09/13/2013 3:50PM

Longchamp: Prix Niel best of six group stakes on card


How hot a race is this year’s Prix Niel? Put it this way: The Epsom Derby winner, Ruler of the World, is a distant third choice in ante-post wagering. That’s due mainly to the imposing presence of Flintshire, who not only is favored to win the Niel, but is accorded a good chance of giving trainer Andre Fabre an eighth Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe next month.

The Niel, restricted to 3-year-olds, is one of six group stakes on Sunday at Longchamp in Paris, and it is a Group 2 in name only, featuring as well as Flintshire the talented Japan Derby winner Kizuna. The Niel is one of two preps on the day for the Arc, the other being the Group 2 Prix Foy, headed by last year’s Arc runner-up Orfevre. The Group 1 Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares lacks standout performers this year, but the Group 1 Prix du Moulin, a one-mile race, sports an appealing field.

Six of Fabre’s Arc winners have been 3-year-olds, and Flintshire could be next in line. A Juddmonte Farms homebred by Dansili, Flintshire didn’t race until May and only made his stakes debut two starts ago on June 16. He easily won that Group 3 contest, but it was his performance in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris on July 13 at Longchamp that suggested Flintshire is special. He cruised to the lead about a quarter-mile from home that day with apparent ease and was getting pats on the neck from jockey Maxime Guyon as he crossed the finish 1 1/2 lengths in front. The 1 1/2 miles of the Prix Niel is Flintshire’s trip, and he already has shown a fondness for Longchamp, though Fabre surely will be using Sunday’s race as a bridge to an intended peak performance in the Arc.

Kizuna, a son of leading Japanese stallion Deep Impact, has traveled for the first time to race in the Niel, his first start since he rallied from 16th to defeat 17 rivals in the Group 1 Japan Derby on May 26. Six day later, Ruler of the World scored a somewhat surprising victory in the Epsom Derby, though Ruler of the World had just 11 rivals to beat. He returned a month later with a disappointing fifth in the Irish Derby.

While this is Kizuna’s first trip outside Japan, Orfevre traveled to France last year, and in midstretch of the Arc, he appeared poised to become Japan’s first Arc winner. Instead, the quirky Orfevre dug his heels in the ground and was nipped by upset winner Solemia, a horse he had blown past a furlong before. Five-year-old Orfevre returns with unfinished business on his agenda and is likely to win the 1 1/2-mile Prix Foy for the second straight year. Dunaden, who has run very well without winning this year, is the main danger.

The eight-horse Moulin includes a pair of runners from English trainer Richard Hannon, Olympic Glory and Havana Gold. The latter is good, but the former is better and might have won the Group 1 Prix Jacques Le Marois last out with better luck. A good showing in this race could send Olympic Glory on to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Also in the race is the filly Flotilla, who won the 2012 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf and captured the French 1000 Guineas, but has not started since a disappointing performance in the June 16 French Oaks.

French Oaks winner Treve, along with Venus De Milo and Romantica, top the 11-runner field entered in the 1 1/2-mile Vermeille.

◗ There also are two Group 1 races Sunday at The Curragh in Ireland, the Group 1 Irish St. Leger (open, unlike many St. Legers, to older horses), and the National Stakes for 2-year-olds.