By Richard Griffiths
Such is the incessant attention that the Vodafone Epsom Derby (Eng-I) demands, its French counterpart, the Prix du Jockey Club (Fr-I, French Derby), invariably suffers from a malnutrition of publicity and, often, respect. It certainly happened prior to this year's renewal at Chantilly on June 2, but as the race unfolded it soon became clear we had been guilty of taking our eye off the ball. Chances are that not only the winner, Sulamani, but the runner-up, Act One, are colts of serious merit. Five wins in as many starts saw Act One sent off as a deserved favorite, even if his odds of 9-10 were a little uncharitable for such a major race. Sulamani's starting price of 19-1, on the other hand, reflected his lack of experience and his form book weakness, but not the fact he had clearly made massive strides since winning a low-key listed race over course and distance on May 15. Whether it was inexperience or sheer boisterous well being that saw Sulamani on edge in the pre-parade ring was hard to tell, although Alan Cooper, racing manager to the winning owners, the Niarchos family, was unflustered by his demonstrations. "He's a real man," Cooper said. "Once in the paddock, he was totally relaxed. He doesn't have a difficult temperament, he just has this way of asserting his authority. All he was doing was telling everyone: 'Here I am.' " His presence was less obvious in the early stages of the 1 1/2-mile race. Turning into the home straight, Sulamani had just one of his 14 rivals behind him, the fast-fading Temple of Artemis, pacemaker for Aidan O'Brien's main contenders Diaghilev and Black Sam Bellamy. Much work lay ahead of Sulamani. Frankie Dettori, riding the British challenger, Simeon, had started to make his move from the front. Few European riders are as good a judge as Dettori is in dictating affairs from the head of the field, but this did not seem to ruffle Sulamani's jockey, Thierry Thulliez. It must have been a tense time for Sulamani's connections as they watched from Chantilly's quaint but aging stands. The grip on their binoculars must have tightened further as Act One moved closer to the lead with ominous ease at the same time as Sulmani, brought wide by Thulliez, began to hang right, away from the field. Despite Dettori's initiative, Simeon was a busted flush, leaving Act One to take it up with 1 1/2 furlongs to go. Hindsight can make wise men of the basest of fools, but you were left wondering afterwards whether Act One's jockey Thierry Gillet had left his mount in front too soon. Certainly Act One could not respond to the astonishing late surge of Sulamani, who hit the front inside the final furlong to claim a 1 1/2-length success, with Simeon five lengths back in third. To say Sulamani was bred for Prix du Jockey Club success would be an understatement. His sire, Hernando, had won the race for the Niarchos family in 1993. Five years later, his dam Soul Dream's first foal, Dream Well, matched that feat. Moreover, the colt's trainer, Pascal Bary, was collecting his fourth Prix du Jockey Club victory in the last nine years following Celtic Arms in 1994, Ragmar in 1996, and the aforementioned Dream Well in 1998. Whereas Dream Well went on to contest--and win--the Irish Derby (Ire-I, June 30), Sulamani is almost certain to avoid a potential clash with whatever colt wins at Epsom. "Sulamani was slow to mature and he is still developing. He should get even better with time," Cooper said. A mid-summer break before being brought back for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I, Oct. 6) is now the likeliest plan.
With the Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) runner-up Hawk Wing becoming an increasingly warm favorite for the fast-approaching Epsom Derby (Eng-I, June 8), the form of that race was due to be put under the microscope in the Prix Jean Prat (Fr-I) on the same card. However, Aramram, who had finished sixth at Newmarket despite an unfavorable draw, kept any clues to himself by ducking out of the race and dumping his jockey Steve Drowne on the Chantilly turf. The race produced a three-way photo as Rouvres got up to beat Imtiyaz and Shaanmer--who dead-heated for second--in the final stride. The winner, who is trained by Criquette Head-Maarek, is now a possible runner in the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot (Eng-I, June 18).