04/27/2012 3:10PM

Europe: Cirrus des Aigles at the top of his game for Prix Ganay

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The Cirrus des Aigles that finished third one year ago in the Prix Ganay was not the Cirrus des Aigles that heads the 2012 edition of the Group 1 Ganay on Sunday at Longchamp. The horse of a year ago was a solid Group 2 gelding, apparently well set in the European hierarchy after three seasons of racing. But since that time, Cirrus des Aigles, now 6, has moved forward and taken a position at the very head of European middle-distance horses.

He defeated So You Think in the Group 1 Champion Stakes last fall at Newmarket, and if anyone needed convincing of Cirrus des Aigles’s international stature, they got it March 31 at Meydan, where Cirrus des Aigles beat 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner St. Nicholas Abbey by a neck in the Group 1 Sheema Classic.

What Cirrus des Aigles has not yet done is win a Group 1 race in his home country, France, a void on his r é sum é he seeks to fill in Sunday’s one and one-quarter-mile tilt. Five others are set to contest the Ganay – the first Group 1 flat race of the European season – though trainer Aidan O’Brien withdrew So You Think and all his other nominated horses at the Ganay’s final entry stage. Still, at least three horses could give Cirrus des Aigles a battle. Wigmore Hall, fourth in the Dubai Duty Free last month, might be capable of a competitive showing, but it is the two horses from trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre, Reliable Man and Giofra, who look the most dangerous.

Reliable Man won the 2011 French Derby, but in retrospect, the field he beat in that race was not especially strong, and in any case, Reliable Man failed to progress from the victory, concluding his campaign with a 15th-place finish in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The 4-year-old Giofra, by comparison, didn’t even race in a Group stakes during a three-start 2011 campaign, but after winning her two final starts last year, she launched her 2012 campaign with a sharp victory over previously unbeaten Vadamar April 8 in Prix d’Harcourt at Longchamp, and it is Giofra who seems to have the best shot at beating the favorite Sunday.

Course conditions are expected to be very soft, but while Cirrus des Aigles won in Dubai over fast-playing turf, he has proven on several occasions that he can also run through a bog when required.