06/03/2012 3:59PM

France: Saonois surprises in French Derby at Chantilly


The 20-starter Prix du Jockey Club, the French Derby, gave every indication of basically being unfathomable, and that proved to be the case, as little-known Saonois scored an upset victory in a roughly run edition of the Group 1 race Sunday at Chantilly.
Saonois, a French-bred son of Chichicastanengo trained by J. P. Gauvain, muscled between horses in deep stretch under Antoine Hamelin to win by three-quarters of a length. Godolphin’s Saint Baudolino came home second, a head better than Nutello, who in turn beat well-regarded Kesampour by a nose.

Hamelin, who is apprenticed to trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre, never had ridden in a Group 1 race, but he managed to steer Saonois clear of the traffic trouble that hampered many runners in the crowded field. Among the negatively affected was Imperial Monarch, who was bidding to give trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Joseph O’Brien Derby wins on back-to-back afternoons, the pair having taken the Epsom Derby on Saturday with Camelot.

But Imperial Monarch was checked back nearly to last about three furlongs from the finish and could only finish eighth despite rallying well down the middle of the track.

Saonois raced near the back of the field for the first half of the 1 5/16-mile furlong race before steadily picking off horses while running in traffic. Hamelin found seams in the homestretch and Saonois willingly went through them, coming between rivals one final time to find the wire and score by far the biggest win of an eight-start career that has taken him to venues as obscure as Cagnes sur-mer, where he raced twice this past February.