06/03/2010 11:00PM

French Derby has 23-horse field


Finding the winner of the $1.8 million Prix du Jockey-Club, or French Derby, at Chantilly on Sunday was made even more difficult Thursday, when France-Galop officials waived the safety rule limiting the field to 20 runners.

As "a sporting gesture" to owners whose horses might have missed the cut, the field for the 1 5/16-mile, Group 1 classic was opened to any of the 25 horses who remained in the race at the four-day entry stage. Sunday's field will have 23 horses, the largest French Derby field since Magister beat 27 rivals in 1942.

The race was run at 1 1/2 miles in those days but was reduced to 1 5/16 miles in 2005. Some trainers, Pascal Bary among them, expressed fears that the large field is unsafe, but they will have to live with it. Chantilly is much wider than Churchill Downs, where the limit for the Kentucky Derby is 20. Chantilly also has a long, mild curve from the start of the French Derby to the first real turn, and a three-furlong stretch helps the closers sort themselves out.

Bary will saddle Ice Blue, the Group 2 Prix Greffulhe winner whom Bary said has a sensational turn of foot. A Dansili colt owned by Juddmonte Farms, Ice Blue will be ridden by Englishman Ryan Moore, who takes over for Stephane Pasquier, who suffered a broken tibia when kicked by a horse in the Saint-Cloud paddock two weeks ago.

Planteur and Cape Blanco will vie for favoritism. Trained by Elie Lellouche for Ecurie Wildenstein, Planteur looked good taking the Group 2 Prix Noailles from Rewilding, one of the favorites in Saturday's Epsom Derby. The Aidan O'Brien-trained Cape Blanco was the impressive winner of the Group 2 Dante Stakes, which is annually the key trial for the Epsom Derby. He will be ridden by Johnny Murtagh.

Lope de Vega will step up from his victory in the one-mile French 2000 Guineas for Andre Fabre. By Shamardal, who won the first French Derby at 1 5/16 miles and then cut back to win the one-mile St. James's Palace Stakes, Lope de Vega could win this if he proves to be as versatile as his sire. Maxime Guyon rides. The Aga Khan's Behkabad, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, is expected to improve off a neck score in the Group 3 Prix de Guiche. Godolphin's Simon de Montfort beat Pain Perdu by a neck in the Group 3 Prix La Force, and both make intriguing dark horses.

On the undercard, Liliside and Joanna head the $158,000 Prix de Sandringham, a Group 2 mile for 3-year-old fillies. Liliside crossed the line first in the French 1000 Guineas but was disqualified and placed sixth in favor of Special Duty. Joanna was placed third in the same race and is taken to reverse the Guineas form. In the Group 2, $158,000 Prix du Gros-Chene at five furlongs, 2008 European sprint champ Marchand d'Or can maintain his return to form on the heels of his victory in the five-furlong, Group 3 Prix de Saint-Georges off a one-year absence.