Prix du Jockey Club. Since he was gelded before his first race, Horizon Dore was unable to compete in the “French Derby,” but he has made the most of the available opportunities by winning his following four races.
Fine cirrus development Ascot history
Cirrus des Aigles defeated the Irish Champion Stakes one-two of So You Think and Snow Fairy in track-record time to win the first Champion Stakes at Ascot in 2011. The race was also won by a French-trained horse.
The placed duo had previously advanced to the semifinals of the Arc, but Corine Barande-Barbe’s top performer, a gelding, was unable to compete in the Arc. He went on to compete in three more Champion Stakes, losing to Frankel and then Farhh in his next two attempts.
Christophe Soumillon, the rider of Cirrus des Aigles, was disqualified from using the whip in 2011 after it was recently amended in Britain, but five years later, while riding Almanzor, another elite winner who gave Rouget a second Champion Stakes by defeating the winner of the Arc, he hardly needed to use the stick.
Delivered, sealed, and signed
The last French-trained horse to win the Champion Stakes was Sealiway, a three-year-old colt who finished second to St. Mark’s Basilica in the Prix du Jockey Club earlier that season. Sealiway upset the odds by winning the race at 12/1 against a field that included the winners of the King George and Derby, Adayar, and the Juddmonte International, Mishriff.
Cedric Rossi, Sealiway’s trainer, was among numerous family members who were detained and then banned from racing as inquiries were being made into possible doping instances committed from their base outside Marseille, less than two months after that triumph.
Although Rossi no longer trains under his name, his ban has been partially lifted, and, according to information published last month by the online racing magazine Jour de Galop, which has understandably raised some eyebrows, he is now working as the head lad for Patrice Cottier, the trainer of the current favorite for this year’s Champion Stakes.