03/14/2011 1:40PM

Flat Race Season Arrives in Paris


Flat racing on turf is finally awakening from its winter slumber in Europe, but, as ever, the start has been a slow one. Racing returned to the Paris region last Monday, March 7, with a nifty 8-race card that included two conditions races for 3-year-olds at 1 5/16 miles, one for males and one for fillies. Similarly there were a pair of one-mile maidens for 3-year-olds, one for either sex.

That pattern is typical of French racing where maidens and allowances are almost always paired in such a way. And while it is always difficult to tell if any good ones will emerge from such races in early March, but Andre Fabre may have something to get excited about in Lyrique, who won the one-mile Prix Calandria in her first outing against ten more experienced female rivals.

The daughter of Iffraaj was rated just behind the pace by Maxime Guyon, leading at the furlong pole and hand ridden to the line for a comfortable length-and-a-half victory as the 2.30-1 favorite. A half sister to Arlington Million winner Debussy, Lyrique could develop into a viable candidate for the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas) or the Prix de Diane (French Oaks).

Fabre and Sheikh Mohammed were back on top again in the Paris region's second meeting of the year on Saturday when Rostrum landed the listed, one-mile Prix Altipan by a half-length from Le Roi Mage at odds of 16-1. By the outstanding young stallion Shamardal, Rostrum will step up in class for the Group 3 Prix Edmond Blanc over the Altipan course and distance on April 3.

Saint-Cloud's 1 1/4-mile, Group 3 Prix Exbury on Saturday will be the first group race of the year in Europe. Among the 14 nominees are 3-time group race winner Cirrus des Aigles and 2009 winner Court Canibal, as well as Royal Bench, the winner last year of the Group 2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein on Arc Weekend and second in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile.

Officials at Arlington Park and Monmouth Park might want to study the Exbury result. In 2008 it was wonby Spirit One, who a few months later would take the Million. Last year the Exbury fell to Chinchon, subsequently the winner of the United Nations Stakes. In previous years the Exbury was won by the likes of Urban Sea and Aquarelliste, so it ranks as a better than average early season Group 3.

On Sunday the Irish group race season gets underway at the Curragh with the Group 3 Park Express Stakes, a 7-furlong contest in which 3-year-old fillies get 15 lbs. from their older sisters.

Racing on the flat in England doesn't really ever end anymore what with synthetic track racing at Lingfield, Kempton, Wolverhampton and Southwell now run throughout the winter. But the really important flat racing on turf doesn't commence there until March 30 at lowly Catterick Bridge. This is change form the past, as Doncaster had always had the honor of opening the British turf season with its Lincoln Handicap Meeting, now scheduled for April 2-3.

The first European Group 1 contests of the year will both be run on April 30. They are the 1 5/16-mile Prix Ganay for older colts and fillies at Longchamp, and, a couple of hours later, the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Normally the Guineas is run on the same day as the Kentucky Derby, the first Saturday in May, but when that day falls on May 7 as it does this year, the Guineas is moved forward a week.

On Sunday, March 27, the day after Dubai World Cup Night, Daily Racing Form will publish the complete European Group 1 schedule. It will, of course be on newsstands on Saturday the 26th and available on the DRF website on Firday evening the 25th.