10/02/2010 11:45AM

Royal Bench takes to soft footing at Longchamp


PARIS – The $173,000, one-mile Prix Daniel Wildenstein has occasionally thrown up a Breeders’ Cup Mile runner. Domedriver vaulted from victory in the race in 2002 to win the Mile, but there will be no Mile candidate emerging from Saturday’s renewal at Longchamp, where Royal Bench took advantage of the very soft ground to win for the first time at the Group 2 level.

On a day when the going played havoc with much of the form, Royal Bench prevailed by three lengths from Lochinver, getting the mile in 1:44.30 at a price of 5.30-1. After a win in a one-mile listed race at Deauville in July, he had acquitted himself well when fifth behind Makfi, Goldikova, Paco Boy, and Fuisse in the Prix Jacques Le Marois.

Two former Breeders’ Cup Mile candidates did their respective causes no good. Godolphin’s Emerald Commander, a Group 2 mile winner at Baden-Baden last time, came home third, 1 1/2 lengths behind the runner-up, while Martin Schwartz’s Elusive Wave, the recent winner of the Group 3 Prix Quincey, was sixth of seven.

* Cirrus des Aigles reversed the form with Budai in proving that he is an autumn horse at Longchamp on Saturday. The Corinne Barande-Barbe trained 4-year-old got first run on Budai in the Group 2, $173,000 Prix Dollar and never looked back, driving to a two-length victory over the horse that had finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of him when second to Vision d’Etat in the Prix Gontaut-Biron.

All credit must be given to his unheralded rider Franck Blondel, who had the 2.60-1 Cirrus des Aigles in perfect position throughout the 1 1/8-mile, 155-yard contest. The son of Even Top led at the quarter pole in catching Dominique Boeuf and Budai flatfooted. The winning time on very soft ground was 2:09.60.

Cirrus des Aigles had won the 1 1/2-mile, Group 2 Prix du Conseil de Paris at Longchamp last October and was then fifth in the Hong Kong Vase. This year he will travel to Sha Tin again but for the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup.

* George Strawbridge suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the 1 9/16-mile Prix de Royallieu as his game 4-year-old filly High Heeled was caught late by Maria Royale in the Group 2, $173,000 test for fillies and mares. Olivier Peslier had High Heeled in second most of the way before taking the lead 2 1/2 furlongs from home. The 8.40-1 John Gosden-trained daughter of High Chaparral repelled challenge after challenge until Gerald Mosse angled the 30-1 Maria Royale inside to win by a neck. The winning time was 2:49.60.

The Andre Fabre-trained Announce had her perfect 3-for-3 record ended as the 6-5 favorite and finished last of eight, never having gotten involved and beaten a total of 4 1/2 lengths. The result was all the more surprising as Announce had beaten the Alain de Royer-Dupre-trained Maria Royale into sixth last time when winning the Group 3 Prix Minerve.

* Fabre took it on the chin in the Group 2, $173,000 Prix de Chaudenay. With three runners in the 1 7/8-mile race for 3-year-olds including the first two favorites, Goldwaki and Brigantin, the famed Frenchman was shut out of the first three as Celtic Celeb scored a 1 1/2-length victory over Ivory Land, traveling the distance in 3:32.40.

Trained by Francois Doumen of The Fellow and Jim and Tonic fame, Celtic Celeb had signaled a liking for very soft ground when finishing second in a listed race on a similar surface at Clairefontaine last time. The winner of that race had been Ivory Land. Goldwaki was up for fourth with Brigantin sixth and the third Fabre trainee, Lawspeaker, bringing up the rear in ninth.

And so this first day of Arc Weekend served as a meager entree for the big event on Sunday, but it wasn’t the very soft ground that was the problem. Without a headline Group 1 race on the card there was little to get excited about at Longchamp on a day that had featured the Prix de la Foret in recent years. That race will now take second place behind the Arc itself on a day that will feature a Breeders’ Cup-like cornucopia of seven Group 1 races, perhaps too many to digest in a single afternoon.