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Mekhtaal looks France's main hope in Sunday's Prix du Jockey Club


The G1 Prix du Jockey Club (2100m) at Chantilly has been won by a French-trained colt in nine of the last ten years but viewers to the Sunday simulcast from the beautiful racecourse at Chantilly may see a different outcome this time.

However, despite frequent suggestions that the French three-year-old colts are not a strong bunch this year, several names have emerged who may have enough class to keep the honour of French racing intact on one of their biggest days.

Chief amongst those is Mekhtaal, winner of last month's G2 Prix Hocquart (2000m) which is a major Jockey Club trial though run this year by the seaside at Deauville in Normandy because of the current redevelopment of Longchamp racecourse.
Setting off in front at a comfortable pace, jockey Gregory Benoist gradually asked the chestnut son of Sea The Stars to quicken up. He did so with ease, surging further and further clear in the closing stages of that 2000m contest and thrashing his nearest rival by 6 lengths. 

Mekhtaal is owned by Al Shaqab Racing whose racing adviser Harry Herbert describes the good looking colt as 'very exciting'. And there was early talk of supplementing him for the Derby at Epsom (2409m) before Herbert revealed that Mekhtaal would be kept at home for the Jockey Club over the shorter trip of 2100m.

Interestingly, trainer Rouget has another string to his Prix du Jockey Club bow as five days before Mekhtaal's Hocquart triumph last month, Almanzor had won the G3 Prix de Guiche (1800m), also leading from wire to wire. 

Admittedly, Christophe Soumillon's mount only had three rivals to beat but it was at Chantilly and Rouget's immediate post-race comment was interesting: "I think he has a good chance of winning when he comes back here for the Jockey Club."

Rouget won France's premier Classic back in 2009 but Roger Charlton - the British trainer of Imperial Aviator and perhaps the most interesting UK contender - won the race as a rookie trainer way back in 1990.

Imperial Aviator is to be supplemented into the field and comes with very positive comments from those closest to him with Charlton observing: "Every time he has raced, Imperial Aviator has improved. And that improvement hasn't stopped yet."

On his first start this season Imperial Aviator won a close battle for a maiden event at lowly Leicester racecourse but the colt he narrowly beat - Ulysses - is now one of the favourites for the Derby at Epsom based on his stunning subsequent win and his trainer's bullish comments.

Meanwhile Imperial Aviator then sauntered 4 1/2L away from his nearest rival in the London Gold Cup - a high class handicap at Newbury. To the eye that was an electric performance and recent work has been so good that connections have decided not to wait for a Royal Ascot target but are upgrading to this famous French Classic.

Brilliant youngster Oisin Murphy, his jockey at Newbury, continues the partnership with Imperial Aviator whilst as far as the ground is concerned, Charlton says that he will be happy with conditions on the slow side. After heavy rain around Chantilly this week he will certainly get his wish.

It is a long time since an Irish-trained horse won the Prix du Jockey Club but their hopes will have been raised by the news that Ryan Moore is expected to partner the Aidan O'Brien-trained Bravery at Chantilly on Sunday.



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